The Idiosyncrasies of the Spanish Language Publishing Industry

In Spanish World Book News by Andres Hax

By Andres Hax

Although the Spanish language unites all of the countries of Latin America and the Iberian peninsula (with the exception of Brazil and Portugal, of course) there are crucial differences, both from a cultural and market perspective, from country to country. This may seem like a truism for readers, writers and editors in Latin America and Spain, but it is worth emphasizing to foreign audience new to the subject.  Here are some of the general points to begin thinking about the subject:

1. It is a mistake to think of Latin America as one homogeneous block. If you were to visit, for example, the contemporary fiction shelves of bookstores in Lima, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Santiago, you would find four very different selections of titles and authors. The publishing markets of each country in the region are distinct, and readers have unique preferences. As a result, few books become become bestsellers across the entire region. One common complaint among Latin American authors that the only way to be read and respected across the totality of South America is via Madrid. Take, for example, Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño — a recent global phenomenon — who only became widely read throughout Latin America after “making it” first in Spain.

2. This cultural individuality and diversity extends to trade, production and distribution issues as well. For example, even though Chile and Argentina are neighbors, the cost of books varies widely between the countries, a result of differing political interests, resulting in fluctuating raw material prices and more.

3. You cannot get an overview of Spanish-language publishers just by reading the headlines from Madrid. It’s a mistake uninformed foreigner editors and publishers might easily make. It would be as erroneous as believing one could understand the United States by looking at London, Sydney or Cape Town, so why should it be any different for the Spanish-language markets?

4. Spanish as it is spoken and written in Spain is different from Spanish spoken and written in Latin American countries. This may seem obvious, but it is especially relevant with regard to literary translation. If you were to read a translation of Moby Dick done in Argentina, and then one done in Madrid, the differences found would be more than merely superficial.  The England/US analogy, once again may be useful. When selling books to a Latin American market it is necessary to keep in mind the local distaste in reading translations from Spain -– particularly when it comes to literary fiction.

Here it is worth noting that Latin America too has a robust translation industry, something foreign editors and publishers would do well to consider when considering rights deals, as they may be leaving opportunities on the table by solely looking towards Spain.

About the Author

Andres Hax