How to discreetly sell 600,000 books a year: the case of Mélissa Da Costa

PARIS: Without being known to literary journalists, and very little to the general public, Mélissa Da Costa sold more than 600,000 books last year: discretion succeeds in this novelist who describes herself as “instinctive”.

This former communications officer was the big surprise in the GfK ranking of the ten best-selling authors in France in 2021: eighth place, 614,000 copies.

Le Figaro, which published this ranking, was taken aback. “We admit it: we have never read a novel by Mélissa Da Costa”, wrote the house critic (and novelist himself) Mohammed Aïssaoui.

“To believe that they never set foot in bookstores …”, then laughed on Twitter a bookseller from Fnac near Versailles, Sébastien Thomas-Calleja.

Surprise also for this 31-year-old author, who did not expect to join in this “top 10” Virginie Grimaldi, Valérie Perrin or Aurélie Valognes. “For me, everything was lightning fast,” she says.

She started by self-publishing on Amazon, with a convoluted headline, “Looking for travel companion for ultimate getaway.” And it didn’t work.

Poles apart

Her fabulous destiny begins when she submits this same novel in 2018 on a platform for connecting with publishers, The publisher Carnets Nord contacted her when she was down under, in the southern wine region of New Zealand, in Cromwell.

“I had left for a year-long road trip. I was doing the grape harvest, I was living in a van,” she recalls. “One day in Paris, during the night for me, the editor called me to tell me how much he had liked my novel”.

This one, when it was published in the spring of 2019, was renamed “All the blue of the sky”. “I had to do three TVs, two radios, things that I didn’t necessarily get afterwards. And good sales. Not as much as today of course, but it was off to a strong start, for a first novel, a small publishing house”… which will go bankrupt.

But an editor from Albin Michel spotted Mélissa Da Costa. “Les Lendemains”, his second novel, appears in early 2020, while “All the blue of the sky” takes off in paperback.

She then decided to devote herself entirely to writing. And since then, “he’s an author who is a hit”, confirms Fanny Bénéfice, from the Gibert bookstore in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Yvelines). This sign does not hesitate to exhibit many second-hand copies. They flow without problem.

One per year

“She arrived, with other ‘feel good’ authors like Aurélie Valognes, to succeed the generation of Anna Gavalda, Katherine Pancol, who did not follow this same rhythm of one book per year”, explains the head of the department. literature. “Readers, especially female readers, don’t need to have read her name in a newspaper or seen her in [l’émission de France 5] The Great Library. It’s word of mouth.”

His latest title, “The Phantom Pains”, published in early March, still by Albin Michel, “starts slowly. But in the spring, it will take off”, bets the bookseller.

For Mélissa Da Costa, it is the arrival on the shelves of a novel written “at 25”, about a young woman, Ambre, forced to reassess her (bad) love choices in a few days.

The novelist also advances with resolution. “I write quite quickly: between four and six months to complete my novels, which is relatively fast. (…) I am instinctive. No chronology, no character sheet”.

And she won’t let herself be locked into the “feel good” box. “I don’t recognize myself in it. Harshness, verbal violence are part of life”, she says, confident of writing a “darker, on the grip” novel.

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How to discreetly sell 600,000 books a year: the case of Mélissa Da Costa