18 Dec Guadalajara: Discovering Latin American Publishing
2 Seas Agency learning about the Latin American publishing scene at the 2015 FIL de Guadalajara
By Marleen Seegers – Article first published in December 2015
From November 30 – December 3 2015, 2 Seas Agency visited the 29th Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara (FIL). The Dutch publishing magazine Boekblad asked me to write a daily blog to share my impressions. Below article is based on the five blogs that covered my stay at the FIL.
Translated from the Dutch by Sara Palmbush.
Before my departure: It’ll be alright
This is the first time I’m going to Mexico to attend the Feria Internacional del Libro (FIL) in Guadalajara. Coming from California, it’s a relatively short flight and the time difference is only two hours. I won’t have any jetlag for a change! I’m curious how it will be to attend the largest book fair in Latin America. I’ve heard many positive things about the atmosphere (and the tequila), and we just sold a number of titles to Colombia; Nevertheless, I only have relatively few connections with Spanish-language publishers on this side of the ocean.
Even though my Spanish co-agent — who will also be at the FIL — has the contacts, it is always better to get to know the publishers personally. This was my experience, for example, in Brazil, where I also sell rights through a co-agent. My visit to the Bienal do Livro in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 had a positive impact on the number of Brazilian contracts I signed afterwards. Since the country entered an economic crisis, it has obviously slowed somewhat, but I still have very good contacts there.
I’ve had the idea to go to the FIL for a while. When it comes to contract negotiations Spanish publishers generally insist on getting hold of Spanish world rights. However, I have the impression that most of their book sales happen in Spain alone. When I propose that perhaps we could split the territories, I usually hear about the distribution problems Latin-American publishers struggle with. But hasn’t this become a thing of the past? Since the economic crisis and the decline in book sales in Spain, Spanish publishers themselves are also increasingly seeking refuge in the growing economy in Mexico and its surroundings. High time to go out and do my own research in Guadalajara.
Besides publishers within the large groups (Planeta, Penguin Random House…), I see quite a few independent publishers like Sexto Piso, Fiordo, and Trilce. I also have appointments with the Dutch and Flemish Literature Funds, and some international scouts and European publishers. Unlike the Frankfurt Book Fair, there’s not going to be any ‘speed dating’—a new appointment every half hour. I have also set aside time to walk around and see with my own eyes what people publish. I also decided not to book a table at the rights center, so I can speak with the publishers at their own stands and can see, and hold, their books. I trust that I’ll be okay and find my way (and my appointments) thanks to my frenchspañol.
I also think that I will have to ignore my (Dutch?) urge for everything to run smoothly and according to my agenda; something that I had already experienced in Rio de Janeiro and last year at the fair in Sharjah (UAE). I understand that at the FIL there’s lots of room for spontaneity, and that things are often arranged last-minute. For example, I have been trying for some time to organize a dinner with some Mexican and international publishing professionals. The evening has been decided on (Wednesday), and the number of people as well (10), but nothing else other than that. I suggested that perhaps someone who speaks fluent Spanish could reserve a table (but which restaurant?), but I haven’t received any response with only two days before the start of the fair… Calmate Marleen, it’ll be alright!
Day 1 at the FIL: In Guadalajara, it helps being disorganized
Despite the short flight yesterday, we (my husband Derek, co-founder of 2 Seas Agency, came along) are still about a day en route before arriving at our hotel in Guadalajara. In the evening we go for dinner with a friend who lives here (and who is not in the book business). During dinner a large group arrives and sits at the table next to us. Among them, I recognize one of the Mexican publishers I will be meeting with later this week. We strike up a conversation and he immediately talks about his intention to buy the rights to one of the books on our list. This is a good beginning, both in terms of business and spontaneous encounters on a Sunday evening, when I hadn’t expected to do anything business-wise!
This morning I first had to buy a ticket to the fair. Very unusual for me, I had missed the online booking period and I now had to buy one on site. My first appointment was scheduled for 10:30 am, and I had taken quite a lot of time for the registration process which I expected to be long and tedious. When I walked into the building, I saw an immense line… which turned out to be for those who had previously registered online, and thus only needed to retrieve their ticket. I was sent to another counter where, to my great surprise, there were but a few people. I just had to fill out a form, pay, and that was it: five minutes later, I walked into the show, leaving the line of far better organized people behind me.
A meeting later in the afternoon with a Mexican publisher gave me another beautiful example of ‘the Mexican way’. He told me he had lived in Barcelona for a while and didn’t like it. When he saw my puzzled expression (‘what is not great about living in Barcelona?’), he explained: “in Barcelona the buses and trains are right on time, to the minute. Everything is well organized and clean and tidy, and the people there are always punctual. What is great or fun about that?”
My appointments today were held both in the Salon de Derechos and at the publishers’ stands. I got to talk to everyone who was in my agenda; even a few more, thanks to some spontaneous meetings. I bumped into the group of the FIL’s International Editors Fellowship several times, which this year includes publisher
s from countries such as Germany, Sweden, the UK and the US. During the cocktail that took place later in the afternoon in the rights center, I discovered that many more international publishers and scouts than I had expected were attending.
Day 2 at the FIL: Inspiring and informative meetings
My first meeting this morning was with the publisher of Alfaguara/Taurus (Penguin Random House Mexico). Due to a problem with one of her authors, she couldn’t make it to the Penguin Random House stand on time, but after a few texts back and forth I was able to arrange a new appointment for later today.
My following meeting wasn’t for another hour, so in the meantime with my schedule in hand, I went around to the stands of a few publishers with whom I didn’t have meetings scheduled, but wanted very much to see. Thanks to my mixture of French and Spanish words (most of the staff at the stands didn’t speak any English), I was able to arrange three new appointments!
I then met Martín Solares from Tusquets, the literary imprint of Planeta Mexico. During our meeting we discovered that we had met in a former life, many years ago, when he was still working at Oceano, and I was with Editions Stock in Paris. It appears we even have a good friend in common, a French-Spanish translator from Mexico who was one of my fellow-students at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris. Once Martín remembered that I also spoke French, we immediately switched to that language. As promised, he made an offer on a book for which our agency represents the translation rights and which he is extremely enthusiastic about. Very nice! He also gave an informative explanation about how the relationship works between the different Tusquets offices: In addition to Tusquets Spain there is an office in Mexico that also covers the US and Central America (up to, and including, Panama); their office in Argentina covers Uruguay and Chile, as well, and the office in Colombia includes Peru, Equador and Venezuela.
Later, when I finally speak to the publisher of Alfaguara/Taurus Mexico, territorial divisions come up again. I just sold a French title to her Spanish counterpart for Spanish rights worldwide, and I’m curious to see how it will proceed further. From what I understand, she sees enough opportunities for the title in question to also be distributed on this side of the ocean, with her imprint.
I end my day with one of my last-minute meetings planned earlier in the day, with the independent Spanish publisher Malpaso. The publisher says that since the economic crisis in Spain, they are literally being kept alive thanks to the Latin American market. This is something that multiple Mexican publishers have told me: before Spain found itself in a crisis, most of the publishers there had neglected Latin America. But in the last few years, several of them have opened offices in Mexico due to a growing market.
As a result, the FIL itself has also grown: when my husband was here for the first time, in 2001, there was still no rights center. There were far fewer stands and publishers present and it was, as such, smaller overall. A publisher for Planeta non-fiction who was here for the first time in 1999 confirms that, especially in recent years, the number of publishers and international agents that he now sees visit the FIL has greatly increased, much to his satisfaction.
After two days full of inspiring and informative meetings, I know that this is not the last time I will be visiting the FIL!
Day 3 at the FIL: Dutch Poetry in Mexico
After a delicious Mexican feast yesterday evening (inclusive local tequila), which didn’t end until the middle of the night, I arrive this morning around 9am at Fondo de Cultura Economica’s stand, feeling reasonably fresh.
For a moment I fear that my appointment isn’t going to show up (in general, the meetings here don’t start until around 10 or 11am), but fortunately, that isn’t the case. With a very welcome cup of coffee in hand, I listen to the history of one of Mexico’s oldest publishers (Fondo de Cultura Economica was founded in the 1930’s), which also, besides offices in many other Spanish-speaking countries, has a bookstore chain and a distribution center.
They also have an office in San Diego that focuses on the sales of Spanish-language books to the US. Due to the large Spanish-language population one would think it is a notable market, but that is not the case. He explains that the purchasing of books is not a priority in the often tight budgets of Spanish-speaking immigrants in the US. If they do buy books, they prefer those in the English language. They now live in the US and want to fit into the American culture. Because of such a dynamic, Spanish-language publishers are still looking for the key to unlock this market.
Afterwards, I have a meeting of a totally different nature. It’s with Trilce Editores, an independent publisher, which publishes graphic novels and poetry, among others. Publisher Deborah Holtz proudly displays the Spanish edition of a poetry collection by Dutch poet Hans van de Waarsenburg.
After having browsed our catalog and asked for a few titles, she asked if I was interested in representing a number of her titles overseas. She is not the only small-ish, independent publisher that has asked me this question here at the FIL. Many have neither the time nor the knowledge to be active in rights sales. I have to disappoint them, but I gave each a number of contacts of Spanish-speaking agents who may well be interested.
In between my appointments I have some time to walk around again, and go visit the stand of the United Kingdom who are this year’s Guest of Honor at the FIL. Several people had already warned me not to expect much and I’m indeed quite disappointed in what I see. In the past, I have seen much better stands from host countries; I remember I was very impressed by the Dutch stand at the 2011 Beijing International Book Fair.
My last few meetings are with several people who are taking part in the fellowship, such as Janie Yoon from House of Anansi in Canada and Will Evans from Deep Vellum Publishing in the US—who gets to meet one of the authors he’s signed on via 2 Seas. It’s nice to hear their experiences and they are both very enthusiastic about the fellowship. Unfortunately, agents can’t sign up. I checked!
Rounding Up: “Think About Mexico!”
The dinner I organized for the last evening of my visit to the FIL nicely sums up the Mexican vibe. While two days before I was to leave I still didn’t know what time, or where, we were going to eat, ultimately, a reservation was made for 10 people at 9PM—which is still early to eat in Mexico.
The later it gets in the day, the more cancellations I receive, especially from Mexican publishers who have last-minute obligations. At the beginning of the afternoon we only have six people left. A spontaneous meeting with the Berlin agent Michael Gaeb changes things. He is looking for a restaurant to spend the evening at with another group of international publishers and agents, and we decide to merge the two groups together. I suggest that he calls the restaurant to let them know we will be coming with a larger group. The half-Mexican, half-German agent who comes to the FIL every year laughs and says: “Marleen, we are in Mexico. If you book a table for 10 people, they know you will show up with more!” The evening was festively concluded with a bandera (‘flag’ in Spanish): lime juice, tequila and sangrita (tomato juice with spicy herbs), which, together, illustrates the Mexican flag.
The day after, the FIL is open to the public again for the the entire day. Busloads of school children come and go. It’s a big deal in Mexico: this year in total there are 750,000 visitors expected during the 10-day book fair and more than 19,000 book industry professionals (1,900 of which are from 42 different countries). During the professional days, the public is also welcome starting 5 pm. That always creates a special atmosphere.
During my last day of meetings, the territorial divisions of Spanish rights were mentioned many times again. Latin American publishers’ frustration about the fact that the Spanish world rights are usually sold to a publisher in Madrid or Barcelona is palpable. According to them, the chance that the book will then truly be distributed on this side of the ocean is very small. At the end of my meeting with the Grijalbo non-fiction team, one of the publishers shouted to me with a big smile as I was leaving: “Think about Mexico!”
Later, when I discuss this with my Spanish co-agent, he says that it is impossible to divide the the territories, that it is standard for the Spanish publishers to offer for Spanish world rights. If they don’t get the rights to Latin America, they withdraw their offer. I truly think that in the coming years this will change, with the ever-growing Latin American book market. All the more reason to return to the FIL!