In 2020, the organizers of the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) were forced to cancel the in-person fair as a result of the pandemic and opted instead for a virtual program. This year, the fair returns with a hybrid in-person and online event, running from November 27 through December 5.

In its previous in-person iteration in 2019, FIL attracted 800,000 members of the public, 2,300 publishing professionals, and 300 rights directors. This year will be significantly smaller, with a maximum approved capacity of 12,500 on the fairgrounds in two different shifts,

9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., with the halls being disinfected in between. Over the course of the fair, the maximum number of visitors can be as high as 225,000.

Despite the reduced capacity, FIL will still host 255 exhibitors from 27 countries, displaying 240,000 different titles in a 107,000-sq.-ft. exhibition space with wider-than-usual corridors and some one-way aisles. Masks will be required for everyone in attendance. By November 1, 1,600 professionals from 27 countries had registered.

“We have the endorsement of the Specialized Board of Health of the Government of the State of Jalisco and the advice of the Health Situation Room for Covid-19 of the University of Guadalajara and the Civil Hospital of Guadalajara,” says Rubén Padilla, director of the professional program of the fair. “FIL Guadalajara is considered the largest business platform for the publishing industry in Spanish, with a large and diverse number of people in the book production chain depending on it to establish contacts and conduct business. It is a big gamble, but we want more than anything to encourage face-to-face interaction, if possible. It creates opportunities and synergy.” To that end, only 30% of the total activities for this year’s fair will be virtual.

The value of in-person events

“From my perspective,” Padilla says, “the main change in different book fairs, including Guadalajara, is a natural contraction due to a lower flow of participants and exhibitors, caused mainly by economic difficulties arising from the pandemic.” He noted that FIL usually generates $34 million in book sales and affiliated revenue from food, transportation, lodging, and other expenditures from participants, according to estimates from the Guadalajara Convention and Visitors Bureau. That number is likely to be significantly reduced this year.

Still, Padilla continues, “the main attraction of book fairs is to allow promoting products or services, exploring new collaborative projects, and seeing current trends, as well as sharing experiences with people from different countries. In addition, direct contact with readers allows professionals to interact and see how they react to certain proposals. We at FIL firmly believe there is a persistent need for face-to-face contact to build trust and create long-term relationships.”

For attendees from the U.S., two major attractions of FIL are the ability to participate in the international rights center and the fellowship program, which brings in professionals from around the world. Both have been canceled this year but are expected to return in 2022.

The 2021 program offers a wide variety of activities focused on books and reading, as well as science, art, culture, and philosophy, both at the Guadalajara Expo, the traditional venue for the fair, and online at

Authors and prizes

Six hundred authors will participate in events at FIL, including Paul Auster, John Boyne, Noemí Casquets, Ken Follet, Jonathan Franzen, Christophe Galfard, Miguel Gane, Etgar Keret, Brenda Lozano, Amin Maalouf, Jorge Ramos, Laura Restrepo, Abdelá Taia, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Numerous top prizes for Spanish-language writing will also be awarded at FIL. This year, the Chilean writer Diamela Eltit will receive the $150,000 FIL Prize for Literature in Romance Languages, and the Mexican writer Margo Glantz will be given the Carlos Fuentes Medal. The Publishing Merit Award will be awarded to Cristina Urrutia, publisher of Tecolote Books from Mexico. In addition, the International Publishers Association will announce the winner of its annual Voltaire Prize, given in defense and promotion of freedom to publish around the world.

The fair’s International Forum of Book Publishers and Professionals, the primary program for overseas visitors, takes place November 29 and 30 and will have a focus on bookselling, creating and selling diverse content for children, and adapting audiovisual content to and from books. Among the speakers will be Chiara Arroyo, co-owner of LA Librería, a Spanish-language children’s bookstore and distributor in Los Angeles. The literature and publishing culture of Peru, this year’s guest of honor country, will feature heavily in the programming as well.

Padilla says the goal of this year’s FIL is to help bring a sense of normalcy back to the industry. “To be totally honest, it seems to me that the great challenge in the industry is to overcome the financial difficulties and get back on the path we had before the pandemic,” he explains. “In this sense, carrying out our book fair will allow us to better measure the feeling of the industry players who attend, to get a better firsthand understanding of their needs and adapt accordingly.”

Read more about our Guadalajara International Book Fair coverage:

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