Sunday, May 29, 2011
Culture Shock: The American and the Spanish Publishing Industries
For the past two years, Sister Lorena and I have been comparing the Spanish and American publishing process, and current literary scenes. At first glance, they were so different that I switched from writing in English to doing it in my native language, hoping that the Iberian market would prove more hospitable. Alas, the differences are fewer than the similarities.
Although the Spanish industry is much smaller than its American counterpart, it still manages to bring out 70,000 new titles to bookstores every year. Aside from producing material for its native population, it also caters to the literary needs of three million Spanish-speaking people throughout the globe.
The publishing process is not dissimilar from its American equivalent. Agents and publishers rule supreme. The process includes proposal, query letter and credentials. Having a mentor or knowing someone in the business could be crucial, as well as having a reputation in journalism. Bestselling authors like Julia Navarro, Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Arturo Perez Reverte share a common journalistic background.
When it comes to target audience, the Spanish industry also has a much broader reader profile than the American, and it’s filled with extraordinary generalizations. Apparently, the target reader is female, under forty-five years of age and has a college degree. This potential client favors Dan Brownish conspiracy tales and historical novels a la Ken Follet. She reads for leisure, but her reading hobby competes heavily with TV, films, music and video games. Last, but not least, she suffers from attention deficit.
I know that in United States, the publishing industry does profile and have target groups, but hopefully it does not pigeonhole potential clientele in such an imprecise, indiscriminate and almost offensive manner. Although, the easily distracted reader is a universal misconception. At work, I’m constantly berated for writing long articles. “Remember,” I am told, "users get bored after the third paragraph.”
So, you may ask, what are the main differences between both markets are. The major differences lie in content. Spanish novelists are not afraid of the caveats we are so familiar with. On reading any bestseller, you are bound to find backstory and head-hopping galore. Length is not an issue (despite the attention deficit that supposedly afflicts its users). Spanish bestsellers usually run over six hundred pages. They are the type of book that, after falling on your foot, will have you limping for a day. I speak from experience since I was almost crippled after La Catedral del Mar landed on my toes at the supermarket, where I was leafing though Idelfonso Falcones' bestselling historical novel.
Spanish writers don’t need to be glamorous, gorgeous or young. A couple of years ago, an 80-year old great-grandmother won a literary award for a historical novel. And Manuel Maristany, well in his eighties, published his debut novel, La enfermera de Brunete (another huge volume) in 2006. For years, Maristany had been seeking a publisher for his Spanish Civil War epic. He eventually sold it to a small publishing house. Then, Planeta, a larger house, bought it and turned it into a success, despite the fact that the content was written from a point of view that might be considered “politically unfashionable” in 21th century Spain.
Unlike American publishers, Spaniards are not too interested in genre, aside from historical fiction and thrillers of all kinds (some of which are described as “mainstream” literature). That explains why their bestsellers lists always include mysteries and historical novels. Most probably, writers know better than attempt other genres. I will include a link to current Spanish bestsellers (Los más vendidos) as provided by "El Corte Inglés", the largest department store in Madrid. You may see that, aside from Jean. M. Auel and the well-loved Follet, you find native novels set in medieval Barcelona, World War II Morocco, and Early 20th century Spain.
Another surprise is the lack of local YA literature. It appears that young adults are not a target group. El Corte Inglés includes a brief list of books for young adults. Curiously, all are written by foreign writers, half of them are fantasy and yet are not cataloged as such. Claudia Gray vampire’s saga is described as “novela romantica."
I ‘m sure there are more differences and similarities between both industries, but those are the ones that hit the eye. Does it seem as they are poles apart? In which ways would you like the American publishing process to copy its Spanish counterpart? Are you familiar with the ways the publishing business operates in other English-speaking countries?