Latinos in the Publishing Industry

Written by Corina Martinez Chaudhry

Why are Latinos underrepresented in the publishing industry?

Some would say that it’s because there are not many Latino writers, others say that there are just not enough ‘good’ Latino authors, and yet others blame the publishing industry for pigeon holing Latinos into a category and not making an effort to get our literary works out to the mainstream. So which is it?

challenge assumptionsTo answer those that think that there are just not many Latino writers around, or to those that believe not many ‘good’ Latino writers exist, they are simply mistaken. For those that blame it all on the publishing industry, although they are a big contributor to this, maybe Latinos need to do more to change this and not totally depend on the big houses to alter the status quo. So what can we do to transform these prevalent thoughts and practices amongst the population and publishing industry?

Statistically, with over 52 million Latinos in the U.S. alone, it’s hard to believe that there are not enough Latino writers to fill up any New York publisher’s editorial room to the brim. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all these written works are great, and many are probably mediocre at best; however, how does this differ from the rest of the mainstream authors being thrown at us by the big publishing houses? It doesn’t. But yet many of these mediocre mainstream writers are being published by huge publishers and are making it on best seller lists. How many times have you picked up a book on one of these lists only to think, “How did this ever get published and get on a best seller list?”

Media manipulationOf course we all know that best seller lists are compiled by the editorial staff from major newspapers that are bombarded with ads from publishing houses to pick the authors they want to promote. Once lists are compiled, they are then sent out to bookstores for selling data input. So in essence, if you are not published by one of the major publishing houses, or know the newspaper editorial staff it’s highly unlikely that your book will ever make it on one of these lists. This then becomes a vicious cycle for the average author, and even more so for the Latino author who is not likely to get published in the first place. Don’t get me wrong there are a few Latino authors who are making waves in the industry such as Junot Díaz, Julia Alvarez, or Sandra Cisneros, and just recently Justice Sonia Sotomayor but those are the exception. When you add up all the Latinos in the US you tend to wonder why only a few have broken through the barbed-wire-fence madness.

So are there many good Latino writers amongst us? Absolutely! The difference is that not only do Latinos have to break down the publishing world enigma like other mainstream authors, but they also have to work at tearing down the myth that everything that is written by Latino authors is only for a Latino audience as well as getting all lumped together as being just one group.

Unfortunately, much of mainstream America doesn’t quite understand that Latinos are a very diverse group coming from many countries with diverse cultures, that they come from all walks of life (professional or otherwise), some are educated and some aren’t, some are olive skinned and some are not, that all Latinos aren’t Catholic, and that newer generation Latinos many times don’t even speak Spanish. So how are we different than the rest of the population in the US? We aren’t! We are just as much a hodge-podge as anyone else in the US, and as we become a more globalized society, the diversity will be even more intense.

business woman puppetBut why don’t publishers publish more books by Latino authors? The verdict is still out; however, there are many facets to this anomaly. First of all, publishing houses are a business. They have a bottom line to contend with and that’s their main focus. Having said that, why aren’t more Latino authors making their publishing lists if Latinos comprise about 17% of the population in the US? With this many Latinos you’d think publishers would want our business. Again we ask the question, “Why don’t the big houses publish more of our books?” It’s because thus far they have managed to hoodwink us into buying their mainstream books so why should they change the formula.

What would happen if Latinos stopped buying mainstream author books and instead focused on buying books by Latino authors? I would venture to say that this would grab the publishing industry’s attention. After all, affecting someone’s pocket book usually gets a person to take notice. Latinos can scream and holler all they want about their books not being published like other mainstream authors, but until the publishing industry sees a change in their bottom line it’s unlikely they will change what has thus far been working for them.

Because so few books by Latino authors are making the main circuit in community bookstores, in the news, or in our education system many Latinos grow up believing that these books don’t exist or they just don’t know where to purchase them as readily as other books. Of course, with technology today, this is slowing changing but not quickly enough. In addition, the continual infliction upon our youth that Latino authors are just not as good as other authors will continue in this perpetual cycle in both the publishing and education system of the US. So how do we change it?

The banker dollars and cents latino writersThe first step would be for Latinos to make a concerted effort to support Latino authors. If Latinos are not buying and supporting books coming from Latino authors, why would the rest of America do so? Why would publishers want to publish Latino authors if their bottom line is to make money and they indicate that Latino books don’t sell as well as other books? Could it be that it’s because they don’t care about promoting or putting much effort to marketing Latino authors, or other minority authors for that matter, and that’s why those books don’t sell as well? I would speculate to say this is one way of continuing on the same perpetual cycle that has worked so well for them.

According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth Report, the Latino market growth will be about $1 trillion dollars in 2015; whereas, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans collectively will be about $2.1 trillion dollars. These are not markets to take lightly. So publishers take heed, the formula you have been using thus far may only work for so long. Please know that if Latinos can come together to help elect a President, we can surely come together to change the status quo and put our efforts into a system that is more beneficial for everyone. What would happen if Latinos put their efforts into buying books from just one of the big houses such as Atria books (Division of Simon and Schuster) who has at least made an effort to publish more books by Latino authors, or toward those smaller publishing houses such as Arte Publico Press or Floricanto Press to name a few?

It’s disconcerting that Latinos who have contributed much to this nation are still fighting just to get a fair shake in the publishing industry, much like having to pull together to reinstate the banning of various books in the Mexican Studies Program in Tuscan Arizona. Another offense to intellectual freedom! These practices should be an outrage not to just Latinos in this country but to all Americans.

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