Interview with Rosaria Carpinelli (Rosaria Carpinelli Editorial Consulting)
Born in Milan in 1953, Rosaria Carpinelli graduated from La Sapienza University in Rome with a degree in philosophy of science, with a thesis on inductive logic under the supervision of Vittorio Somenzi. After two years at the University of Helsinki, where she studied under Jaakko Hintikka, she returned to Italy and began working at the Bompiani publishing house in 1978. In 2008, she founded the literary agency that bears her name.
How did you come to work as a literary agent?
My university studies in the humanities led me to the publishing world. I was recruited as an editor at Bompiani in the years when Umberto Eco was directing its non-fiction series, and I had the privilege of working with him and following the foreign rights of The Name of the Rose, a unique experience that allowed me to enter the international publishing market. After a few years with Tiziano Barbieri’s Sperling & Kupfer, I joined Rizzoli before the creation of RCS Libri, where I managed the books division with the publishing houses Bompiani, Rizzoli, Sonzogno and Sansoni. In 2005 I decided to join Fandango Libri in Rome with Alessandro Baricco; it was like an immersion in independent publishing in Rome and in the world of audio-visual production. When I returned to Milan, it was time for me to create and develop my own publishing company, drawing on years of experience in Italy and abroad.
What areas of publishing does your agency focus on?
I represent copyrights owned by Italian authors, in fiction and non-fiction, in Italy and abroad. I am passionate about the whole publishing process, about the global perspective in which an author can evolve over the years, about the multiple applications of copyright. So, it’s not just new books, but also the paperback catalogue in the different channels, audio books, podcasts, readings, and theatre adaptations and, in recent years, the sharp increase of audio-visual rights. I see publishing houses as a real home for each author; their relationship with publishers is important to me, sharing a new work from conception to programming and release. This relationship extends to press offices and marketing. I always devote a great deal of attention to the work in the catalogue, which is the assets of a writer and consequently of his readers. In some cases, when contracts come to an end, a change, however difficult, can be vital to reissue an entire work and put it back on the market. Careful management of secondary rights, from the making of a film, a TV series, or a documentary, becomes an opportunity for reprints and reissues of several titles. I also work with news publications that give books as a supplement to their newspaper. We have realised that the two channels don’t cancel each other out, but rather feed into each other. This is also the case with audio books. A very detailed activity that requires a vision of the whole, and projects to develop over the long term. When the release of a highly anticipated book happens hand in hand with the early sale of foreign rights, this allows for interesting and virtuous connections between the different markets.
In the light of your experience, what trends do you see emerging in these sectors?
The market is sending interesting signals – self-publishing book platforms are one example – and rewards originality and innovation. New spaces are being created and new readers are coming to age, first of all young adults. A constant transformation, linked also to the possibility of direct and unfiltered communication. It is important to follow trends and interpret them, along one’s own line of development. Publishers do this, whether independent publishers or large groups, and literary agencies are actively involved in this process.
There is a national market and an international market: how are these two different activities divided in the agency?
In my agency, Giulia Pilotti deals with foreign rights, content communication, and our participation in the major international fairs; Giulia Carpinelli oversees audio and audio-visual projects and relations with productions in Italy and abroad; Chiari Intrieri coordinates negotiations and contracts. We often discuss and share with each other our activities, and this allows us to take steps on several fronts in a coordinated effort. We take great care in preparing materials – our website, meetings between our writers and the public, press reviews, Italian and English version, which are invaluable in managing secondary rights.
What trends do you see emerging in Italian fiction in recent years? Will genre literature continue to grow in importance?
An author’s writing is a priceless asset, which value must be cultivated over time. Readers make their choices, we need to be concerned with identifying and encouraging talent, ensuring quality and being consistent in our proposals to publishers. Genres flourish, consolidate, can attract new readers, or make reading more accessible to those who don’t read often.
A writer’s success in his or her own country doesn’t immediately translate into success across borders. What “type” of writer sells well abroad? The ones who are more strongly marked by their national origins (in other words, the ones who are more “Italian”) or the ones who are more international?
Foreign publishers often look for “Italianness” in the books and writers we offer. I think a more international appeal lies within the ability to create stories and characters that any reader, anywhere in the world, can identify with. Again, the quality of writing is absolutely central. However, it is important for me, in exporting Italian culture, to avoid clichés and stereotypes. This means spending a lot of time talking to editors at foreign publishing houses, and sometimes it happens that certain books are discovered or understood only years after their first publication in Italy. In this long-term line of work, the collaboration of Italian cultural institutes, with initiatives including meetings and readings, and of translators who are enthusiastic about our language, is truly key. Events (just to mention a few) such as the Turin Book Fair, with a section presided by Ilide Carmignani, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and Più libri più liberi in Rome, and the initiatives put forth by Casa delle Traduzioni, also in Rome, provide translators with opportunities to come in contact with publishers and take part in the grant programmes organised by the various bodies and institutions.
How much time and effort do you dedicate to searching for new authors?
My agency represents a number of established Italian writers, to whom we devote all the attention needed to develop and see their projects come to fruition. This activity is combined with the search for new voices, whether first-time authors or authors who have not yet found their place. For me, scouting also moves underground, through associations, unanticipated readings, coincidences. It takes time and commitment, like everything else.
What do you think of the latest support towards the translation of Italian books into foreign languages, offered by Cepell?
It has allowed us to make new contacts, including with independent publishers, and to sign transfer contracts. The fact that we also have personal relationships with translators of lesser-known or spoken languages, who often inform us of new publishing opportunities, is immensely helpful to us. The opportunity for grants to pay for translation has been decisive on several occasions. The publication of Cepell’s calls for tender has now become a date not to be missed!