Jorge Herralde, the founder of Anagrama, is an undeniable legend in Spanish-language publishing. Anagrama began in Barcelona in 1969 as a countercultural, activist publisher while Franco was still in power. But following the dictator’s death, Herralde shifted the house to focus on literary works. In all, the house has published more than 4,000 books. He sold the company to Feltrinelli in 2010, retaining a 1% ownership stake, and only ceded editorial control to Silvia Sesé in 2017.
At 86, Herralde released a collection of his letters, Los papeles de Herralde: 1968–2000 (The Herralde Papers), in March, published, naturally, by Anagrama. The book, edited by Jordi Gracia, runs more than 400 pages and contains Herralde’s correspondence with the house’s enormous array of authors, including Martin Amis, Patricia Highsmith, Carmen Martin Gaite, Ryszard Kapus´cin´ski, and Tom Wolfe, as well as with fellow publishers, literary agents, and others. It offers a cinematic narrative of the establishment of one of the most influential publishing houses of the last century, and of the day-to-day routine of life as a working editor.
Herralde has already summed up his career in a trio of literary memoirs: Opiniones mohicanas (2000), Por orden alfabético (2006), and Un día en la vida de un editor (2019). But, as Publishers Weekly en Español editor-in-chief Manuel Mateo Perez notes, this is the volume that comes closest to a daily diary of events, at least through the year 2000. (The volume ends in 2000 because that was the year the company shifted over to primarily corresponding by email.)
Anagrama is perhaps best known for its yellow and gray line of paperbacks, which come in series, including Panoramas Narrativas, representing fiction in translation; Narrativas Hispánicas, Spanish-language literary fiction; and Argumentos, essays. “These have educated at least a couple of generations of Spaniards and Spanish-speakers,” Mateo Perez wrote in PWE.
In an email exchange with PWE, Herralde said there is a rhythm to Spanish publishing: “Independent, literary publishers are condemned to excellence, and the big groups are condemned to make a lot of money.” He added that “another characteristic difference is that the conglomerate publishers buy catalogs of books from smaller publishers to grow, while independent publishers grow by building up their own catalogs.” This, in turn, always makes independent publishers acquisition targets.
Herralde’s letters document how he fought off Planeta’s attempts to acquire Anagrama. They also discuss the early years of the house, including battling Franco’s censorship, and the explosion of Spain’s publishing landscape in the 1970s. And they detail his friendly but tense relationship with legendary literary agent Carmen Balcells. “She always raised large, sometimes grandiose, advances for her best authors, like Gabo [Gabriel García Márquez] and the like, and in the process made huge profits for her agency,” he told PWE. “In the case of Anagrama, we tried to make the advance look something like the foreseeable sales.”
Herralde explained to Mateo that he was not a fan of Balcells’s practice of bundling rights sales of authors together (a García Márquez novel bundled with an Isabelle Allende and a debut by an unknown writer, for example), which he says did a disservice to the unknown writer who went into the world with no promotion. He noted that he had a better relationship with agent Andrew Wylie, who Herralde said was only feared by other literary agents.
When asked by PWE what, ultimately, is the mission of publishing, Herralde referenced the late Italian publisher Giulio Einaudi, founder of an eponymous house, who distinguished between a “yes edition” and a “no edition”: “The yes edition is one that investigates, takes risks, searches for the hidden and the forbidden and unveils deep truths,” Herralde explained. “The opposite is the no edition, which favors the obvious, the market—is a ‘winning horse,’ one that has no concerns other than the bottom line. With the yes, you create a new public, a reader. These were works that would provide the pleasure of reading and were also presented with a very careful sense of form, the artisanal yet also something mass produced—a paradox that we try to resolve, book by book and year after year. And all of it forming a living knowledge, a critical network of knowledge that is expressed by the publisher’s entire catalog. Naturally, I say yes to the yes edition.”