Earlier this month, Penguin Random House announced the creation of Penguin Random House Español (PRHE), a new Spanish-language publishing division. The unit brings together the resources and personnel of Vintage Español in New York City and Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial USA in Miami.
“Vintage Español has been focusing on fiction, both literary and commercial, and narrative nonfiction,” said Silvia Matute, who will serve as president of PRHE. “The Miami team has been focused on children’s books; other nonfiction titles, primarily about celebrities or influencers; and religious books. By joining together, we’ll have a comprehensive program.”
PRHE will be based in Miami, where there is a staff of 17; four additional members of the team will be in New York, including editor Alexandra Torrealba, production editor Indira Pupo, and publicity and marketing manager Michelle Domínguez, all of whom had worked at Vintage Español. Cristóbal Pera, publishing director of Vintage Español, will advise the transition until February next year. Amanda Schilling, who was until recently the Spanish-language book buyer for Barnes & Noble, joined the company in the role of director of sales planning and will also be based in New York.
Another recent hire, Larry Downs, former senior v-p of Spanish-language publishing at HarperCollins, was hired in August as director and publisher of Origen, PRHE’s imprint for religious books. Downs will work remotely from Nashville, where he lives.
Matute said she expects the new division to publish 100 original titles in its first year, including approximately 50 titles through Vintage Español, 25 from Origen, 15 children’s titles, and 10 nonfiction books by celebrities or influencers. “Our publishing program intends to serve the different needs of the Spanish-speaking community,” she said. “What is often misunderstood is the Spanish community here in the United States comes from several different countries, they are often immigrants, and many want to read the titles from home.”
To serve this demand, the Miami office—which was established in 2014 after PRH’s acquisition of Santillana—has been curating a list of 700 titles each year from the more than 3,000 books published by PRH’s various subsidiaries across the Spanish-speaking world, including in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Spain. These books are either imported or printed in the U.S. Combining backlist from PRH Grupo Editorial USA, Vintage Español, and imports means PRHE will be able to offer 4,000 titles in all.
The potential market for Spanish-language books in the U.S. is large, with the Census Bureau calculating that there are as many as 60 million Spanish speakers in the country. This is a number Matute believes needs to be properly parsed to be understood when it comes to forecasting book sales. “Yes, there may be 60 million Hispanics,” she said, “but they all have different levels of acculturation, and that is something no one has been able to measure. There’s a difference, for example, between those who speak Spanish at home and those who read in Spanish. The people born here tend to read in English unless they are doing it for school.”
Hits among the titles published by PRH Grupo Editorial USA that originated in the U.S. include Univision star Juan Rivera’s Santo Remedio, which was published under the Aguilar imprint and sold more than 200,000 copies. Matute said she expects strong sales for his follow-up book, Santo Remedio para Mujers, published in September. Other new titles she believes will attract especially strong interest include translations of Julia Alvarez’s first novel in 14 years, Afterlife; Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist; and Paulo Coelho’s The Archer—all published by Vintage Español. The company is also distributing a translation of Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, published by Debate, an imprint of PRH Grupo Editorial in Barcelona.
“With both our original publications and imported titles, we try to publish or distribute simultaneously in English and Spanish as often as possible, to align our marketing and promotion efforts with those in the U.S. and across the world,” Matute said.
E-book editions of nearly the entire PRH list of books in Spanish from across the world are available through distributors, “provided we have world rights to the book,” Matute said. But audiobooks are a different matter. Though sales of the format are among the fastest growing at the company, differing accents and colloquialisms, which vary in the extreme from country to country, make distributing imported titles challenging.
“With audio, we are often collaborating with our team in Mexico on production,” Matute said. “The largest group of Hispanics in the U.S. is Mexican, and the Mexican accent works best for us, as it is sometimes considered the most neutral.”
Matute said she expects to see consistent double-digit growth for the new division but noted that it won’t come easy. “The country is very big, and we have to analyze our opportunities for marketing and promotion and how to best leverage those to achieve sales,” she noted. “Sometimes we are marketing to readers, sometimes to schools and libraries. We are very data driven, and it’s not just about working hard, it’s about working smart. I was born in Spain, worked in Mexico for many years, and came to the U.S. in 1999, and in that time I have seen Spanish-language books shift from being a niche to more mainstream. The fact remains that we sell books in a market where the official language is not Spanish, where it is a second language.”