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American Dreams

Plotting happy endings to storybook dreams

Plotting happy endings to storybook dreams

Book editor Marcela Landres discovers her true destiny is to help Latino writers find publishing success in a competitive industry.


LatinaLista — Marcela Landres was on her way to making her parents proud as the first one in her family to become a doctor. However, it would take a fortunate accident in chemistry class to make this Ecuadorian American girl from Long Island City, Queens discover her true destiny.

One day during her sophomore year in college while conducting a lab experiment, Marcela dropped a bit of acid and watched horrified as the liquid bore a hole straight through the top of her shoe.

"Miraculously, it didn't make contact with my skin," Marcela recalled. "But the experience triggered the epiphany that becoming a doctor wasn't my dream, but my parents'."

Marcela began questioning what she wanted out of life. One thing she knew for certain -- she loved books, not medicine.

Yet, she couldn't quite see herself as an author.

It wasn't until she attended a summer lecture on publishing and heard how African American literature was the darling of publishing houses that Marcella began to wonder where she and other Latinas fit into the publishing picture.

"I sat there as the only Latina is the room and thought to myself, "Why aren't agents and editors pursuing Latinos the way they're pursuing African-Americans?"

It didn't take long for Marcela to uncover the reasons: Latino books weren't big money-makers, and there were no Latinos in positions of power in the book business to find and promote Latino authors.

Marcela knew what she had to do.

She set her sights on working as an editor for one of the publishing industry's biggest publishers, Simon & Schuster. As soon as she started, she announced to every agent who cared to listen that she was looking for Latino writers.

But it was a slow start.

"While many agents were willing, most were unable to find Latino writers," said Marcela. "Being a book editor taught me that we still live in a segregated society: if you, like most literary agents, are not Latino, chances are you don't know any Latinos -- much less Latinos who happen to be talented writers."

Faced with this predicament, Marcela knew she would have to actively find Latino writers, even though it wasn't her job.

Marcela executed a plan to reach out into communities to discover Latino writers. She created a flyer describing the kinds of works she wanted and mailed them to writing conferences and Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) program directors asking them to post the flyers on their bulletin boards and websites.

As a result, Marcela was soon speaking at writing conferences, spawning a side career of creating weekend workshops teaching aspiring writers how to get published.

In the process, she began receiving submissions from Latino writers. Unfortunately, while finding Latino writers was proving easier than she imagined, the real challenge was finding writers who were ready to be published.

Frustrated with seeing Latino writers repeatedly making the same mistakes, she created a web site and published a newsletter to share writing tips and industry insights.

Luckily, her dedication and passion in finding new Latino literary talent has been such a success that it has turned into a full-time job.

Today, she consults directly with writers, edits their writings and shares the lessons she learned along the way.

One of those invaluable lessons Marcela teaches new writers is to learn how to be patient.

"Book publishing is a slow business in what is increasingly becoming a fast-paced world," cautions Marcela.

Even then, it's not a finished deal. Marcela says that once a book contract is signed it can take an average of 18 months to see your book on bookstore shelves.

Yet, while it may take time to see the fruits of her labor in helping one more Latino writer join today's literary ranks, Marcela knows the process can't even begin until she finds that next great talent.

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