Sunday, November 9, 2008

RichWriters Interview with Guadelajara Book Fair Exect, David Unger


Jeff Rivera:                              How are you doing today?


David Unger:                            Fine, it is a sunny day in New York City. What can I say?


Jeff Rivera:                              That is great. A sunny day well kind of in Miami again so…


David Unger:                            Yes. Well, Miami is usually sunny until the rains come.


Jeff Rivera:                              Yes. It was just raining a few minutes ago. It is kind of back and fort today.


David Unger:                            Well I grew up in Hialeah so I know a little bit of Miami.


Jeff Rivera:                              Oh that is great! So are you Cuban or are you Puerto Rican or what are you?


David Unger:                            I am Guatemalan. I am originally born in Guatemala and my family came over in 1955 so they went to straight to Hialeah Florida.


Jeff Rivera:                              Okay.


David Unger:                            And I lived there for about ten years and then went to Miami Springs.


Jeff Rivera:                              Okay, cool. That is great.


David Unger:                            So I am a South Floridian.


Jeff Rivera:                              Okay, there you go.


David Unger:                            Like you.


Jeff Rivera:                              Yes, something like that but not originally but yes.


David Unger:                            Yes, I know your Dad is a Filipino.


Jeff Rivera:                              Yes, my dad is a Filipino.


David Unger:                            Right.


Jeff Rivera:                              Yes. So now, okay so let us start with some basic questions.


David Unger:                            Okay.


Jeff Rivera:                              Now, tell me what is your official title at the book fair?


David Unger:                            Well, I am the United States Representative of the Guadalajara International Book Fair and basically what I do is provide information for anyone who might be interested in going to Guadalajara from the United States, Canada and some parts of Europe. And that would include publishers, book sellers, and lots of librarians, writers, translators and so forth.


Jeff Rivera:                              So do you coordinate their travel to get them over there or how do you that?


David Unger:                            No. The fair is probably the third most important book fair in the world so we have 43 people that work full time in Guadalajara on different aspects of the fair. Basically, my role is sort of that of a one-man band to provide as much lead information to get professionals to come to Guadalajara. So we have on our website information about hotels and everything but more importantly going to Guadalajara involves, depending on whether you are an exhibitor or a professional, it involves a certain expense so my job is to let them know whether I think it is worth their expenditure to go to Guadalajara.  About 700 people come from the United States. I guess it is a worthwhile fair for at least those 700 anyway.


Jeff Rivera:                              Right! Now you said that your book fair is probably the third largest. What would be the first two?


David Unger:                            I would say, well the Frankfurt Book Fair is by far the most important book fair in the world. It is held in October and attracts some 40,000 t0 45,000 book fair professionals. Then I think the second one would be the Bologna Children's Book Fair which exclusively focuses on children's books. And then the London Book Fair is petty important and Guadalajara is sort of the Spanish language equivalent of, I would say, the London Book Fair.


Jeff Rivera:                              Okay. So if I am a publisher here, a small publisher here in United States, why should I go to Guadalajara?


David Unger:                            Well, there would be at least three or four different reasons why you would go. Harper Collins goes to Guadalajara and they take a booth and Penguin and Chronicle also go to Guadalajara with booths. You could be going there to try and get your English language books into English language bookstores from Argentina all the way up to Mexico because a lot of buyers had come to the book fair who are stocking English language books like photography books and novels, architecture books. You could also go there because you are interested in selling Spanish language rights to the hundreds of Spanish language publishers that go there. And you could also be interested in promoting your Spanish language tittles if you have those titles. And you might be interested in finding a distributor who would be able to distribute your Spanish language titles throughout the Americas. So your reason for going as a publisher would be multifaceted.


Jeff Rivera:                              Now, tell me about this because I do not know a lot about the Latin-American Spanish market in particular or about the economics of each individual country. Would it be stereotypical for a publisher to assume that they need to lower their price point in order to sell books down there?


David Unger:                            Well that is actually a pretty interesting question because if you are selling rights to a publisher in Spain, a publisher in Spain might be able to pay a fairly high advance for the translation rights of a particular novel like for example, you were Junot Diaz's agent, I think it is Gloria Loomis, she would probably be interested in selling his latest novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to a Spanish publisher because a Spanish publisher would probably be able to pay which she would want to get for it. A Mexican publisher would not be able to pay as much and so the expectation is that you would have to lower the amount that you would want to be paid for that.


                                                In terms of pricing, books are pretty expensive in Latin America in almost all countries except for Argentina which continues to suffer from the aftereffects of their economic crisis of 2001 and books tend to be much cheaper there. But one thing to remember is that all the ingredients of what makes a book, paper, ink, glue for binding, cardboard, a lot of that stuff has to be imported and raises the prices of books considerably.


Jeff Rivera:                              Imported from outside of Latin America?


David Unger:                            Right exactly, imported from, let's say, the United States or Canada or whatever.


Jeff Rivera:                              It is interesting that they do not manufacture themselves.


David Unger:                            Yes, it is kind of interesting. The main thing is the quality of printing is not as great in Latin America except in Colombia. Colombia is really petty well-known for their children's books and their pop-up books Many publishers go to China or Hong Kong or Taiwan or Korea for the printing of their books just because the price advantage is greater there. But in terms of importing ink and paper, most of that comes from that United States.


Jeff Rivera:                              So now David, how did all this get started?


David Unger:                            How this book fair got started?


Jeff Rivera:                              How did you…where you are today gets started because you did not wake up one day and suddenly become the United States Representative.


David Unger:                            Right.


Jeff Rivera:                              How did that began?


David Unger:                            I am novelist and a translator. I was born in Guatemala and I have an MFA in Poetry and Translation from Columbia many years ago.I ended up translating about 14 books and published a novel and short stories and lots of reviews for the New York Times. So when I was contacted by the directors of Guadalajara they knew that I had a background and an interest in writing in Spanish language publishing so I was basically contacted almost 15 years ago and asked if I would be willing to build up an aspect of the book fair that at that point was non-existent which was sort of the international part of the fair. But international is really incorrect. I would say the non-Latin American aspect of the fair because the fair up until 1992 was a very, very good fair for Spanish language publishing but, it did not have United States publishers going down there and now United States publishers, Canadian publishers, French publishers, German publishers, Japanese and Korean publishers all go to Guadalajara. So it became a fairly international fair.


                                                So my role was basically to build up the international participation. At the same time, we have a partnership with American Library Association and we bring about 175 to 200 United States librarians that are involved in the purchase of Spanish language books for their libraries and we offer them three night's hotel in Guadalajara and ALA provides $100 towards their air fare.


Jeff Rivera:                              Wow!


David Unger:                            So we have set up other programs for professionals. We have a program for translators as well so we are trying to build links and ties between the Spanish language world and the Anglo world.


Jeff Rivera:                              So now if I am a small publisher and I go to your book fair, how do I make my book stand out in particular compared to some of the big dogs that are already there?


David Unger:                            Right. Well, there are several ways that you can do it. You can buy a booth at the book fair which sets you back about $2400 which is a lot of money so a small publisher would not do that. However, I run a small collective, the FILCollective which gives an opportunity to small publishers to exhibit anywhere from three to a maximum of fifteen titles for a fairly very nominal fee and they get printed in the catalogue and badges and they can work out of this collective booth. So that is one way to do it.


                                                Another way is to purchase a table in our Right's Center if you are involved in the selling of the rights to your particular titles. The Right's Center attracts a lot of agents who are not only from Latin-American and Spain but also from Europe so it is a way in which you can try and sell rights of your titles into Spanish but also possibly into French and German and Italian. What is interesting is that there are a lot of Latinos in publishing. Aida Bardales, is from Honduras and she is the editor of Criticas which is one of the most important publications that deals with Spanish language books in the United States. There is Leylha Ahuile who is a Chilena who runs a magazine called Tinta Fresca which does reviews of Spanish language books both for the library market and the public market. Manuel Herrera works for Recorded Books. He is Dominican and he is responsible for signing lots of books for audio rights. There is Rene Alegria who is the executive editor of Rayo, which is part of Harper Collins. Mauricio Velasquez who is with Rosen Publishers does a lot of nonfiction books for the Latin American market, both in English and Spanish; Cecilia Molinari who is an Argentine works with Rene Alegria. Well, the reason why I am giving you their nationality is because it is quite varied. Adriana Dominguez is from Uruguay and she does the Harper Collins Children's Books. Johanna Castillo is from Ecuador I believe and works for the Atria imprint at Simon & Schuster .

                                                But you know it is really interesting. There a lot of Latinos and Latin Americans who are very much involved in publishing and they are from very different nationalities and what that does is it breeds a kind of richness that one would not expect if everyone were Dominican or Puerto Rican or Guatemalan or Argentine.


Jeff Rivera:                              I wanted to ask you something. Now, you have mentioned a couple of different aspects that if we wanted to go down there in terms of the rights table and also you mentioned another outlet, what are the cost involved in those two outlets that you mentioned?


David Unger:                            Well, in the collective that I run it would cost you $60 per title and you would have to send a minimum of three titles and a maximum of 15.


Jeff Rivera:                              Okay.


David Unger:                            So basically for a minimum of $180 you would be able to attend the fair. You would have a badge, you would have a place to work out of, you would be in the catalogue. The cost is reasonable given that there a lot of businesses that do this at London and Bologna that charge anywhere from $200 to $250 per title. It is fairly cheap and basically the idea is to provide a platform for people to be able to see If they can graduate to a booth at some point if they are interested and basically not to waste money if they are just beginning to publish books for the Spanish language market. If you take a table in the rights center, we charge $220 which is really quite reasonable.


Jeff Rivera:                              Now, I have one last question to ask you and then if you do not mind I would like to maybe follow up with some email questions that I have.


David Unger:                            Sure.


Jeff Rivera:                              Now, we have seen something that is opposing pretty much everyone I am interviewing and that is this. We have seen the success of Dan Brown, we have seen the success of Danielle Steele, we have seen the success of Michael Crichton and people like that who are household names. What will it take in the United States for an American Latino authors or just American Latino stories in general to reach that level?


David Unger:                            Well, you know I think that there have been a number of different writers that have achieved fairly significant, I would say fame and exposure. I do not know about sales but certainly we have had two Pulitzer Prize winning authors, Oscar Hijuelos with the Mambo Kings and Junot Diaz most recently this last year and there is Cristina Garcia. These are all established Latino Writers. I think that they have achieved significant success. You mention writers that really year after year produce strong genre work. I do not think any of the writers that you mentioned can touch a writer like Graham Greene or…well let us see who else I can think of. Even Steinbeck who was sort of a very popular writer.


                                                I think that given the achievements of Latinos, I think there is nothing to be ashamed of in terms of what has been produce and there are also a couple of Spanish writers that have done very well in this country, for example, Ruiz Zafon who wrote The Shadow of the Wind. That is a novel that sold extremely well in this country and there a lot of new Spanish writers that are writing this sort of historical kind of da Vinci type books that are actually much better than the Dan Brown books and have achieved quite a bit big success in this country.


Jeff Rivera:                              So now one additional question. If I am a little boy and I am six to seven years old maybe ten years or whatever and I am on a pajamas right now…


David Unger:                            I would like to see that.


Jeff Rivera:                              And dreaming one day of being where you are and what you have done. What advice would you give to me?


David Unger:                         Well, read and write and imagine and dream. I think the important thing is really to develop all the kinds of skills that you can, something like how do you develop dreaming as a skill? It is basically trying to use your imagination to create different scenarios or perhaps you just fall in love with language. I guess that is the kind of corny advice that I would give.