The Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) opened November 26 and ran through December 4. The largest gathering of publishers focused on Spanish-language publishing in the world, it attracted 800,000 visitors and featured almost 2,200 exhibitors and 3,000 activities—including 700 book launches, readings, and lectures. Roughly 14,000 publishing professionals from 49 countries attended. The rights center featured 75 tables filled with 57 literary agents and editors from publishing houses. A total of 775 writers from 44 countries, representing 25 different languages, also took part.
“In general, the comments from many of the exhibitors were very positive,” said Amando Montes de Santiago, manager of the program for exhibitors and professional at FIL. “These results are very close to the turnover achieved in the 2019 edition, which was the last before the pandemic, when the fair drew 830,000 people. This means we can say with confidence that we have recovered from 2020 and 2021, when we had virtual and hybrid fairs. Participation was especially strong from those in the rights center, where audiobooks and potential sales to the U.S. market were hot topics.”
Prahant Pathak, publisher of Wonder House, a children’s book publisher from New Delhi, was among those touting the strong sales of Spanish-language books in the U.S. market. The company sells My First English-Español Learning Library, a bilingual box set of early-learning books. “We see huge potential in the Spanish-language category in the United States,” he said.
NORLA, the agency responsible for promotion of Norwegian literature abroad, had a substantial stand at the fair and brought three literary agents and four authors to Mexico. “The purpose of bringing the agents was to make them more familiar with FIL and experience firsthand the size, atmosphere, and importance of this fair,” said Oliver Moystad, senior adviser at NORLA.
Other rights professionals came from far afield, including Jenni Erkintaio from Etana Editions, a children’s publisher from Helsinki who participated in FIL’s fellowship program alongside Anze Mis, CEO of Mis Publishing House from Slovenia. Lucy Wawrzynia was buying and selling rights for Exisle Publishing of New Zealand.
Nermin Mollaoglu, founder of the Kalem Literary Agency from Istanbul, took meetings at the large stand hosted by Turkey; it was her first time at FIL and she was impressed. “There is an incredible energy among the Spanish-language publishers—it’s invigorating,” she said.
Berlin-based literary agent Michael Gaeb represents numerous Spanish-language writers, including bestselling Mexican author Fernanda Melchor, and he said he felt that the “tide was turning in favor of Latin American literature.”
Many of those from abroad noted that the energy level at FIL was significantly higher than at similar-size fairs, like Frankfurt and London. Part of this has to do with the more casual nature of the event, which offers numerous opportunities for late-night socializing. Both Grupo Planeta and Penguin Random House, the two dominant Spanish-language publishers, hosted cocktail parties and networking events, and several bookstores, including Librería Carlos Fuentes at the University of Guadalajara and the Mexican bookstore chain El Sõtano, also hosted parties.
Publishers from the U.S. remain a relatively rare sight at FIL. Hachette, HarperCollins, PRH, and Simon & Schuster all had minimal stands with representatives taking orders for books to distribute into Latin America. Asked why there were so few Americans, one representative from FIL said, “They are afraid—they have heard it was dangerous, so they stay away.”
This is not the case for publishers from Texas, who are accustomed to the comings and goings across the border. Rose Mary Salum, author and director of Houston-based Literal Press, which publishes translations from Spanish, was one such participant. “There’s just so much opportunity here at FIL,” she said.
Will Evans, publisher of Deep Vellum Books and Dalkey Archive Press in Dallas, was on hand to show support for Mircea Ca˘rta˘rescu, winner of the FIL Prize for Literature in Romance Languages, who drew hundreds of people to his various talks at the fair. Deep Vellum had just published Ca˘rta˘rescu’s novel Solenoid, in a translation from the Romanian by Sean Cotter. Daniela Tarazona, a Deep Vellum author from Mexico, won the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Literary Award at FIL for her novel Isla Partida, which will be published in translation in 2024.
Evans used the occasion to take meetings with prospective authors, including writer and Indigenous-language translator Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil. “It was my second time attending the FIL Guadalajara after participating in the fellowship in 2015, but I’ll be back again next year,” Evans said. “The mixture of international, especially Latin American, publishing professionals and authors is extraordinary and vital for our list.”
Kate Gale, managing editor of Red Hen Press in Pasadena, Calif., made her 10th trip to FIL this year. “I think it is easier to have meetings here than Frankfurt, for example,” she said. “There is less pressure to move from person to person. You can talk to people for an hour if you want, or have an impromptu meeting.” Red Hen has published a handful of bilingual Spanish-English poetry titles, and Gale said that with the growth in interest in Spanish books in the U.S., she is considering expanding Red Hen’s program.
In one major business announcement at the fair, Lantia, the Seville, Spain-based company that runs Publishers Weekly en Español, took the occasion to announce the development of IBDB.pw, the Internet Book Data Base, a global online database for books. The project, which is being supported by the government of Spain, PW, and El Sõtano Bookstores, aims to offer an online catalog of titles to enable robust database management, market intelligence, rights trading with smart contracts, and increased consumer engagement. Initially, the project will focus on the Spanish-language books, with plans to extend to English and other languages shortly thereafter.