Nicola Pesce is a writer by vocation and an entrepreneur. Fortunately for us, he is devoted to the field of publishing, where he founded the publishing house of his same name. At the beginning of his adventurous career, Nicola curated an anthology under the pen name Pedro Adelante entitled E il cagnolino rise, which featured me.
We had a beautiful and deep conversation about making books, being a publisher (which is different than just printing books), and the pros and cons for those who intend to start a business in this sector, in one way or another.
Enjoy the read!
You just launched IVVI, a new publishing house. What’s it about? Is it a book-on-demand project? But above all: where do you find the time? Your publishing house, Edizioni NPE, releasing books non stop…!
Dear Dario, let me first thank you for this interview. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.
As you know, as a publisher I worked my way up the ladder with my hands in a little bit of everything, writing copy, creating book layouts, and printing magazines at night (because during the day, of course, I was a high school student first and later a university student). I started carrying boxes and sweeping the office floor, and I became the sort of “engine” of Edizioni NPE.
Now, actually, the car I’m driving has sped up, and my job is to constantly pave the way. My collaborators understand their tasks very well by now, and they don’t need me 90% of the time.
As they say, I recently stopped working “in” the publishing house, and I started working “at” the publishing house.
First I had to learn everything by myself, with no guidance. Then I taught my closest friends, and now they constitute a talented and capable publishing crew!
However, I felt the need to step back and start all over. The starting point is where you learn the skills that will make you stand out.
When I was younger, I read The Brothers Karamazov. I can’t say I fully understood the novel at the time; the time comes when you need to read something again.
Therefore, IVVI Editore is first and foremost the desire to review my entire professional career with the experience I have today. I am packing boxes; I am doing layouts; I am proofreading. So on and so on, all over again.
IVVI is – as the palindrome and symmetrical logo suggest – a subversion of the concept of publishing. To me, now all the publishers are also authors. I take a step back and publish everything they submit. Obviously I don’t ask for money, but rather I invest in all the authors who write to us by printing and turning their works into books, making them available in all the Italian book shops and related websites. At this point, authors need to know how to promote themselves in the appropriate market. Your readers can navigate to ivvi.it to learn more!
Where do I find the time? If you knew the number of other projects I’m involved with, you wouldn’t believe it! Let’s just say that publishing takes up 10% of my time.
I first met you as a writer, but you also wanted to be a publisher. Fast forward about 15 years, and I find you a writer and a publisher. I know there were a lot of troubling adventures in between, but your heart looks the same. Do you think this is accurate?
Luckily and unfortunately my life has always been extremely difficult. I don’t want to talk about my childhood, but suffice it to say that — affected by Asperger syndrome — I didn’t have a lot of fun. Nor was adolescence much better. And, of course, serious and never-ending family problems…
In the end, I have learned to interact with people, to write precise contracts, and to look at the world with a passionate, enthusiastic but detached and calculating manner.
Hegel talks about an “idea” as something that is meant to be released and eventually returned to itself — filled with the sum of its many experiences, but never losing its identity.
I loved writing. I loved publishing. Then life overwhelmed me for 15 years, where I psychologically hurt myself, to the point that I felt ridiculous every time I held a pen in my hand to write something. I didn’t write for 12 years. In the end, I decided to take my life back. I want to do all the things I have been dreaming about, and so have dedicated my life to this. This is the only way I won’t feel like a failure after all.
My heart does not look the same; now it’s all beat up. I don’t know if it will ever recover. I will try to take care of it.
Let’s talk about Nicola the writer. I’ll avoid asking where you find the time, but I am interested in your method. Are you a compulsive writer, getting into long bouts with the word processor, creating something that you’re not quite sure how will end, or do you plan the outlines of what you need to write and follow a strict process? And, side note, since you define yourself a “vintage writer,” what is your favourite writing tool?
When I close my eyes to fall asleep an incredible kaleidoscope of dreams starts. Sometimes I dream of entire movies, with an introduction, a development and an end. I even dream of being at the movie theatre watching these films, or I dream of a friend telling me about the plot of a story at a café table. Pure madness.
It’s the same when I sit down to write. I know that in some way it is about myself, but every time I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the next sentence. It all happens independently and on its own.
In fact, the thing I’ve been told most about my first book is that the reader doesn’t expect what’s coming in the next paragraph, including sudden changes in genre. So I never plan outlines. I don’t know what to do with them.
I write in two completely different ways: either with a purple pen in a yellowed notebook, with a slow rhythm; otherwise on the computer with supersonic speed, trying to follow my thoughts as they come.
Two very diverse styles come out of this process. The first style is concise, focused on avoiding digressions and long descriptions; the other is free from any type of obstacle, which allows for stories inside of stories, where even a secondary character can take up 20 pages.
Um, I don’t know if this is a good thing!
The cool thing about my handwriting style is that you can see how neatly I write in my notebooks, and you won’t ever find a mistake. I don’t believe that a corrected Nicola would be any better than an uncorrected Nicola, so I always leave things the way they are.
I worry about being too prolific, even if it feels like I am never writing. Even if I only write two hours a week — which is a lot, just because of my many commitments — I’ll always end up with three novels a year. I would like to have more time for writing, but if I did, the number of compositions would be dramatic!
This question is a must, since you recommended I watch the first movie you wrote, Le cose come stanno, on Prime Video, and I remember we talked about it maybe a decade ago. That’s the one, right? Unfortunately, Prime Video doesn’t let me watch the movie from outside of Italy. So, while I wait to return to where the lockdown has kept me from, tell me if this wait is worth it. And most importantly: what is the lesson you learned from writing for the screen in comparison with writing for books?
When I greenlit the movie adaptation of my book, as usual I did the opposite of what everybody else would have done. I sold the rights for a symbolic amount of money. I was already appreciative that a movie was being made. I gave them the rights to do anything to the story — any cut or modification by the director. I only asked them to take my name off the credits, in case I didn’t like the final result. That wasn’t the case, though.
I never once visited the movie set. I was too afraid of seeing my work raped. Let them rape it, but without me. Only twice in the month of shooting did I go out for dinner with the actors, who wanted to ask a few questions about the characters. And even on that occasion, I told them to perform the characters the way they felt them, and not the way I told them to do (except for some clarifications about small misunderstandings).
It was already absurd for me to see all these actors (all very talented) with faces so different than the ones I had imagined!
So for me, a novel is a novel. Everything you create in and around it, it is another thing — a different work — that only involves about 1% of me.
There are about a hundred people working on a small movie, and I am just one of those workers. It doesn’t make sense to force my point of view about how to shoot a scene if I’ve never held a camera in my hands.
The lesson I learned is that I need to write. In the sense that there is a certain oddity in watching a film crew work seriously for an entire month on a piece that I wrote as a joke in less than a week; and also in the sense that I don’t like to be involved in projects. Writing is my way to self-isolate from the rest of the world and nurture myself. It is not a pursuit of fame. So, fine, someone wants to make a movie off my work? But I’m not going to leave my house to go walk the catwalk on a movie set.
This question is a little silly, but publishers always ask, and I am curious: what book have you published that makes you most proud of? And what book do you still regret of not publishing?
I don’t know if I am more proud of having published Sharaz-de by Sergio Toppi, or Eccetto Topolino, an essay about comics at the time of fascism, which brought the authors a lot of attention in the Italian newspapers, most notably this quote from Unità: “Today an academic level of comic critics is born.”
The amazing thing is that we will publish a way more extended second issue of this essay in September, and I am very proud of it.
A small publisher doesn’t have a lot of money to start with, and I saw so many works slip out of my hands that went on to be published elsewhere. I tend not to overthink things that didn’t happen! I don’t have any negative feelings inside. They would slow me down. Regret and hate are tiring.
I can’t believe somebody discouraged you from publishing Toppi…!
Well, looking at it today, with Edizioni NPE as “a publishing house for comic creators,” it makes sense. At that time though, if you recall, I was publishing with a non-cohesive attitude and I didn’t have a defined identity. Then one day I told the editor-in-chief: “Well, then we’ll buy all of Sergio Toppi’s rights, all of Dino Battaglia, and all of Attilio Micheluzzi. And from now on we are a comic authors publishing house.” It was an unexpected U-turn, and it cost so much that I am still paying off the debts!
You took over “Scuola di fumetto”, a smart move. Yet it seemed like nobody was interested in it. It’s been a year now (maybe more?). Do you feel it’s a good investment, if not financially, perhaps in other ways?
I live my life a little off the grid, so I didn’t know it had shut down. When I found out I couldn’t bear it. I recall Laura Scarpa writing the reviews of my first books in that magazine.
As soon as I heard about it, I called her, and in about an hour we had a deal.
The investment has been more than fruitful. I recovered the costs in the first year, and I learned how the periodical industry world works (at least at the small business level, for now).
Publishing is one of the less innovative and innovated industries that exists. What are some of the industry’s immediate innovative needs, and which one would you like to realize yourself?
I don’t know what to say, because every week I learn a new skill that messes up the way I saw the publishing world the week before. And I tell myself, “ What a dummy I am!”
I am a deep thinker, and when I have an idea I want to realize it. People say to me, “You’re buying all of Sergio Toppi’s rights? Are you crazy? Nobody is going to buy that!” Or also, “You’re starting a publishing house? Are you crazy? Nobody makes a dime off culture!”
I couldn’t say what the necessary innovations are, because everything I want to change I am already changing. Look at IVVI Editore. Did you ever think a publisher would come out saying, “I will publish everything that is submitted, with real books in all the book shops.”? I would say that during the quarantine I have been innovative enough. I am saying all this making fun of myself! We will see if it works!
Is periodical publishing dead and gone or not? You invested in it. How do you see the industry? Can it be saved?
I’m afraid that periodical sales are actually taking off, instead of hitting the bottom. In my opinion, it’s too soon to say that it’s dead. There is still a lot to do.
I think periodicals will continue to be sold under three conditions: 1. There are good ideas that can be communicated concisely and repeatedly, 2. Investment in brands continues despite the unstable mood of the market, and 3. Publishers follow their hearts.
Any tips for the young writers and — let’ s not forget — young publishers?
To the young authors, I can only recommend two things. The first is to write more. Many writers are all talk and, as a publisher, I meet thousands of these individuals. They never write. If you don’t write for at least an hour every day for your entire life, you’re better off dropping it altogether. A month break between projects is fine, but writing only ten hours in a year and talking about for a thousand — that’s not what makes you a writer. And you don’t need to drown yourself in projects. Do you have a story for a novel or a screenplay? Write it and move on. Talk less. All that you have to say, say it on paper. Where I come from we say, “If you chat in front of the oven, you’ll ruin the bread.”
The second piece of advice to young authors is to understand, even if is tragic, that the world has changed, and nowadays you need to be your own promoter. There is no deus ex machina coming from above to tell you, “I’m going to sell a million copies of your great work!” And even if that did happen to someone, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way it can happen for you. It is up to us to get out there. You don’t want to do it? Then I’m sorry to say you will never live off writing. It is sad, but it is a fact.
I have a Facebook page followed by 60 thousand people. When I post one of my books, I sell 100 copies on the first day. This allows me to be a writer. And all these people who buy my books – in their own way – understand me and are close to me.
I would say to a young publisher: do your math. Before you start any project, spend 10 hours analyzing all the aspects, on paper, with numbers — and then spend 10 more. Many times I made mistakes that, after 20 years, I am still licking wounds that won’t heal. Do less, but do it right. Sure, make a mistake. But then learn and remember that nobody is forcing you to create anything that doesn’t work.
I apologize for this interview. Now that I am re-reading it, I sound a little presumptuous. Dario, I don’t know what got into me!