If you publish books in Spanish, you probably know that the Hispanic population in the United States is growing rapidly. Today, Spanish-speaking immigrants and their descendants are 14 percent of the American population, or one out of every seven. They are also the fastest growing ethnic group—in some states, no longer a minority. You probably also know that Spanish-language book sales have taken a dramatic upswing, due in part to the upward mobility of many Hispanic families.
What you may not know is how to reach those Hispanic readers and the retailers that serve them. Read on for information about the challenges of publishing and distributing to the Hispanic market.
What Edition Comes First?
Some publishers issue titles in Spanish as product extensions of books that have done well in English and seem likely to sell in translation. In Seattle, for example, Parenting Press had sold 60,000 copies of a children’s saddle-stitched personal safety title called It’s MY Body when counselors and parent educators encouraged Elizabeth and Fred Crary to issue a Spanish version in 1985. To date, it’s sold almost 18,000 copies.
Tread carefully if you’re considering a simple translation of a popular English-language title, warns Rich Schell of the Law Offices of Kurt A. Wagner, which sells both English and Spanish editions of its U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Q & A and the Spanish-only Visas! Visas! Visas! Sesenta maneras (legales) de inmigrar a EE.UU. “Some publishers assume that just translating the book is enough,” he says, emphasizing that “most entrees into this market succeed when the company takes the time to truly appreciate the culture and market appropriately.”
Other publishers start with Spanish. Matthew Gollub launched California’s Tortuga Press in 1997 because he couldn’t convince the publisher of three of his children’s books (a large New York house) to issue Spanish editions. “It was important to me professionally, and to my audiences, that my books set in Mexico be available in Spanish,” Gollub says. As an author, storyteller, and literacy advocate, he makes bilingual presentations at schools and education conferences.
What Language to Use
Gollub’s original publisher was unwilling to tackle Spanish editions because it saw the Spanish book market as “confusing,” especially when selecting which Spanish to use—Cuban, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Mexican, or the Spanish of some region in Spain. Gollub’s advice: Because Spanish speakers in the United States come from many countries, use experienced, professional translators who know a universal Spanish; avoid regional or national idioms except when the style or dialog call for them.
Nerissa Moran at Brodart Español, a major wholesaler to libraries, agrees. Poor translations are the most common and serious problem with books submitted to Brodart, she says. “Especially in children’s books, give your translations the same care in copy-editing that you give your English text.”
Moran echoed Gollub’s advice about hiring professional translators: “Just because someone is bilingual doesn’t mean he or she can translate for publication.” To evaluate the quality of your translation, Moran suggests, ask someone experienced with Spanish to check a couple of paragraphs.
The Mexican Market
Mexico is Tortuga’s best foreign market, but selling there is “not for the faint of heart,” Gollub warns. He describes Latin American wholesalers as a group as “pokey” in making payments.
“They often claim difficulty in collecting from bookstores, which I’m sure is a reality,” he says, adding, “I get the feeling that in Latin America, one really should invest a lot more time eating, socializing, and attending baptisms with the people from whom one wishes to collect payment. This necessity can be either charming or exasperating—depending on what you hope to accomplish and when.”
Independent booksellers in Mexico, whom Gollub calls on while vacationing, are best about paying bills when publishers maintain a personal relationship, he reports. His best illustration of that: “When we got acquainted eight years ago, a bookseller and his family had me over for dinner. He showed me his warehouse; he placed an order. My mistake was not visiting his city since. After years of trying to collect from afar, I had abandoned hope. This past summer, I dropped by his bookstore unannounced. He was as charming as ever, profusely apologetic, and he paid the $800 bill on the spot. And to make up for his delinquency, he prepaid for a new order of $400.”
Reaching Readers in the United States
The single greatest obstacle to selling Spanish-language books in the United States is distribution. Many immigrants are unfamiliar with public libraries and uncomfortable walking into big-box chain bookstores, Brodart’s Moran says. They often shop at independent Hispanic retail stores, which must be reached individually or through regional distributors that focus on groceries and novelties.
“I thought bodegas would work, but distribution into these is challenging,” Schell notes. “Both literally and metaphorically, it requires speaking a different language. It’s also really important to remember that you may have to work with bodegas on all the physical aspects of selling books,” since they’re mom-and-pop businesses that deal primarily with food. “A crucial question for them and you is the margin.”
Miraida Morales, the Spanish-language sales rep for Independent Publishers Group (IPG), agrees that the Hispanic sales channels are nontraditional. Spanish-language books are sold in drugstores, video stores, photo shops—”You name it,” she says—as well as in grocery stores. If your in-house sales team does not have the resources to find and service these stores, consider field reps, just as you would for other “special sales” accounts, Morales suggests.
Her upbeat take: “Hispanic communities are growing, and entrepreneurs within these communities recognize the incredible demand for books in Spanish. They will make these books available through whatever channel they have at their disposal.” Like others with relevant experience, Moran thinks that retail is the best growth area for Spanish-language publications. She believes the well-penetrated library market has more limited sales potential.
Moran and Morales have more advice for the publishers who want to sell foreign-language books: Do a better job of helping ethnic booksellers make money.
First, Moran said, publishers should create publicity campaigns that develop awareness of their titles and build customer demand. She believes broadcast publicity and advertising are more influential than print, even though national magazines such as the Spanish version of People have huge audiences. “If I were publishing in Spanish, I’d go to local radio and television stations for publicity on talk shows, for public service announcements, and maybe even for advertising.”
Broadcast publicity is extremely valuable among Hispanics, she notes, citing the impact of the book club hosted by Emmy-winning broadcaster Jorge Ramos for a few years starting in 2002. Despierta leyendo (Wake Up Reading), which aired once monthly on Univision morning television, was “very effective” in selling books.
To provide adequate marketing support for Spanish titles, you may be able to use the same tactics you use for your English-language books, although the vehicles will differ. “Just as publishers hire publicists with connections at all the major English-language morning shows and book-review sections, they need to seek talented and capable individuals with similar connections within the Hispanic media,” Morales says.
And don’t overlook reviews in the trade press. For buyers who do not speak Spanish but do select Spanish-language titles, Gollub at Tortuga emphasizes the importance of positive reviews in trade publications such as Booklist and Críticas (which is now online except for two print issues annually; see criticasmagazine.com).
Reaching Traditional Bookstores
To reach bookstore chains, independent bookstores, and catalog companies that sell Spanish-language books, publishers should approach the same wholesalers and distributors that handle their English-language titles.
Follett and Baker & Taylor are among the best channels for selling Tortuga’s Spanish-language titles to libraries. At Illinois’s Raven Tree Press, which publishes bilingual children’s books, publisher Dawn Jeffers suggests Brodart Espanola, Lectorum, and the dedicated Spanish buyers at Barnes & Noble and Borders. And Joel Mikesell at Cypress House in California also recommends Adler’s Foreign Books (which buys from U.S. publishers for its retail Web site and Evanston, IL, storefront) and Continental Book Company (which focuses on educational titles).
Because Brodart sells primarily into the library market, it requires books that have spines. Moran’s greatest need today: how-to books on car repair. Another market niche waiting to be filled: high-interest, low reading-level books for teenagers and adults.
“The other major complaint I’ve had is that there aren’t enough reference books such as encyclopedia sets and atlases,” Moran says. “And there will always be room in the marketplace for more easy readers in Spanish.”
BWI, formerly Book Wholesalers—the Follett Corp. division that sells to public libraries—does not handle bookstore or retail sales. Purchasing manager Keith Srutkowski says that buyers want only title information for new books, no samples. You can reach him at 1847 Mercer Rd., Lexington, KY 40511; 859/225-6705; fax 859/225-6700; email@example.com.
Baker& Taylor’s Spanish division is headed by Michael Shapiro, whose Libros sin Fronteras distributor B&T acquired. Now B&T’s vice president of Spanish sales and marketing, he can be reached at 1120 U.S. Highway 22 East, P.O. Box 6885, Bridgewater, NJ 08807; 908/541-7028; 800/775-1500, ext. 7028; fax 908/722-7420. Another valuable Baker & Taylor contact is Millie Flores, the Spanish buyer, at the same address, 908/541-7464, or ext. 7464 from the toll-free number; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To approach Brodart, send a sample of each title to Nerissa Moran at 500 Arch St., Williamsport, PA 17701 (800/233-8467, ext. 76279, email@example.com) and enclose a catalog or sell sheets with complete bibliographic information, including year of publication and binding, so that librarian customers can see everything you offer and make informed buying decisions. Moran expects a minimum discount of 40 percent, regardless of quantity.
Lectorum, which started life in 1960 as a storefront retailer of Spanish titles, is now a Scholastic unit. The country’s oldest and largest Spanish book distributor, it wholesales some 25,000 titles annually. Send samples and catalogs to Teresa Mlawer, President, and she’ll forward your inquiry to the appropriate purchasing manager. She can be reached at 524 Broadway, 5th floor,
New York, NY 10012; 212/965-7322; 800/853-3291, ext. 2; firstname.lastname@example.org.
At chain bookstores, contacts include:
- Barnes& Noble, Inc., Amanda Schilling, Spanish Language Buyer, 122 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011.
- Borders Group, Ernesto Martínez, Spanish and Foreign Language Buyer, 100 Phoenix Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48108; 734/477-4338.
- At IPG, you can reach Morales at 814 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610; 312/337-0747, ext. 256; email@example.com.
To contact Adler’s Foreign Books, visit afb-adlers.com.
The Continental Book Company site is https://continentalbook.com. Continental sells online and to bookstores and libraries.
If you’re publishing children’s Spanish-language literature, consider contacting Mariuccia Iaconi Book Imports, established in 1955. The emphasis is on literature—no religious books, no comic books, no cartoon/movie/toy/snack-food tie-in books (that means no Disney or Sesame Street characters, no Barbie stories, and no characters from advertising). Discounts range from 40 to 60 percent; review copies should go to Mariucci or Mara Iaconi, at Mariuccia Iaconi Book Imports, 970 Tennessee St., San Francisco, CA 94107; 800/955-9577; www.iaconibooks.com.
Resources for Promoting Books in Spanish
You can build a press-release list for distribution to Spanish-language publications by checking the National Association of Hispanic Publications Web site (https://nahp.org/), which lists members by state.
To develop a distribution list for stations that serve the Spanish-speaking market, use the corporate Web sites of multistation broadcast companies. For example, Dallas-based Univision is one of the largest owners of Spanish-language broadcast stations, operating 69 of them in such markets as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco/San Jose, Chicago, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, McAllen/Brownsville/Harlingen, San Diego, El Paso, Phoenix, Fresno, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas. It also operates more than 50 television stations in these and other cities with significant Hispanic population. See https://corporate.televisaunivision.com/, select Corporate, and then choose Station Directory for either radio or television stations.
You can also build your own list of publications, broadcast stations, and online media with resources such as Hispanic Yearbook (http://www.hispanicyearbook.com/; click Search Database and select Publications, Radio, or Television). Or use the Media We Reach list at Hispanic PR Wire (www.hispanicprwire.com), a fee-based wire service for disseminating publicity stories.
Supplement your list of Spanish-language media with English-language media that serve areas with a high percentage of Spanish speakers. One starting point is the Modern Language Association Language Map Data Center (https://www.mla.org/), where you can use the Language by State sort to see which states have the highest concentration of Spanish speakers. Other options allow you to look at Spanish-language use by county and ZIP code.
The Public Library Geographic Database (PLGDB) Mapping (https://www.hugetits.tv/topic/geolib.html) can also help you identify libraries that serve areas with a concentration of Spanish speakers.