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How to Sell Spanish-Language Titles in the United States

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How to Sell Spanish-Language
Titles in the United States


by Linda Carlson


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


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 <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>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. <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>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 <span
(which is now online except for
two print issues annually; see <span


Reaching Traditional


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.”


Linda Carlson writes
regularly for the Independent
from Seattle. Her most recent book is <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest

(University of Washington Press).








Bookseller Contacts


style=’font-size:11.0pt’>, 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; <span


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; <span


To approach <span
send a sample of each title to Nerissa Moran at 500 Arch St., Williamsport, PA
17701 (800/233-8467, ext. 76279, <span
) 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.


style=’font-size:11.0pt’>, 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; <span


At chain bookstores,
contacts include:


·      Barnes& Noble, Inc., Amanda
Schilling, Spanish Language Buyer, 122 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011.

·      Borders
, Ernesto Martínez, Spanish
and Foreign Language Buyer, 100 Phoenix Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48108; 734/477-4338.

·      At <span
, you can reach Morales at 814 N.
Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610; 312/337-0747, ext. 256; <span


To contact <span
class=95StoneSansSBIt>Adler’s Foreign Books
visit afb-adlers.com.


The <span
class=95StoneSansSBIt>Continental Book Company

site is www.continentalbook.com.
Continental sells online and to bookstores and libraries.


If you’re publishing
children’s Spanish-language literature, consider contacting <span
class=95StoneSansSBIt>Mariuccia Iaconi Book
, 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; <span





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 (<span
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 www.univision.net,
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
click Search Database and select Publications, Radio, or Television). Or use
the Media We Reach list at Hispanic PR Wire (<span
), 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 (<span
), 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 (<span
) can also help you
identify libraries that serve areas with a concentration of Spanish speakers.




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