Saturday, January 07, 2012

Marcela Landres answers Latino writers

In December, Marcela Landres, former editor of Simon and Schuster, kindly agreed to answering La Bloga readers' questions related to the publishing of Latino writing. Her answers are below and we hope readers find them of use in getting their own work published.

Q: Can you estimate the size of the Hispanic readership for literary novels?

A: Bookscan () is arguably the one central source of U.S. book sales information, but they only capture about 60-70% of the market and unless I’m greatly mistaken they don’t break out Latino novels. I wish someone would take on the task of creating a reliable system by which to track Latino book buying habits, as that is information for which publishers might pay a pretty penny.

Q: What is a Latino writer? I have a Spanish name but I don't write Latino stuff and a lot of times my characters are not even Latino. Graham Greene wrote The Power and the Glory and he was British, and Joseph Conrad, whose real name was Józef Konrad Korzeniowski, was Polish and never wrote anything Polish. Yet somehow, because of my Spanish name it seems to me that agents and publishers expect me to write about Latinos. Is there a chance in hell that a writer with a Spanish name can write about non-Latino subjects and be taken seriously?
Jose Rodriguez

A: A Latino writer is a writer who happens to be Latino. Yes, a writer with a Latino name can write about non-Latino subjects and be taken seriously. We the Animals by Justin Torres was published this year to high acclaim, and the author’s Latinidad was incidental. Don’t assume agents and publishing companies are rejecting you because your name is Jose Rodriguez--chances are, the reason is a purely business one, e.g. the writing isn’t market-ready, your platform isn’t strong enough, your work isn’t the kind of book the agent or publisher knows how to sell, etc. So write what you want, but when it comes time to sell your book, seriously consider focusing one prong of your promotional plan on the Latino market, as doing so exponentially increases the possibility that you would garner the attention and support of Latino media and readers.

Q: Since trying unsuccessfully for years to get a manuscript read by an agent, I finally self-published online. I have written fiction novels in normal and urban-fantasy settings with strong Latino and Latina characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Yet, I get the feeling that if my work does not fall into a specific category, such as steampunk or vampire, it won't get looked at. I doubt my query letters have been that bad, and I know that there must be a market in the Latino and general community for my work. Is my understanding of the industry way off base?

A: Agents and editors want to publish tomorrow what is selling today. If apocalyptic young adult novels are on the bestseller lists now, then the apocalyptic young adult manuscripts sitting in the offices of agents and editors is what is going to get snapped up. But what agents and editors want is a moot point because you’ve self-published; the only people who matter now are readers, and the folks you need to help you connect with your readers, e.g. booksellers, bloggers, reviewers, etc. Sell as many copies of your self-published novels as you can within the first year of publication, and agents and editors may end up chasing you.

Q: Last year my short story "The Last Time of Anything" received an honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Family Matters--Oct. 2010, in the top 30 submissions. I have not sent it out for submission since and I have not made any edits. The story is currently 8077 words. Should I edit and/or shorten it or send it out to literary magazines/journals as it stands?

A: Congratulations on the honorable mention! Since the story has not actually been published, you should submit it to other litmags for publication consideration. Don’t edit it unless the word count is an issue, as per the submission guidelines for the litmags. More to the point, you need to write new stories. Winning awards and getting published in litmags is a numbers game; the more polished pieces you have on submission at a given moment in time, the more likely you will win an award and/or be published.

Q: Dear Marcela,
First, thank you for helping with my writing career. Through your newsletter, I met Daniel Olivas and the Blogueros, and years later became a columnist for La Bloga myself. This year, my first novel Ocotillo Dreams was published by a small university press ASU Bilingual Press, the same publisher of Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature.
My priorities are in my writing so I do not have an agent. Should I be placing more effort in trying to get an agent and ultimately a bigger publishing house for my next novel?
Thank you,

A: Congratulations on publishing Ocotillo Dreams! Whether you secure representation of an agent and/or publish future books depends on one thing--the sales history of your first book. The more copies you sell within the first year of publication, the more likely agents and editors will want to work with you on your next book. So the next step is not contacting agents; rather, the next step is investing 110% of your time and energy in selling as many copies of Ocotillo Dreams as humanly possible.

Q: Dear Marcela,
I'm tired of reading Chicano lit with the predictable quinceañeras about how everybody's mamá makes delicious tamales. (My daughter didn't want the former and my mom never made the later.) Also, I don't know if I can read another familia history or story about gente reaching closure with their parents. Could you please tell us what plots, genres, settings or characters you think Chicanos haven't explored enough? IOW, what do you or editors/agents you know wish they'd see more of from Chicano writers, besides the obvious?

A: Amen! My sisters and I opted against a quince and instead got a cash gift from our parents, and while my mother has many talents, cooking is not one of them :-) I believe every time a Latino gets published, an angel dances a merengue in heaven. Having said this, I prefer authors who shatter stereotypes. If you grew up in the projects (as I did) and your novel is set in the projects, then you’re speaking your truth. But if you grew up white collar, graduated from college, and your novel is set in the projects, I want you to ask yourself why you have chosen not to honor your truth. In general, agents and editors want from Latino writers what they want from non-Latino writers--books that sell well.

Wishing you joy,
Marcela Landres
Author of the e-book How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You

To learn more about Marcela or to contact her, go to


AlvaradoFrazier said...

Great questions and information.Thank you Marcela. I met you at a workshop in Long Beach and I still have your note pinned on my bulletin board behind my laptop. Three MS's later I'm still learning, have an agent reviewing two ms's, and hopefully find a publisher.

My own take is to learn the craft of writing, write, edit, then pay for a professional edit, follow agent and publishers blogs,blog and use social media to promote your topics.

Ernest Hogan said...

As a Chicano who has published here and there, I would like to say that a Latino writer shouldn't worry about who the readers are (mine are spread all over the planet), or what a Latino writer should be. Readers tend to like and remember writers who show them something new, and Latino life is so diverse it should provide plenty of fresh material. It has made my science fiction unique. Avoid the clichés. The publishing world is going through upheaval right now -- watch out for new opportunities. And I'm not sure how relevant agents are going to be in the new situation.

Manuel Ramos said...

Marcela - thanks for doing this; very helpful info. When all is said and done, I think the art of writing comes down to being honest to yourself - write your "truth" as you say. I agree with Ernest - a writer should not be too concerned with the audience or meeting someone's definition of "writer", Latino or otherwise. Be fresh, tell a good story. However, the business of writing is something else - attracting an audience and other commercial concerns,which are changing dramatically and quickly, need to be addressed.

Melinda Palacio said...

Great advice Ernesto. And thanks to Marcela, I will remind you to buy your copy of Ocotillo Dreams by Melinda Palacio at your favorite bookstore. Time to use those gift cards before they get lost. Cheers and Happy New Year.

Desiree said...

Thanks for all the super advice!

sandra said...

Always readable advice and I especially like the emphasis on writing what you know. That's my credo. Just counted my published stories: 21. An "expert" once told me that an Ivy League background and winning writing contests was the key. And yay La Bloga and Melinda Palacio!

sandra said...

Always readable advice and I especially like the emphasis on writing what you know. That's my credo. Just counted my published stories: 21. An "expert" once told me that an Ivy League background and winning writing contests was the key. And yay La Bloga and Melinda Palacio!

Daisy Cabrera said...

As always, great insight and seasoned advice from Marcela.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insight Marcela, wonderful suggestion about focusing on selling your first book/connecting with readers. This is one of the main things a successful writer must do well!