While the events of September 11 have battered the book industry, nothing seemed to slow the burgeoning energy surrounding the 15th annual Feria Internacional de Libros (International Book Fair) in Guadalajara, Mexico. "I am profoundly moved this year that, although we're in a general world crisis, there is a great participation of publishers, rights buyers and librarians from the U.S.," said María Luisa Armendáriz, director of FIL. "There are more houses that have put up bigger and brighter spaces. We have the enormous effort made by the librarians from the U.S., flying scared to death, coming here to buy books. It's as if this were the only magic space where there were no crisis."
In fact, this year's FIL was the largest ever, with a total of 386,620 participants, including 1,258 publishing houses from 32 countries (the U.S. sent 55 exhibitors, up 10 from last year). Over 13,500 professionals attended, including 40 literary agents. While Mexico dominated with 563 exhibitors, Brazil, the invited country for 2001, organized 46 activities including presentations of books, lectures and videoconferences, while also creating a festive atmosphere of spontaneous samba line-dancing and concerts featuring pop stars like Carlinhos Brown.
With major American companies like Baker & Taylor and Borders Group signaling in the past year that the Spanish-language book market is growing rapidly, FIL 2001 looked to be a watershed. Mexico's representation increased, as did Argentina's, despite that country's economic troubles. And given that Spain was last year's invited country, the drop in their numbers was negligible. But the worldwide economic slowdown put a slight damper on this year's fair. "The peso is 10% stronger this year, and more importantly, Mexico seems to be a very strong and stable economy," said David Unger, FIL's U.S. coordinator. "But if the U.S. is in a recession, and that is affecting the book industry, then it's got to be affecting it here."
Unger has worked diligently to establish an exclusive rights agents area this year in a partnership with Críticas, launched by PW and Library Journal this year as an English-language guide to Spanish-language titles. "Normally agents trying to sell rights would be going to Frankfurt, but they've heard that Guadalajara is a very comfortable place to do business. They try to meet editors from Planeta, Santillana and even small publishers such as Ediciones Era, and sell the rights to English-language authors they represent. Another reason agents might come is to discover Latin American writers to represent either in Europe or the U.S.," Unger said.
Unger noted that the Barcelona-based agent Antonia Kerrigan has worked with the Wylie Agency to garner sizable advances for Mexican writers like Jorge Volpi and Ignacio Padilla. Although the number of agents at FIL this year was down because the Latin American market is considered discretionary in difficult times, superscout Maria Campbell strongly recommended Guadalajara to agents.
"I found the fair extremely user-friendly," said Campbell. "I came to be able to actually put a face to a name and to learn to distinguish the different emphases of the market. The Spanish market is not all one thing—there are books that absolutely are much better suited for Mexico than they are for Venezuela, than they are for Argentina, than they are for Spain. The more you understand that, the better you function."
Campbell was one of many participants from the U.S. who couldn't help noticing FIL's eclectic atmosphere, one that was inviting to the public and professionals alike. The sight of hundreds of schoolchildren waiting to enter the convention center every day, and the poetic and philosophical graffiti written by Mexican teens on a huge white wall near the center of the floor broadened the scene; "You didn't feel FIL was a hyper-intellectual literary elite thing or that it's all about the numbers of units you can move," said Campbell.
Also apparent was the implacable strength of the American nonfiction market in Latin America, particularly self-help books, pop psychology, technical and business manuals, and both traditional religious and New Age books.
McGraw-Hill, one of the leading publishers for the Latin American market, had a large booth occupying a central area of the exhibition floor. A number of smaller U.S. publishers were also in attendance. Roger Rosen of Rosen Publishing displayed an impressive array of textbooks that he was learning to market in Latin America. "What we hope to accomplish apart from meeting our core population, that is, the library base, is to find Latin American distribution for the material that we've created. And we're also not opposed to finding books originated in Latin America that are either appropriate for us or could be adapted," said Rosen.
Sandy Taylor of Curbstone Press, which has an arrangement with FIL to publish its Sor Juana award winner each year, along with Juana Ponce de Leon of Siete Cuentos/Seven Stories Press and Bobby Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press, were all intent on finding buyers. "Sandy Taylor says it's like chipping away," said Ponce de Leon. "You come in and make several small tries and then you actually make the deals."
The enthusiasm displayed by Allison Olson of Llewellyn reflects that New Age house's Spanish-language success. "People are more upbeat here than at Frankfurt," she said. "We do a lot of consumer marketing when we're here. That really helped us in our early years to choose which titles to do. We also sell subsidiary rights on English books. Whenever we bring English books, we do so because we're not going to do them in Spanish and we're looking for publishers to work with. We have some exclusive arrangements—in Mexico it's Grijalbo. But then for the countries that aren't exclusive, we want to meet new people."
This year, a contingent of 175 librarians came to FIL through an arrangement between ALA and the Guadalajara fair. The number was slightly down, largely because of budget cuts in the wake of the U.S.'s economic woes. "Mayor Giuliani ordered a 50% cut," said Roxana Benavides of the Brooklyn Public Library. "But I came because we don't have a lot of access to the Spanish-language books that we need for our diverse Latino population." Librarians like Benavides and Barbara J. Ford of the Chicago Public Library agree that their lives were made easier with the advent of Críticas, which offers capsule evaluations of dozens of titles.
Among the off-the-floor events was a luncheon given for the Hans Christian Andersen prize—winning Brazilian children's author, Ana Maria Machado, whose new book, Me in the Middle, is published by a partnership between Venezuela's Ediciones Ekaré and a Canadian company called Groundwood. These houses play a large part in the growth of children's book sales in Latin America, which, according to FIL director Armendáriz, hovers between 15% and 20% of the total market.
Lectorum president Teresa Mlawer was cautiously optimistic about the significance of this year's FIL. "I've been coming here since the second year; we have kind of grown up with the fair," said Mlawer, who was honored in a ceremony sponsored by Mexico's government-funded Fondo de Cultura publishing house. "We had some great dialogue with different publishers and pursued interesting projects. If we can get the economy to bounce back, I think the future is very bright for Spanish-language publishing."
David Unger can't wait till next year. "Frankfurt has made a decision to organize a book exhibit in Guadalajara, creating a three-country European community union exhibit next year," said Unger. "The Frankfurt Online system is now in place. Marife Boix Garcia did a presentation of that to about 75 publishers." Unger added that to help bolster the presence of professionals, FIL has agreed to be the host of SILAR (the rotating Latin American Book industry fair). The SILAR professionals will have a two-day conference during the first two days of FIL, which next year runs from November 30 to December 8, which will not conflict with Thanksgiving for the first time in eight years.