By Silvia Vinas
Before the success of her bestselling, mother of Latina Chick Lit — or Chica Lit — book, “The Dirty Girls Social Club,” Alisa Valdes says, “if you were a Latina you were expected to write using Magical Realism and it had to be down-trodden and depressing. It had to be an immigrant experience, or there had to be that hardship from the barrio.”
Latina writers who, like Alisa, want to publish a different kind of work are understandably confused as to what the publishing industry is looking for, especially if they want their writing to reach a wider audience, not just Latinos.
Marcela Landres, an expert in getting writers published, explains that, “Before Alisa, Latino books were literary — they didn’t sell well, but they weren’t expected to.” Marcela explains that the publishing industry wants strong sales from Latino authors, like from everybody else.
The book that jumpstarted the genre of Chica Lit.
Selling means reaching a big audience, one that purchases books, something especially problematic for Latinas. Marcela says that Latinas tend to lend each other books, instead of purchasing their own copy and, “The less profit a publisher makes on one Latina author, the less likely they’ll take a chance on a new Latina author.”
Trying to understand and maneuver the book publishing industry can be a tricky feat, even for veteran writers. To help Latina writers understand what the industry is all about and their expectations from writers, Marcela recently wrote an informative article on the current state of Latino publishing.
Cecilia Molinari, an editor and translator, recently attended a Latino publishing conferences at BookExpo America and says, “One of the remarks that generated a lot of buzz, in regard to Latino writers in general, is the hope of more literature with universal themes that break free from some of the industry stereotypes.”
She encourages Latinas to “let your background and roots intertwine with new global themes, rather than have them be the center of attention in your writing.”
This could be problematic if a publisher wants to market the book to a predominantly Latino audience, but Cecilia says that if writers believe their book has a universal theme they should make their case with their agent and their publisher, ask for a cover that doesn’t yell “Latino” and, “Tap all your resources. It’s still an uphill battle, but it needs to be fought in order to be victorious.”
After her success with Chica Lit, Alisa lived through the complexity of reaching a whole new audience. Taking a chance, Alisa wrote “The Husband Habit.” “I tried to write basically a literary anti-war book instead of a fluffy woman’s book.” But the book was promoted as Chick Lit, and as a result, it sold about 8,000 copies.
Alisa learned her lesson and took matters into her own hands. She recently started an independent book publishing house with Jes Alexander called Editions Rue de l’OpÃ©ra et Cie where writers can pitch their manuscripts and readers can purchase e-books or print versions.
Alisa believes self-publishing and e-books are the way to go.
Marcela and Cecilia agree, acknowledging that successful authors many times jump-start their careers through self-publishing. Cecilia also advises Latina writers to “start a blog, go on Twitter, use the social media to find your audience, try to get some pieces published.”
Once published, Marcela recommends active self-promotion: “Don’t expect your publisher to do more than print the book and get it into (some) stores. Unless you’re very lucky, they will do little more.”
Finally, Cecilia tells Latinas to write from their heart: “Passion and perseverance are your allies.”
Instead of working with the industry’s description of what a Latina writer is and writes about, Alisa says Latinas should define the kind of writer and person they are, and remember that “Earnest Hemingway once said there is no such thing as a national ethnic writer; writers belong only to the nation of writers.”
Silvia ViÃ±as is a freelance writer, journalist and blogger. She blogs about Uruguay and Chile for Global Voices Online where she also translates.
She recently started blogging about the internet and politics on her own site called InterPolitique. In addition, she keeps a more personal (and less-focused) blog at Walking Around. Silvia can be followed on Twitter at @silviavinas.
Great post. I enjoyed reading it, thanks. I didn’t know Alisa had started a publishing company. I’m going to check it out.
thank you very informative and a good wake up call. Although its hard to pull away from “latina culture” its good to be challenged about being more inclusive.
Thelma T. Reyna
Wonderful, informative article! I couldn’t agree more with the comments about stereotyping and low expectations of Latina authors. I’ve long felt that we need to write about universal themes and not restrict ourselves to what our culture’s literature was like in its early years. Our audience is the world, people of all colors and backgrounds, so Hemingway was right: We’re all writers first, ethnic group members second. More power to Alisa and all the emerging Latina and Latino authors…and thanks to the stalwarts who laid the foundations for the expanding recognition Latina/o authors are finally earning.