By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘A Region Open to Other Literature’During this week’s Guadalajara International Book Fair, one of the local publishing-services companies that industry visitors might run into is called Base tres, a consultancy with a particularly wide range of services on offer beyond its Mexican headquarters.
Specializing in the Spanish-language book market in the Americas, the two-person outfit likes the term “book connector” for what they do—making connections between publishing professionals in Latin America and the rest of the world.
Publishing Perspectives asked the co-founding couple, Verónica Mendoza and Pablo de la Vega, several questions about their work and observations in the field.
Both of them have backgrounds at the Guadalajara Book Fair, she in exhibitor relations and he in operations and programming. De la Vega has also worked in New York City for Lectorum Publications, the Spanish-language distributor.
Publishing Perspectives: How long has your consultancy has been in operation?
Pablo de la Vega: It was over a year ago that Verónica invited me to set up a company with her. We started thinking in business models based on both our experience and looking for prospective clients. By February this year we formalized the company.
PP: Your list of services includes publishing industry events, market research and development work for publishers plus literary agency services and a range of editorial project work. Isn’t this an unusually wide portfolio of services in one company?
Verónica Mendoza: When we decided to start the company, we wanted to combine our areas of expertise and put them to the service of all those who could need them.
I’d been working at the Guadalajara fair for more than 16 years, specializing in the development of business programs and opportunities for publishers in the region. Pablo worked with me for eight years and then he moved to New York City, where he worked at Lectorum. And he worked as a translator, editor, copyeditor, and literary agent at Indent Literary Agency.
Thanks to our shared experience in the Latin American market, we’re able to offer consultancy services for the development of business opportunities. Our network of contacts across the Spanish-language world—along with previous experiences editing books in Spanish, both in Mexico and the USA—allows us to offer editorial services adequate for different markets in the region in terms of local varieties of the language.
“In 2000, around 60 percent of books in Spanish-speaking countries were published in Spain. [Today] 54 percent are produced in Latin America.”Pablo de la Vega
PV: And when the possibility of agenting from Base tres opened, we discussed it and, rather soon, reached the conclusion that it was a good fit for the internationalization services we already offered. In other words, we can either help a particular publisher or association to understand and start working on a new market as a whole, or we can work with them to sell the rights of their books.
From an organizational point of view, each area of Base tres is kept separated.
We’re currently representing Latin American publishers including CIDCLI (Mexico); Babel (Colombia); Topito Ediciones (Uruguay); and most recently, Imaginador (Argentina). We’re also representing a couple of independent publishers from the USA: Duopress and Flashlight.
Our authors include Ana Maria Machado (Hans Christian Andersen Award); Ruth Rocha (Brazil’s Cultural Merit); and Ivar Da Coll (SM Ibero-American Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature).
PP: When your material references your development of events like the Latin American university presses fair and Panama fair—and restructuring the University of Guadalajara’s press—what does that kind of work entail?
In translation, “Spanish is the third largest target language, after German and French. I think this fact can give us an idea of how willing are Spanish-language speakers to read books from other cultures, even while English is the main source language for translations into Spanish.”Verónica Mendoza
VM: A little bit of everything. For instance, when the head of Mexico’s National University (UNAM) Publishing Press contacted us, he told us he wanted to organize a book fair dedicated to Latin American university presses’ publications.
It’s important to note that books produced by university presses represent about 10 percent of the overall production of titles in Latin America. So far there isn’t a single book festival focused exclusively in this sector.
We were hired to advise on how to set up a book fair of this kind and how to coordinate it. From the beginning, we established the different areas that such an event should have, a working schedule, the different ways to raise resources, and so on. We coordinate, advise, and share all necessary information with those at the press in charge of organizing FILUNI, which is the name of the book fair.
PP: And “restructuring” the University of Guadalajara press sounds interesting. What does that involve?
VM: Based on the knowledge we have about the structure and organization of other presses and our experience managing different projects, we made a diagnosis of the work structure inside the University of Guadalajara Press—its processes, personnel roles, and so on. We then identified its strengths, weaknesses, areas of opportunity, and provided its director with a more efficient working structure including streamlined processes and new strategies. This project is still ongoing.
Thanks to our work in this one, we’ve been asked to work on others including the development of a master plan for a bookstore that the University of Guadalajara is planning to open soon and the production of two books—one about the state of university presses in Latin America and another about regional vocabulary in different countries in the area. Both have been launched this year at the Guadalajara fair.
PP: In terms of your work in opening up market opportunities for Latin American and foreign book professionals, can you give us any examples?
“I’d say this is a unique time for the region. It’s not only attractive to foreign eyes, but it should also take advantage of the opportunities in fast-developing economies such as China, India, and Korea.”Pablo de la Vega
PV: We provide Latin American publishers and authors with the possibility of accessing new markets through sales of individual titles.
VM: We can also help Latin American publishing companies and institutions to explore other markets in terms of distribution—within or outside Latin America—along with business development, investments, and so on.
It’s in this spirit that we can provide, for example, book fairs with the necessary tools and knowledge to implement business development programs like we did in Panama, where we organized a business center during this year’s Panama International Book Fair. Or we can coordinate exploratory missions in different markets, in which groups of publishers have meetings with their counterparts in other lesser known markets.
PP: And you’re working with Linking Publishing Group in Taiwan?
PV: Linking—which is Taiwan’s largest publisher—is looking to learn about the business opportunities that Latin America offers. Initially, they’d like to develop and sell Chinese-language learning materials for the Mexican market. For that purpose, we’ve conducted market research to help them assess the market and understand their opportunities. They also want to explore the Latin American children’s books markets.
PP: With so many projects and stakeholders involved in your work, what’s your sense of how Latin America’s publishing industry stands today in the world? We’re told, for example, that the United States is a difficult market for Latin American content, but perhaps it’s even tougher for work from Spain. Does that align with what you’re seeing?
PV: As is well known, Spanish is one of the most widespread languages. What’s not as widely known is that the different Latin American economies and democracies—with a few exceptions and setbacks—are stronger and more stable than they used to be some decades ago. That makes them more attractive for internal and external investment.
What’s more, the Latin American book market has increased its weight in the overall production of titles.
“During the second week of November, in Argentina and Mexico, six out of the 10 bestselling fiction books were translations. In Colombia, it was two out of four. In Spain it was three out of 10.”Pablo de la Vega
In 2000, around 60 percent of books in Spanish-speaking countries were published in Spain. That percentage has shifted. According to CERLALC [the Regional Center for Book Development in Latin America and the Caribbean established by UNESCO] that percentage today is 46 percent of overall production.
Fifty-four percent of books in Spanish-speaking countries are produced in Latin America.
So I’d say this is a unique time for the region. It’s not only attractive to foreign eyes, but it should also take advantage of the opportunities in fast-developing economies such as China, India, and Korea.
For a long time, we’ve set our interests in our neighbors and in some specific European markets. But there are other places whose publishing industries are expanding and which, according to my experience, are open to new materials—and they share more interests with us than we commonly think.
PP: And your neighbor to the north, the US?
“Books produced by university presses represent about 10 percent of the overall production of titles in Latin America. So far there isn’t a single book festival focused exclusively in this sector.”Verónica Mendoza
PV: When it comes to the materials in Spanish sold in the USA, it depends on many factors. For instance, when we’re talking about books for children and young adults, it depends a lot on the school curriculum and on what other children in the mainstream are reading. That means there’s room for content from Latin America that tackles such subjects as identity and traditions, as well as other more universal subjects.
But translations from English are king. Publishers in Spain tend to be the ones offering most of these translations.
If we’re speaking of translations into English of Latin American materials, yes, the USA is a very tough market—as it is for almost any other linguistic region. I’d say it’s even tougher when it comes to books for children. It could seem that parents in the US, or publishers, are weary of giving translated books to children. There’s also a problem with formats, illustrations, and appropriate age subjects, which vary from market to market.
But, still, it’s not impossible to find good translated titles in bookstores and libraries in the USA.
PP: And how willing do you feel the Latin American populations are to read books from other cultures?
PV: If you enter any bookstore in any given Latin American country, you’ll easily find translations from English-language books—and not only. It’s actually common that books coming from translations hit the bestselling lists. In that sense, Latin America is a region open to other literature.
If you check recent bestselling lists, you’ll notice that, for instance, during the second week of November, in Argentina and Mexico, six out of the 10 bestselling fiction books were translations. In Colombia, it was two out of four. In Spain it was three out of 10.
VM: On the other hand, according to UNESCO’s Index Translationum—which is a very comprehensive list of translated books in around 100 countries—Spanish is the third largest target language, after German and French—and above English.
I think this fact can give us an idea of how willing are Spanish-language speakers to read books from other cultures, even while English is the main source language for translations into Spanish.
For more on this year’s Guadalajara International Book Fair, see our story on Brazilian publishers’ strong presence there.