74 Comments

My first guess would be that your US version came out before chatGPT and your Italian version came out after.

Anecdotally, it seems that chatGPT has got lots of people very interested in the subject of consciousness, which I can imagine being good for newly released books that touch on the subject.

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Congrats on the success! (For the record, I didn't see your preamble as complaining but rather as an interesting observation...)

I've seen this happen before with writer friends -- a book will do well in some inexplicable places. I think that the reasons are probably all six, but Reason 2 most of all. When publishers get behind a book, they tend to do exponentially better, from my (albeit limited) experience. The ones ignored do the worst. But I think this is only part of the explanation. Things come into vogue and then disappear, and often at different times around the globe.

I'll put an asterisk next to Number 6 though -- I think there's an explanation, but we don't know it yet. Outside of literature, there are many examples, too. David Hasselhoff is big in (West) Germany. Schitt's Creek was huge in Canada, and for some reason broke out in the US where other shows did not. BBC's Cunk series, same thing -- been around forever in the UK and now a sensation when hitting Netflix. "Gangnam Style" became a hit worldwide for some unknown reason. Roxanne by the Police was released twice in North America and flopped the first time. Now, it's considered a rock classic. So not a "null" hypothesis, but perhaps an "X" hypothesis with many, many variables.

Whatever it was in your case, I say enjoy the lightning and let everything else take care of itself.

Viva l'Italia!

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Mar 30·edited Mar 30Liked by Erik Hoel

I like Rob's explanation.

That said, This reminds me of the Three Body Problem. The original was written in Chinese by Cixin Liu, and there was an English translation by Ken Liu. The original was good, but the translation was award-winning. What I gather from people who've read both is that the translation in English is better than the original in Chinese, maybe because the translator was such a good writer. So of course without the author, the story could not exist, but perhaps your translator deserves some credit too :-)

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"I’m talking about a how-am-I-going-to-spend-my-life perspective, and it just didn’t add up."

This.

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Happy to see a good reception in my country, Erik. Your writing is awesome and the plot behind Revelations very intriguing. And I always dig your pieces. :) It's probably Carbonio doing a great job in a market that's probably driven by slightly different factors vs the US.

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Very interesting! Maybe few books in your genre are translated into Italian and so they’re starved for this type of novel? That would be my first guest.

Or the snowball effect or Pr leading to more Pr would be my second guess, as you’ve suggested with the Italian publisher.

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Mar 30Liked by Erik Hoel

Hi Erik. I'll add another sub-hypothesis (a variation on the luck hypothesis): the virality effect. There was some interested research done a few years ago about how something goes viral. The research involved a dancer (involved in the research) at a music festival or outdoor concert. The dancer was positioned on a grassy hill where the rest of the audience is sitting down, listening to the music. The dancer starts dancing and the reaction of the crowd is observed. This is repeated multiple times with different crowds but in otherwise similar situations. In some cases the dancer continues to dance alone without anyone join, in other cases a few people join in on the dancing, and in other cases many people join ("went viral"). The research seemed to find that there's a threshold for the number of people who join the dancing in order for it to go viral. Once that threshold was crossed, large numbers of people reliably joined. But if the crowd failed to reach a threshold, then the results varied a lot. Whether that threshold was met appeared random. Variables were controlled to be as similar as possible with no clear evidence about why the threshold was met sometimes and was not met sometimes.

Perhaps there is something similar going on with your book in Italy. For whatever unexplainable or random reasons, it just didn't meet the threshold of interest and activity in the US, whereas it did in Italy. Repeating the identical launch in each country could produce different results, simply due to "randomness" and the virality effect.

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Mar 30Liked by Erik Hoel

Congrats for the success!

One aspect: Italy actually has a larger number/diversity of books published every than the U.S. I remember reading so in a book by Nassim Taleb. According to him it's mostly statistics and network effects: the larger the market, the larger the share of the extreme best sellers within this market, and the tougher it is for newcomers, or new ideas, to make it through.

At any rate, I view your experience as further reason to beware the vision that a single global culture will/would be a good thing.

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It’s funny I had no idea your novel was so NOT a big deal here in the states. Looking back at my Goodreads, I read it last July and because I don’t read much contemporary fiction (I’m more of a classics person), I assumed I was reading it because everyone else was reading it. But no! Now I am wondering what lead me to read it in the first place. I’m pretty sure I got it at the library.

I gave it four stars, btw, which I don’t award that often. My review: “Irritating! Wonderful! Off-putting and absorbing!”

I do hope you write another. Congrats on your success in Italy!

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Mar 31Liked by Erik Hoel

Umberto Eco wrote an essay about the difference between Italy and the USA with respect to his experience as a published author. I forget which collection of essays of his it is in, and it will be weeks before I see the relevant bookshelf, so I thought I would mention it here. As I recall, he said that in Italy it was understood and appreciated that somebody like him could simultaneously be an academic, with academic publications and a journalist who wrote a monthly column in the largest daily newspaper in Milan, and the author of popular best selling fiction. This was part and parcel of the life of a 'public intellectual' and Italy has many of those. In the USA, however, there is a profound class wall that comes into play where an academic who writes a popular work is deemed suspect by the whole society. (Recall this essay is from at least 2 decades ago.) Writing a popular book makes you disreputable in the eyes of your academic colleagues, and being an academic is not something that the people who publish best-sellers want to advertise about you. So, in the USA, should an academic get the perverse idea that he would like to write fiction, the usual thing to do is to use a pseudonym. This means that in the USA, writing a book is not seen as an activity of the mind, constructed works of art about ideas, but rather something that 'just grows' organically. You can discuss whether or not a book is entertaining, and which actors would be best for portraying various characters in the hoped-for movie adaptation, but serious engagement with the ideas in the book just doesn't happen there. The authors themselves adopt an 'aw shucks' attitude about their 'craft' which attempts to limit any intellectual or artistic pretension the authors might hold, as if it were a shameful secret. In Italy, even the detective stories have intellectual and artistic pretensions. I think he referenced the works of Andrea Camilleri there.

At any rate it meant that the Italians had no problems trying to categorise _the Name of the Rose_ while American publishers didn't know what to do about a murder mystery which is really a novel about ideas.

I think the same thing happened to you. Attitudes may have changed in the last few decades, but I think the basic pattern persists. And, interestingly enough, substack may become the place where Americans who are interested in being public intellectuals, can flourish.

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I live in Italy and a big fan of The Revelations, and my best guess is something like hypothesis (4).

One thing I've noticed about well educated Italians is that they are a lot better versed in the classics, both mythological and literary, than their Anglosphere equivalents. Education in the US and UK seem much more pragmatic and less theoretical.

There's also a strong appreciation of intellectuals in popular culture Italy -- it's normal for a Philosophy Professor have a 20 minute monologue in a primetime news show. This isn't something I've ever seen in the English speaking world.

Considering your book probably appeals to classical/intellectual types, I think this can explain it.

The Italian intelligentsia also tends to be quite left-wing, so Americans aren't usually idolised very much. So, I think you can discount (3).

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There's a song about this!

https://youtu.be/jsMfSKX1KTw

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RE: politicization, I suspect for a work of fiction to be "modern" and realistic, you'd have to mentally assign their political sensibilities and how they conform to the norms of that tribe (red vs blue coded behavior, jobs, etc.). I consider myself politically homeless, so I would almost certainly hate reading that novel, but I wonder if it would be more commercially successful. There's already a thin veneer of this in every streaming show.

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Because we Italians are the best? More seriously, I’ll think about this and post some thoughts tomorrow. I’ll also take a look at the Italian translation.

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your writing has good rhythm, well suited to reading aloud. that's a draw to me and likely to others as well. the metaphor at the end was *chefs kiss*, in my opinion.

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Mar 30Liked by Erik Hoel

I loved the book for the challenge of grasping at unfamiliar vocabulary, which identified my experence as a reader with the experience of the characters. This gave a participatory feeling, like I was also engaged in drawing order out of chaos.

Maybe non-US audiences are less subject to propositional tyranny (to borrow a term from Vervaeke) and are willing to engage more deeply when texts are challenging?

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