As the Latino publishing market expands, Guadalajara's Feria Internacional del Libro (FIL), the Spanish-language world's most prominent book fair, is attracting an increasing number of U.S. book professionals. This year's show, held November 26—December 4, drew an unprecedented number of U.S. publishers, agents, translators and librarians. Some 148 American publishers exhibited in either independent or collective stands, while about 100 U.S. publishers and sales and marketing people worked the floor (among them Grove/ Atlantic president and publisher Morgan Entrekin, who became the first American to receive FIL's Publishing Merit Award). Other promising stats: there were 245 U.S. librarians, 68 U.S. book distributors, 23 booksellers and buyers (including Borders, Barnes & Noble and Hastings), 21 rights agents and 24 translators.
First timers included delegations from Temple University and the Universities of Texas, California and Chicago. Peter Givler, executive director of the Association of American University Presses, was there for the second time and is considering having AAUP take a stand in 2006. Four representatives from the newly formed Grupo Nelson, the Spanish publishing group of Thomas Nelson Inc., came to FIL this year to build relationships with distributors in Latin America, but also to learn from key players in the U.S. Latino publishing market. "It was very refreshing to see how publishers like Planeta, Océano and Random House are really open to sharing their experience in the U.S.," said v-p and publisher Larry Downs. "We got many interesting marketing ideas just from looking at books from Mexico and Latin America—something as simple as covers, paperbacks with flaps or price points."
Despite all the new faces, however, the absence of editors from key U.S. imprints like Rayo and Vintage Español was disappointing. These houses control a large share of the Latino market, and attending Guadalajara should be an obvious investment if they want to diversify the market beyond the obvious classics and translations of U.S. bestsellers. "With the English book market remaining relatively flat, U.S. publishers looking to grow their respective businesses would be well served to attend FIL," said Aaron Feit, Spanish book buyer for Borders/Walden. "Every year we see viable titles that have a hard time penetrating the U.S. because of poor distribution. If more U.S. publishers attended FIL, I think we'd see some of those issues alleviated."
Despite the absence of key editors, there were many U.S. publishers, translators and agents at the Rights Center. In recent years, FIL organizers have worked hard to make the show an important venue for foreign rights negotiations. This year's Rights Center featured 42 tables (a 33% increase since last year) and a total of 108 agents from Spain, the U.S., Canada, England, Holland and Israel as well. U.S. publishers included Penguin, Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. "For many, FIL has become the place to finalize Spanish-language rights sales that were either begun in Frankfurt or were never discussed there, given Frankfurt's focus on English-language titles," said David Unger, FIL's representative in the U.S.
To some, however, FIL is far from Frankfurt. Violaine Huisman, a foreign rights agent for the Charlotte Sheedy Agency who attended the fair for the first time this year, found FIL interesting, but thinks it is not a rights-centered fair, at least not yet. "Although there were some foreign rights representatives from major American houses," she said, "most of them seemed focused on educational publishing, or on partnering ventures with Latin American publishers for Spanish-language U.S. distribution."
For FIL organizers, the whole point is to distinguish FIL from Frankfurt by making it a one-stop source for all kinds of editorial transactions. Author events, acquisitions, translation and distribution agreements, and book purchases all take place on a floor packed with 1,614 exhibitors from 39 countries, 15,357 book professionals and more than 494,000 locals who come to stock up on books for the year. And organizers are working to draw more Americans to the fair. The Publishers Marketing Association has confirmed it will attend the fair next year, and plans are afoot to invite several leading U.S. editors/publishers to come see Guadalajara for themselves.