By Matías Fernández (translated from the Spanish by Emily Williams)
Gabriela Adamo worked for a number of years as a literary editor for the celebrated imprint Sudamericana, now part of Random House Mondadori. When she left her editing post, she started off the new millennium working with TYPA, a non-profit institution that specializes in connecting Argentinian writers with editors abroad. From the start, TYPA has been a great resource for agents, editors and researchers worldwide who want to learn more about Argentinian literature and publishing.
Q: Can you briefly explain what kind of work TYPA does?
A: TYPA came out of the political and economic crisis of 2002. Our programs are designed to build bridges between local and international artists, and to connect local artists with means and financing opportunities that are, unfortunately, always based outside of Argentina.
Q: Have you attended Frankfurt as a member of TYPA?
A: Yes, I’ve been going to Frankfurt since 1995, when I was an editor and went to acquire rights. In 1999, I was invited as part of the Frankfurt Fellowship Program, and I visited all the publishers. I got a close look at everything and I thought, “Argentina just cannot be left out of all this.” The quality of Argentinian literature is absolutely competitive with the writing that is translated for European markets, but there’s no question that you have to fight for a place in that marketplace.
Q: What do you think foreign editors or members of other institutions find appealing about Argentinian literature?
A: Everyone is looking for that literary novel that can also break out and become a big seller. They describe it as “quality literary fiction,” like Bolaño. That is what everyone is asking for, and of course it’s very difficult to find. The other thing they’re looking for—and they’re very disappointed when they come to Argentina—are big bestsellers, because Argentinian literature is not written for commercial entertainment, with a couple of exceptions like Claudia Piñeiro and Guillermo Martínez.
Q: For its Semanade Editores program, TYPA turns things around: instead of traveling to visit publishers abroad, you bring them to Argentina. What is that experience like?
A: It’s great, because it’s much more effective to bring a few editors here and show them everything you have to offer, rather than sending out a bunch of catalogs or making trips to visit them overseas. It’s generated a lot of interest in our project. Every year we invite ten people. The first year we had 14 candidates. They came here thinking they were going to see Indians. They landed and said, “Oh, look at all those buildings, what a big city!” Today for those 10 slots we have 80 candidates, so you could say word has gotten around.
It’s amazing how much it’s increased the level of awareness about Argentinian literature. The editors who came the first year knew Borges and that was about it. This past year, we had a group of editors and readers who were so sophisticated, they knew all about the latest books and authors, they were looking for very specific things. We’ve built a reputation as a go-to source for information.
Q: Have you noticed interest in e-books from foreign editors, with regard to rights or sales?
A: To tell the truth, I hate to confess this, but I’ve realized that the Argentinian market is retrograde when it comes to digital. The market, and especially the originators of the market, the publishers, many of them belonging to an older generation, aren’t interested and don’t want to deal with this issue. They say, “Someone else can take care of that.” I think it’s a terrible attitude.
All the same, being completely honest, what I see and hear from editors abroad, I don’t see clear answers there either. It’s definitely not an issue for the editors who come for Semana de Editores. Perhaps later on, if they sign an author, they may or may not want to include a clause in the contract for e-book rights; that’s the only time it comes up. But the way people look for content and authors is the same as it’s always been. All these electronic advances are tools for them to search better or differently, but there isn’t—or at least I don’t see an intrinsic change that shows e-books are influencing the way publishers look for new material.
I always ask all of them what they think [of the digital transition], what they’re doing about it, not just in terms of the books they’re translating but with their companies. The feeling I get from everyone is that the train is coming but no one knows where to get on. I’m talking about young European editors, very committed and motivated. It’s not clear at all what’s going to happen.