Guadalajara '99: Best Is Yet to Come for the Spanish Market
Sally Taylor -- 12/20/99

For American publishers, the post-Thanksgiving Guadalajara Book Fair (Feria Internacional del Libro) has become the most important link to the Spanish-language world. Already NAFTA has helped cement relations between the U.S. and Mexico; now, with a new trade agreement with Europe, even better economic growth than expected in the third quarter this year and world oil prices going up, Mexicans are more optimistic, economically, than they have been in years.

FIL 99 was sold out by the end of last year, with 685 booths from 31 countries. International trade attendance was up to 9,100 visitors. Mexico's major book event also drew not only such authors as Nobel Prize winner José Saramago from Portugal but at least nine international literary agents. FIL's New York rep, David Unger, promised an exclusive rights agents' area in 2000, when more space will be available.

PW met Benita Ezhard from the Wylie Agency, who with co-agent Antonia Kerrigan represents Jorge Volpí, the award-winning Mexican writer whose first novel, En Busca de Klingsor (Looking for Klingsor), they just sold to Scribner for $225,000. Saramago came with his agent, Dr. Ray-Gude Mertin of Germany, who observed that the fair is "good for the world of Latin writers." A long-distance dialogue between Saramago and this year's Nobel winner Günter Grass in Germany was broadcast during the fair.

Mertin also represented the winner of this year's Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize, Argentine Sylvia Iparraguirre. Awarded to the best book in Spanish by a female author published in the last three years, the prize includes publication in English, French and Portuguese by participating publishers. In English, the publisher will be Sandy Taylor of Curbstone Press, who said Iparraguirre's novel Tierra del Fuego will be out in English in January of 2001. Taylor has just published last year's winner, Silvia Molina (another Planeta Mexico author), who will read from The Love You Promised Me at BEA's Annual Literary Luncheon.

Librarians Abroad

The American Library Association again brought 200 U.S. librarians to buy books and signed an agreement with FIL to continue doing so through the year 2003. These librarians, many of them first-timers in Mexico, kept 42 American importers and distributors working full-time to collect and process their orders.

English-language teaching materials are part of the reason that the likes of McGraw-Hill and Pearson Education take huge stands at FIL. Shortland Publications managing director Avelyn Davidson and her husband and international operations manager, Ian Massam, came all the way from New Zealand to promote their wildly popular ELT books, adapted to the various Latin American markets where sales are booming. Acquired by the Tribune Group, Shortland now has an office in Denver as well.

Next year, the fair will be expanded by another 125,000 square feet, and the ongoing construction brought more than a few complaints. Noise and dirt filtered through the plastic barriers at the international end of the normally open-air structure. The inconvenience was regrettable--but not enough to keep people away. Ingram's David Fuller promised he would return, even as he swept grit from his remaining brochures on the last of the three professional days.

Unger also told PW that in 2000, FIL will expand into an "information" fair, featuring a new technology area devoted to companies who want to present software, hardware, e-books and print-on-demand services.

E-commerce was the buzzword of the fair this year, as at least half a dozen companies are trying to beat Amazon and to the punch south of the border. Meanwhile, Baltimore-based NISC presented the latest incarnation of its bilingual database, leer (which means "to read" in Spanish). Based on Margaret Melcher's Libros en Venta, leer now includes more than one million titles in Spanish and Portuguese, searchable online, with pricing and purchasing information by bookseller and country.

Global travel publisher Lonely Planet has taken the dive into Spanish with a licensing arrangement with GeoPlaneta under the Grupo Planeta umbrella in Spain, according to LP's manager of Spanish publishing, Carolyn Hubbard. She is leaving LP shortly to apply her experiences to other publishers and businesses making inroads into the Spanish market, but she called Guadalajara's fair "a great way for U.S. publishers to experience the subtleties of doing business with their Latin American cohorts. But come willing to follow their rhythm, be it during a business meeting or on the dance floor!"

Spiritual Titles

Spiritual titles are obviously an important part of the Latin American mix, and nowhere more so than in Mexico. Llewellyn has participated in FIL for seven straight years. "It is our most important Latin fair," explained subsidiary rights director Allison Olson. "We sign up new distributors throughout the Spanish-speaking world, keep up our existing relationships, sell rights and do market research, watching what consumers are buying at this fair." Olson reported that sales in Mexico have increased dramatically, due to a new distribution arrangement with Digrisa of Grijalbo-Mondadori.

Larry Downs, a first-timer and v-p of sales/marketing for Editorial Unilit in Miami, was also doing market research for his wide range of Christian titles in Spanish. Downs was heavily promoting the new Spanish translations of Tyndale's Left Behind series (Dejados Atras), a big hit in America.

Probably the first title in the genre of spiritual self-help was Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which sold millions worldwide following its launch in 1972; the book is now making a comeback in the Spanish market, where the famous bird is known as Juan Salvador Gaviota. The winning ways of Trinidad Vergara and Lidia María Riba, of their eponymous gift book house in Argentina, have convinced the reclusive Bach to allow publication of a compilation of his writings. Newly translated into Spanish this year by Riba, Bach's Mensajes para siempre is produced in a richly illustrated edition. The two publishers were in Guadalajara promoting what promises to be a hot seller all over the Spanish-speaking world. Bach will attend next year's Buenos Aires Book Fair at the end of April and stay on for the International Publishers Association meeting to be held the first three days in May.

Another American classic, Our Bodies, Ourselves, is being introduced as part of a new series in Spanish for the first time this year by Seven Stories Press. Editor-in-chief Juana Ponce de Leon told PW she is creating a new genre in Latin America with the Siete Cuentos, as women's health has not been considered separately before. Ponce de Leon first covered FIL for PW and the Washington Post seven years ago and was impressed to see how it has grown.

Next year's guest country will be Spain, which is taking 7,000 square feet of exhibit space. For more details on the Guadalajara event, go to mx.