As my friends in Rome know, I left town on September 24 to attend a very special writer’s conference held in the South of Italy, in beautiful Matera – now just nominated European Culture Capital for 2019. Self-publishing was amply discussed and we had several self-published stars, including Bella André and Tina Folsom, major editors from big US and Italian publishing houses, publishing gurus like Jane Friedman and David Gaughran, and literary agents from the US, UK and Italy. Here’s the article I wrote about it for Publishing Perspectives, just published today:
Italian Writing Festival Takes Women, Self-Publishing Seriously
October 21, 2014
By Claude Nougat
After eleven years of uninterrupted success, the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera – four days at the end of September, it closed on the 28th – has proven once again that it is unique in Europe. It combines the best of American writers’ conferences and Italian literary events, drawing together the business side of publishing —literary agents, editors, translators and publishing gurus — with the creative side, both established writers and newbies, coming from Europe and America. And it manages to do this without turning into a mega, unmanageable event.
This year it was sold out. But it meant that only about one hundred lucky few made it, and for aspiring writers, it was a perfect occasion to pitch their work at agents and editors coming from the US, the UK and of course Italy.Small size is just one of the keys of the Festival’s success. The other is Matera itself, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Southern Italy, famous for its “sassi,” hundreds of cave dwellings. Some have even been turned into charming hotels though the “modern” town with its baroque churches and palaces may prove more comfortable to the less adventurous. The Festival is held in a highly suggestive environment, “Le Monacelle”, an ex-convent dating to the 16th century and restored in 2000. And that is surely yet another reason for success. The convent’s numerous reception rooms are all open to Festival participants, including a cloistered patio and a vast terrace with a fantastic view over the old town. A magic place! So much so that it has just been named by the European Commission to be “Europe’s Cultural Capital” in 2019, beating all sorts of other rival Italian towns, including Lecce and Perugia.
A Festival Born out of Friendship
What however makes the difference is the original “business model” followed by the Festival. First conceived as a writers’ retreat, it quickly morphed into a sui generis conference. It all began with a “telephonic friendship” between author Elizabeth Jennings who lived in Matera and Maria Paola Romeo who was then editorial director at Harlequin Mondadori in Milan. As Elizabeth Jennings explains it, they were “chatting and talking about establishing a writer’s retreat in Matera, which is quite beautiful and quite conducive to writing.” But in so doing, they both brought their experience and contacts to bear with the result that Matera turned into a special meeting place for the literati on both sides of the Atlantic, something truly unique.
Elizabeth Jennings is a successful romantic suspense author who constantly travels to the US, attending major writers’ conferences. Maria Paola Romeo has moved on from Mondadori and has become one of the most successful literary agents in Italy and now founder of a fast-growing digital publishing house Emma Books focused on women’s literature in both English and Italian.
The rest on Publishing Perspectives, click here.