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Interview with Ana Pérez Galván, Publisher & Managing Director
How did Hispabooks Publishing start?
Hispabooks started out of the wish my partner, Gregorio Doval, and I had to set up an indie press of our own after being in publishing for many years working for different presses. In his case, he has a long-standing writing and editorial career, and I have also been in publishing ever since I finished my college degree. Some ten years ago or so we began to feel the urge to work on a project of our own, but we never really saw the way or the moment to do it. Eventually, when our second child was born in 2010, my maternity leave was the catalyst to make it happen. We then decided that when it was over instead of going back to work to the publishing house I was working for at the time, we’d set up our own press. At the time, the publishing scenario in Spain was chock-full of all sorts of indie presses doing really smart things. We felt it only made sense doing something different, or something that added some value to what was already being done, and that’s how we finally came up with the idea of Hispabooks. After some research, we were shocked to see how very few translations English-language foreign publishers were doing of contemporary Spanish literary fiction titles. Literary fiction is precisely what we most enjoy, so we immediately thought there it is, that’s what we can do, help our writers cross our borders and reach out to English-language readers!
Tell us a bit about Hispabooks. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
At Hispabooks we are totally focused in publishing contemporary Spanish fiction in English-language translation. We do literary fiction titles, though we are flexible (so far we have a couple of memoirs too, which we decided on publishing because of their very literary feel, and because we loved them!). We are set on making available to English-language readers those works of Spanish literary fiction that we feel are really worthwhile for some reason—writing style, creativity, their approach or stake on some issue… We don’t care about the author’s relevance, or the sales history in the Spanish edition or about the latest releases, we just care about the book itself. If we have really enjoyed it ourselves and feel it might resonate with other readers as well, we go for it. This way, our catalogue has a nice variety of titles, some of them by renowned, award-winning authors here in Spain like Lorenzo Silva or Marcos Giralt Torrente, alongside others who haven’t yet had that big recognition.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
In this Spring/Summer 2016 season there’s a very engaging and varied selection of titles. They Were Coming For Him by Berta Vias Mahou is a very literary novel recreating the last years of Albert Camus’s life; Brandes’ Decision by Catalan writer Eduard Márquez is a beautiful novel which brings insight and deep reflection on true values; Escape Attempt by Miguel Ángel Hernández is an engaging, thought-provoking novel on ethics in contemporary art; The Violet Hour by Sergio del Molino is a unique memoir on the author’s experience of losing his first child (“an essential book” as the Times Literary Supplement put it); A Bad End, by Fernando Royuela puts a very Spanish flavor to the set, with a novel that follows the baroque Spanish picaresque tradition, and last but not least Bad Light, the debut novel of one of Spain’ most prestigious short-story writers, Carlos Castán, is a very literary novel with deep personal reflection on human relations and a thriller-like end.
We’re very excited about our upcoming Fall-Winter season, very especially about two books which are landmark novels here. The first of the two, Martutene, is a huge novel by Basque writer Ramon Saizabitoria, considered by specialists the new canon of Basque literature. It was winner of the Basque Country’s fiction prize back in 2012 and got massive praise both in its Basque and Spanish edition. The second, The Blue Palace of the Belgian Engineers, by Fulgencio Argüelles is already a classic of contemporary Spanish fiction, having become a long-seller since its first publication in Spanish in 2003. The Madwoman of the House is also a book we’re really keen on, by a very well-known Spanish writer and journalist, Rosa Montero. It is a hybrid genre book, half-essay half-fiction, in which she reflects on the power of imagination and creative writing.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
What’s most exciting about independent publishing to me now is, I guess, what’s been exciting about it always: being able to freely decide on what you feel like publishing and being engaged in the whole process, not just in a specific area, being able to actively take part in all the different things that involve publishing a book and championing it to a new audience. In this sense, added excitement comes from the fact that nowadays, technologies make it possible to tailor workflows and processes to each project’s specific profile. You have many more options amongst which to choose; you can go the usual way, with a standard distribution and publicity-marketing strategy, or be more creative. In our case, for instance, working remote with our team of collaborators and suppliers is one of our core characteristics and a good example of the potential of new (and not so new) technologies.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Hispabooks Publishing?
For us Hispabooks has been a labor of love from the beginning, and it still is. We still haven’t had that big hit many indie publishers have in their publishing history which finally gets them on the safe side. We’re still working toward that goal. On the other hand, we are totally in favor of a healthy book culture in which everyone is fairly paid, so we try to meet the industry’s standard fees, though it’s a struggle. What’s most difficult to tackle is the enormous gap between the advance payments and the 90-days payment terms most distributors give. Producing a book in translation can take around 18-24 months, so it is a stretch. Making it all the way from when you hire publication rights till you see the first income from sales in your bank account can actually be a true survival quest. In this sense, grants for paying translators, which is the highest cost in the overall budget of a book in translation, are totally necessary to be able to publish most books. Without them, but for the occasional best-selling cases, it would be impossible to cope. In this sense, the grants we’ve had so far from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and from the European Union have been very supportive.
What about your location in Madrid? Is it difficult to stay connected to English-language readers?
Not that much. We are aware that not being based in our target markets might be a handicap in terms of engaging our readers, but we try to make up for it being active in our social media, and working on publicity as hard as we can. In fact, nowadays most of the marketing work is done by email and online tools, so that doesn’t make a big difference for us. We’re more limited in terms of organizing book launches and events with our authors but we counter it by partnering with international book festivals to get them to feature our authors within their programs. This way we’ve had our writers in festivals all over the globe like the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, the AJC Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta, the Miami International Book Festival, the Melbourne Writers Festival, and the Bookworm Literary Festival in Beijing.