Give or take a few

My book: an announcement and a question.

I’m quite excited about my book. Or should I say, my book – for lo, that’s an actual link to a page where you can, apparently, pre-order it, with free UK delivery and everything. And here’s the publisher’s page about the book, and here’s what it says there:

‘More work! Less pay!’

Rebellion and repression in Italy, 1972–77
Phil Edwards

In the mid-1970s, a wave of contentious radicalism swept through Italy. Groups and movements such as ‘Proletarian youth’, ‘metropolitan Indians’ and ‘the area of Autonomy’ practised new forms of activism, confrontational and often violent. Creative and brutal, intransigent and playful, the movements flourished briefly before being suppressed through heavy policing and political exclusion.

This is the first full-length study in English of these movements. Building on Sidney Tarrow’s ‘cycle of contention’ model and drawing on a wide range of Italian materials, Phil Edwards tells the story of a unique and fascinating group of political movements, and of their disastrous engagement with the mainstream Left. As well as shedding light on a neglected period of twentieth century history, this book offers lessons for understanding today’s contentious movements (‘No Global’, ‘Black Bloc’) and today’s ‘armed struggle’ groups.

This book will be of great interest to scholars in the fields of Italian politics and society; the sociology of social movements; and terrorism and political violence.

1. Introduction
2. The Hot Autumn and after: a cycle of contention reconsidered
3. From Resistance to Historic Compromise: the politics of the PCI
4. From Feltrinelli to Moro: a second cycle of contention
5. ‘Repudiate all forms of intolerance’: how the movements were framed
6. A cycle and its aftermath
7. Do you remember revolution?
8. Social movements and cycles of contention: theoretical appendix

The book itself is currently sitting on the floor of our front room in the form of proofs (proofs! actual proofs of my book!) – proofs which I’m going to have to check before too long, to say nothing of producing an index.

Setting aside my new-authorial giddiness (which mostly evaporated when I started thinking about indexing anyway), I honestly think this is a book that’s well worth publishing. It is the first full-length study in English of the Italian movements of the 1970s – the great archipelago of Autonomia, the ‘proletarian youth’, the indiani metropolitani, the movimento del ’77 and all – not to mention the vast and complex panorama of ‘armed struggle’ groups which flourished and declined alongside them. There’s some of this in Storming Heaven, Steve Wright’s excellent book on operaismo and Autonomia; there’s some about the movimento in one chapter of Robert Lumley’s States of Emergency; and there are a couple of very good books about the armed groups by David Moss and Donatella della Porta. But to get a proper overview of the scene, you’ve basically had to read Italian. Up to now!

All right, so it’s an academic specialism like any other, and I only think it’s fascinating and important because it’s my academic specialism – someone else could make an equally good case for a new atlas of French regional dialects or a groundbreaking study of variations in snail shell thickness. But I do think it’s fascinating and important – and since this is my blog, I’ll take the space to tell you why.

Italian politics often looks a bit weird, seen from the outside, and the mid- to late 1970s were a particularly weird period. It had two particularly striking features. Firstly, you had a political system that was becoming more and more ossified, heading for the final stasis of the ‘five party’ period (when every political party to the Left of the Fascists and to the Right of the Communists was locked into a permanent coalition around the ruling Christian Democrats). The Communists – who had been systematically excluded from power since 1948 – tried to challenge the Christian Democrats’ dominance of Italian politics, but they did so (this is the weird part) by asking to be allowed to share power; the word ‘begging’ also comes to mind. The Communists’ approach was politically abject; it was tactically inept (the Christian Democrats under Aldo Moro ran rings around them), and it was strategically disastrous (the party never recovered, and arguably still hasn’t). Whether ideologically or in terms of party self-interest, it made no sense at all. Why did they do it?

Well, you’ll have to read chapter 3, but a large part of what was going on had to do with the second oddity of the period. In the late 1960s there had been a huge amount of industrial militancy, beginning outside the unions and very largely escaping their control. The wave of activism culminated at the very end of the decade, with an official settlement agreed in December 1969; this got the workers most of what they’d wanted, while also giving the unions what they’d wanted by acknowledging their representative role in the workplace. So in 1970 everyone went back to work, to be greeted with a pay rise plus official union representation, and things went back to normal. What’s extraordinary is what happened next: over the next few years, things started kicking off again, in the name of direct action against inflation. Rent strikes, bus fare strikes, utility strikes, ‘proletarian shopping’ (à la Can’t pay? Won’t pay!)… it was all happening, facilitated in many cases by people who’d cut their teeth in the wildcat strikes of the 60s. It’s a period of extraordinarily active and widespread protest and agitation; it didn’t go anywhere near the official Left (represented by the poor old Communist Party); and, for the most part, it didn’t go near the workplace either.

So you had political stasis, a supine official Left and some fairly wild scenes in the streets, in the campuses and on the estates. And then you had the interaction between the movements and the Communist Party, which is the analytical heart of my book. Following news stories in the Communist Party’s paper l’Unità over a period of five years, I analyse the party’s dominant ‘framings’ of the movements – how the party leadership saw them, and how it wanted party members to see them. Hostility to the movements is not surprising – these were, after all, potential political rivals. What is surprising, and marks a sharp departure from the Party’s approach to the activism of the late 60s, is the hostility expressed towards the movements’ members, their demands and their culture. Instead of offering to take the movements under its wing, the Party essentially dismissed them in their entirety, after labelling them as breeding-grounds for nihilist hooligans and fascist provocateurs. This ‘scorched-earth’ policy made life extremely difficult for the movements, deprived of any kind of sponsor from within the political mainstream; from this point of view it could be said to have been a success. However, it also led inexorably to the Communist Party denying itself a major potential source of new members and new ideas, and alienating much of its existing support. And they never did get to share power with the Christian Democrats.

It’s a fascinating and in many ways a tragic period. More to the point, the scale and diffusion of activism makes it a very unusual period in European history. To think of another like it I think you’d need to go back to May ’68, if not to Barcelona ’36 – and both of those have had plenty written about them, even in English. Yes, Steve Wright’s book is good – and the chapter in Robert Lumley’s book – but I really think this is the first book in English to do the period justice. I don’t expect you’ll buy it, though, unless you’ve got an institutional budget. Here’s the problem: the initial edition is hardback only. The planned cover price is £60, or approximately 30p per page. There’s a possibility of a paperback edition, which I might be able to recommend people to buy with a straight face; there’s a possibility, if the hardback edition sells. It’s an edition of 400.

All giddiness spent, I know the topic of the radical left in Italy in the 1970s isn’t that fascinating to that many people; I know the book’s never going to sell a million. I think it’s got a definite readership, though, not all of whom frequent university libraries. With a fair wind I think it could sell a few thousand – if it was affordable.

So here’s the question, aimed particularly at anyone who’s been in a similar position or knows people who have (hi Daniel!): how can I sell (say) 300 academic hardbacks, knowing that they’re realistically only going to be bought by libraries and eccentric millionaires? Advertising? Journal papers (Phil Edwards is the author of…)? Word of mouth at conferences? Emails to everyone I’ve ever met who might be interested (Forgive the impersonal approach, NO STOP PLEASE DON’T DELETE THaaah, too late)? Blog posts like this one?

Any suggestions will be gratefully received. (And I really don’t expect you to buy the book yourself. Unless you’re a librarian and/or an eccentric millionaire, of course, in which case feel free.)



  1. Nich Hills
    Posted 22 February 2009 at 05:51 | Permalink | Reply

    Congratulations, Phil, on getting your book to this stage.

    But a print run of 400? Crikey, that is depressing. No thoughts on how you might be able to flog them all.

    At least, unlike Jussi’s book, yours is in English.

  2. Cian
    Posted 22 February 2009 at 13:14 | Permalink | Reply

    I’d buy it at 20 quid for a paperback, and I’d wager that I know a few other people who would also. Christ, get a quote from Michael Hardt and you can sell it to the “Empire” crowd. I wonder if its possible to arrange for it to be sold via print on demand? Some university publishers are doing that now – the quality’s not brilliant, but the price is okay. Though I would have thought one of the political publishers would take a punt on the paperback rights to your book. Verso, or even AK press. I find academic publishing baffling.

    Um, marketing. I guess you have to find some way to let interested academics know about its existence so that they tell their libraries to buy it. Its a bad year for it, though. The collapse in the pound has massively increased the cost of journal subscriptions.

    Somebody told me that in some disciplines younger academics release manuscripts via bittorrent…

  3. Posted 23 February 2009 at 18:15 | Permalink | Reply

    Congrats Phil. I’ll probably buy it.

    Also, surely the best thing to do (as you say) is to hit the conference circuit. If you’re jammy enough it would be very useful to get a journal (e.g. Historical Materialism) to publish an issue around it.

    The period is interesting enough and the work is sparse enough that I think you have a reasonable hope of getting this done.

  4. dsquared
    Posted 3 March 2009 at 13:19 | Permalink | Reply

    Hrrrmm … tough one. The book presumably sells to libraries? I’m told that Japanese universities occasionally put in huge orders, but I’m not sure how one would go about promoting something there. I’ll bung up a link to this post on CT and see how we go?

  5. splinteredsunrise
    Posted 3 March 2009 at 16:12 | Permalink | Reply

    400 copies? Jammy bastard. If I ever managed to turn my thesis into a book, I confidently predict less than 50 people would read it. And they would consist entirely of guys I’ve met at conferences or PhD students of guys I’ve met at conferences. Of course, esoteric specialisms do have their own rewards…

  6. Phil
    Posted 4 March 2009 at 18:21 | Permalink | Reply

    D^2 – ta, that would be great.

    S^2 – 400 copies is a constraint, not an opportunity! I confidently predict that fewer than 50 actual people will buy my book in hardback – in fact I’d be willing to bet on fewer than 10.

  7. Jussi Jalonen
    Posted 4 March 2009 at 20:53 | Permalink | Reply

    (Coming late to this…)

    Nich, the first edition of my book was, uh, thousand copies, over twice the size of Phil’s; factor in the differences in population between Finland and Britain, and you’ll get the picture. The book was printed in hardback, which is pretty much a norm in this country. The real problem is that it was printed in this goddamn giant-sized A4-hardback, a format which at least to me seemed impossible to market.

    But in spite of my reservations, the fellows at the publishing house apparently knew what they were doing. The book sold 250 copies in three months, and another 250 copies in the following three months. What can I say?People here like to read, and military history obviously sells.

    But no worries. I might actually buy Phil’s book myself – hey, anything that’s related to radicalism, terrorism or public mayhem in general intrigues me – and I’ll definitely recommend it to my colleagues whom I know to be interested either in the history of Italy or in the history of left-wing radicalism in the post-war Western Europe. I have this one female colleague who just wrote the first Finnish-language biography of Ulrike Meinhof; she might very well be interested in this.

    As for how to sell it, I’d imagine that at least the first forty copies you mentioned would pretty much be bought already by academic libraries on the British Isles, Italy and here and there across the Continent and Scandinavia. That’s 10% of the edition taken care of right there. So, no need to be so pessimistic.

    Me, I sent complementary copies of my book to some of my colleagues who studied the same field – and yes, I also sent a few copies to people whom I had never met, but whom I knew to be interested in the topic. Some of these people were kind enough to write reviews of the book in academic journals. So, I don’t think that writing e-mails to everyone you’ve met would be a bad idea.

    Holding presentations of the book at academic conferences and seminaries is also a perfectly good idea, and I did the same myself. Also, as already suggested, you might consider writing one or two short articles based on your book for relevant academic journals – once again, that’s what I did, and it seemed to work.

    At some point, assuming that your experience will imitate mine, it’ll all catch a momentum of its own, you’ll start receiving invitations for interviews, and you’ll start noticing surprising reviews in journals where you had never expected to see them.

    … hell, if I buy your book, _I_ could write a review of it for the Finnish Journal of History, but it’d take some time before the review would be published. But for now, I’ll send info of your book to two academic mailing lists where it should catch at least some attention.

    And don’t underestimate the power of the word of mouth.

    But the price… I mean, £60? Does it have coloured illustration drawn up by Milo Manara or something? Christ, the price of the biography that I wrote was only 35 euros, even in that godawful format. And, of course, the various bookstores in the web are actually selling it at only 27 euros. So, the eventual retail price (is that the right word in English when speaking of literature?) of your book may also end up being slightly lower.

    But let’s hope for that the possibility of that paperback edition materializes. And congratulations!


    J. J.

  8. christina
    Posted 4 March 2009 at 23:12 | Permalink | Reply

    Well done Phil, your ‘little sister’ is very proud and loves you very much :)

  9. Cian
    Posted 5 March 2009 at 16:40 | Permalink | Reply

    My PhD supervisor’s last book was over £100. I don’t think it sold particularly well (no paperback in the offing, certainly), but a surprising number of people have read it and it helped her career enormously.

  10. Posted 11 March 2009 at 08:39 | Permalink | Reply

    I wrote a book about football which complained, among other things, that many people couldn’t afford to watch it any more.

    They charged fourteen pound fifty for the book, and nobody could afford to buy it.

  11. Posted 13 March 2009 at 03:49 | Permalink | Reply

    Thinking about it (and reading the LRB) is there any chance you could get Perry Anderson to read/review it, maybe for the LRB? I mean he’s touched upon the issue in his last piece but it certainly seems like an area ripe for exploration (and on the strength of the publication of the articles perhaps the demand is there too).

  12. Posted 23 April 2009 at 22:03 | Permalink | Reply

    I am going to ask MUP for a review copy for SU blog.

    I am suprised that some publishers acually approach us abou books they think would be of interest (faber and faber, L&W), while others are happy enough when asked.

    But some other publishers (verso) seem very reluctant to part with review copies.

    Where do MUP stand on this spectrum?

  13. Posted 28 April 2009 at 09:39 | Permalink | Reply

    Andy – good question, and no idea. I’ll ask.

  14. ec
    Posted 28 February 2010 at 21:40 | Permalink | Reply

    The book sounds very interesting. Why not write a more populist quickie retelling of the period for paperback? That would sell.

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