The Arte Público Alternative: How One Small Press Tackles Foreign Sales and Distribution

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor

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In the lead up to next week’s BookExpo America, where Spain is the focus of the Global Market Forum, we offer a look at how one bilingual Spanish-English publisher makes the most out of cross-border collaboration.

By Dr. Nicolás Kanellos

HOUSTON: As the director of non-profit Arte Público Press (APP), a program of the University of Houston that focuses on publishing Latino literature, I spent years wearing myself out seeking to convince foreign publishers of the marketability of our titles in their countries. I eventually lined up a series of subagents in various European and Asian territories but, for all the work that went into it, the resultant contracts were meager at best. Instead, I’ve found another way.

For publishers like Arte Público, whose books suffer just as much marginalization as do Latinos in U.S. society, it has been more fruitful to develop relationships with “home” country cultural institutions than to try to beat open the doors of the commercial presses in say, Mexico or Spain, who are just as likely as U.S. ones to be part of multi-national, mega-publishers.

As an alternative strategy implemented over the last ten years, APP has instead focused on working with universities and cultural institutions — in Mexico, Spain, and elsewhere — on a variety of mutually beneficial exchanges that center on common areas of intellectual and cultural interest.

At times, this has lead to straight translation agreements, such as our licensing rights to publish Tomás Rivera’s …y no se lo tragó la tierra, a foundational novel of Chicano literature, to a university in Spain.

Others have been co-publication agreements, such one we did with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), the governing and research division over all of the museums in Mexico, to co-publish La rebelde by Leonor Villegas de Magnón, an original Spanish-language memoir of a woman from Texas about founding a nursing corps during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Both presses have been able to distribute the book broadly in both countries.

In another arrangement, with Spain’s Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, one of Europe’s oldest universities, which has a renowned center for U. S. Studies and a relatively new university press, APP has developed a new type of co-publication arrangement, whereby Alcalá translates and publishes a book already released in the English original in the U.S. Then APP publishes Alcalá’s Spanish translation in the U.S. market. The first book to benefit from this deal was Alejandro Morales’ The Brick People, which was published this spring in Spain as El olvidado pueblo de Simons, and we will publish in the Fall as Los hombres de ladrillo. Plans going forward call for one or two books to be published in this arrangement per year; our next project with them will be the publication of Graciela Limón’s The Memories of Ana Calderón.

AAP has a similar relationship with the famed Instituto Tecnológico de México (ITDM) in Monterrey, which has brought Arte Público writers to read ITDM, led to numerous Chicano literature and culture symposium hosted by ITDM and the University of Houston, where AAP is based, and even led to the entire freshman class of ITDM reading an Arte Público title. We are now planning our first co-publication of conference volumes to be distributed in both countries.

Finally, in our most recent deal has been with the Mexican publisher Artes de México to make the first ever Spanish-language edition of Folk Treasures of Mexico: The Nelson Rockefeller Collection. The book, originally published by Abrams in 1990 had been out of print for years and never available in Spanish. Through our unique collaboration, Artes de Mexico distributes the Spanish-language edition in Mexico, while we make both the Spanish edition and the English language reprint available in the U.S.

It is this type of cross-border collaboration that is especially rewarding. We’re honored to be a part of bringing this important book to life again. Folk Treasures of Mexico recognizes that even the poorest people in society create wonderful art. We are particularly pleased to be able to return these treasures to the Mexican people, albeit in book form.

The only question has been, where do we throw the first book party: Mexico or Texas?

VISIT: The Web site of Arte Público Press.

DISCUSS: Whatever happened to US Spanish-language publishing?

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.