The Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) returns to full strength after two years of lower attendance because of the pandemic. The event, which is the world’s largest Spanish-language book fair, runs from November 26 to December 4 in the state of Jalisco, best known as the home of tequila.

Three days of programming for professionals will be held November 27–29 at the Expo Guadalajara. A total of 3,000 activities—including 700 book launches, readings, and lectures—are planned, and 48 countries will have stands.

Among the highlights will be the presentation of the FIL Prize for Literature in Romance Languages, the fair’s most prestigious award, to the Romanian writer Mircea Ca˘rta˘rescu. Tributes and awards will also be given to Cuban writer Antonio Orlando Rodríguez, Chilean writer Diamela Eltit, Mexican photographer Pedro Valtierra, Salvadoran writer Jorge Galán, Guatemalan editor Raúl Figueroa Sarti, and others. The United Arab Emirate of Sharjah will be the guest of honor, and an extensive program will focus on the promotion of Arab culture.

FIL director Marisol Schulz hopes that 2022 will mark a return to normalcy for the fair. In 2020, FIL was all virtual and attracted more than 21 million unique visitors from 84 countries, according to Schulz. Last year’s fair was hybrid, and the virtual events were less successful, she says. “It showed us that people really wanted the fair to be in person,” she notes. FIL 2021 was light on foot traffic, attracting just 251,900 people, compared to the 828,300 people who attended in 2019.

This year, a very limited number of key events will be streamed or recorded. “Running two shows, one virtual and one in person, requires that I have two teams, which I don’t have,” Schulz says. Most of the year, FIL runs with a staff of 40, though nearly 1,000 people work the event itself. “Returning to an in-person show is also important to the state of Jalisco,” Schulz says, “for in a typical year, attendees, both professional and from the public, spend up to 1 billion MXN [$51 million] during the show.”

Promoting Mexican publishing

FIL is an important platform for the promotion of Mexican publishing to Spanish speakers all over the world, including in North America. According to the National Chamber of the Mexican Publishing Industry (CANIEM), the Mexican publishers sold a total of 98 million print books in 2021, with revenue of 7.2 billion MXN. Sales of e-books and audiobooks generated an additional 368 million MXN. The digital publishing sector now represents 4% of the overall Mexican market.

Reading in Mexico is on the rise, with the latest study from the country’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) indicating that Mexicans each read an average of 3.9 books in 2021—the highest number since 2016.

FIL is an important consumer sales outlet for Mexican publishers. “I know several publishers who said that they sold as much at the fair in 2021 as they did in 2019,” says Hugo Setzer, president of CANIEM. CANIEM members are given discounts on the price of their stands and other services at the fair, such as shipping. “The discounts are enough to cover a publisher’s membership dues [to CANIEM] for the year,” he adds, noting that, beyond being a face-to-face sales channel, FIL also offers a chance to interact with and learn from readers.

To encourage publishers that are reluctant to return to exhibit at FIL after staying away, the fair has reduced prices for exhibiting by 30%. “It’s a risk,” Schulz says. “This is especially true because our finances are not at their best. What has happened is that many publishers have consolidated, or [several]
independent publishers come as a collective and exhibit in a single stand. The pandemic is still having an impact on Mexican publishers, and some Latin American ones.”

Schulz says it remains important for FIL to cater to the largest publishing groups—such as Fondo de Cultura Economica, Penguin Random House, and Planeta—and to smaller publishers. “The role all of them have in the success of FIL is equally important,” he notes. “The big groups do invest more in authors, and some of the international conglomerates host 60 to
70 events, which is something a small- or medium-size publisher won’t match.”

There is a return on investment for any
publisher that exhibits at the fair, Schulz argues—perhaps not in direct book sales, but in residual impact, especially with the media, throughout the year. “It’s a great showcase for publishing,” he adds, “and we have 3,500 journalists registered.”

Sharjah as guest of honor

The Sharjah Book Authority is organizing an extensive program, including nine nights of performances at the FIL Forum, two art exhibitions, a program for children, and a long list of literary activities. “Everyone at the FIL benefits from the Guest of Honor program,” Schulz says, “because each year we must be open-minded and learn another culture, to understand how life is lived there. Normally, for example, the guest of honor offers an inaugural meal. This year, we will not serve alcohol at the meal because for Muslims it is prohibited.”

The bookstore chain El Sótano is working with two publishers from Mexico, Vaso Roto and Textofilia, to offer special promotions of books and authors from the Arab world produced for FIL. Vaso Roto has released several translations from Arabic and is publishing a new translation of Syrian Lebanese poet Adonis (see “Adonis in Mexico,” p. 22), a pioneer of modern Arab poetry who is frequently mentioned as being a Nobel Prize contender. Adonis will give a keynote lecture and a reading at the 15th Poetry Salon, alongside 20 other poets from 13 countries.

Textofilia has published three new translations of Egyptian novels, including Ahmed Awny’s Awards for Heroes, Mai Khaled’s Gymnasium, and Malak Risk’s The Gypsy Nun. The fourth book is from the current president of the International Publishers Association, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, who is leading the delegation from Sharjah. Her book, World Book Capital, recounts the history of the establishment of UNESCO’s World Book Capital program and highlights 20 cities that have been given the honor, including the most recent one, honored for 2022–2023: Guadalajara.

Zaira Eliette Espinosa is a book editor and frequent contributor to PW en Español. She lives in Monterrey, Mexico.

Read more from our Guadalajara International Book Fair Preview below:

Adonis in Mexico
The Arab world’s most famous living poet will deliver a talk at FIL this year.

Bringing the Best of Spanish to English Readers
Scotland’s Charco Press is focused on translating books from Latin America.

Bridging the Rio Grande
Books Across Borders brings American booksellers back to Guadalajara.

Spirituality Books in Spanish See Growth
U.S. religion publishers say younger readers want more titles published in Spanish.

The Power of the Sample
Spain’s funding for sample translations has been effective strategy to increase interest in a wider array of books.

A Spark for Spanish Translation
Will Spain’s Guest of Honor program at Frankfurt have a long-term halo effect?