By Emily Williams
BARCELONA: Random House Mondadori’s Grijalbo imprint has been on a roll. Under the leadership of Barcelona-based editor-in-chief Ana Liarás, it has been producing homemade bestsellers such as Ildefonso Falcones’s historical epic The Cathedral of the Sea, which sold over 1 million copies in Spain and went on to become a bestseller in Italy and Germany. This year saw the release of Falcones’s new book, The Hand of Fatima, set at the turn of the 17th century around the expulsion of the ethnic Moors from Spain and released by Grijalbo in June with a 500,000-copy first printing.
Liarás is naturally thrilled with Falcones’s success, although she is not as happy about the general trend demonstrated by his books and other mega bestsellers. “For some time now there’s been a noticeable concentration of sales in a handful of titles. The biggest sales are concentrated in five books, which have a huge lead over the next books down the list. Of course it’s ideal to be the publisher of one of those top five titles, but we’re discouraged seeing how other authors and titles from our mid-list suffer as a consequence of this trend and sell fewer copies than they should.” The difference in sales has become even more extreme against the backdrop of a general economic crisis that has hit harder, and is expected to last longer, in Spain than in other European countries.
Still, there have been bright spots this year, even beyond the dominating sales achieved by international star Stieg Larsson and follow up books from Falcones and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Spain’s big publishers are sanguine about the future. By which we mean not just the arrival of Dan Brown later this month (1 million copy printing from Planeta), but plans by Random House Mondadori, Santillana and Planeta to launch a big e-book initiative in 2010. In preparation, Liarás reports Grijalbo is signing up digital rights to any new titles they acquire, from Spain and abroad.
Looking forward, Liarás has great expectations for The Ivory Elephant, a new novel by Grijalbo author Nerea Riesco. “This is a very ambitious novel we’ve scheduled for early 2010, a historical work set in 18th century Sevilla that is also a multigenerational saga of passionate love. Part of the intrigue comes from an ancient pact between two kings, one Christian and one Muslim, that must be resolved six centuries later by means of a game of chess.”
On the buying side, Liarás continues to look for new thrillers, historical novels, and contemporary fiction for her list. “My hope as always is to discover a hidden gem, although this gets more difficult all the time.
In general, Liarás focuses on more modest surprises and quirks of fate and remains wary of getting into bidding wars over “big books,” particularly at events like the Frankfurt Book Fair and its ilk. “The big books are dangerous if you haven’t had time to evaluate them ahead of time,” she confides, “because in the frenzy of a fair their potential tends to get blown out of proportion. Still, there’s always room for a surprise new author to emerge or for a ‘coup de coeur’ that starts to spread.”