3 Things I Learned at the LA Review of Books Summer Publishing Workshop

When I first arrived in the United States seven years ago for graduate school, I was surprised to find that although there are many Spanish-speakers in this country, I had difficulty buying the books written by Latinx or Hispanic authors that I needed for my classes. After noticing the lack of translations from Spanish and realizing that Latinx and Hispanic works of literature are systematically underrepresented in the United States, some fellow graduate students and I––all of us international students––co-founded  Chatos Inhumanos, a non-profit bilingual publishing house that publishes contemporary Latinx and Hispanic authors in the U.S.

Chatos Inhumanos books at USC
Photo Credit: Sara Cordón

After three years of hard work, we wanted to know how to boost Chatos Inhumanos so we could make a greater social impact. A PublicsLab Fellowship allowed me to attend the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) / University of Southern California Publishing Workshop in July 2019. This experience has not only helped me and my collaborators understand how to grow Chatos Inhumanos, but has also changed our own perspectives in relation to the importance of our work.

The LARB Publishing Workshop is an intensive summer course designed for those who have a literary venture in mind, whether in writing, publishing, translation, or in the organization of events or cultural platforms. They deliberately recruit underrepresented participants, favor independent projects, and encourage innovation in an effort to transform the publishing industry from the ground up.

During a three week course, industry leaders give lectures on different aspects of the publishing industry and speak directly with participants through workshops, tutorial classes, and Q&A sessions. Students can also work as editors for the PubLab magazine. Through friendly contact with professionals chosen both for their expertise and for their diversity of experience and identity, the LARB Publishing Workshop provides students with perspectives on the different ways of approaching the publishing industry.

After working in this stimulating and enthusiastic environment, I have learned three crucial lessons.

Sara Cordón speaking at the publishing workshop
Photo credit: LA Review of Books
  1. Collaboration is key. Through networking, mentoring, and sharing ideas in the halls of the university, both participants and experts were able to discuss and problematize our projects while incorporating a lot of new ideas and resources. Subsequently, Chatos Inhumanos has rethought how we distribute our books and has added new collaborators to the team that emerged from the connections we made at the publishing workshop.
  2. Constantly adapt to reach new publics. “Publishing” means making public, that is, spreading and approaching other people. It’s essential for editors to foster a connection between the literary product and its audience. Some leaders in the publishing industry told us how they had to be open to new ventures such as promotion through social media or the transformation of their books into audiobooks.
  3. Small projects can have a big impact. Although Chatos Inhumanos may be a small venture, it is contributing to social change. The publishing professionals I met at the workshop have encouraged us to link the activities of Chatos Inhumanos with universities, cultural organizations, and foundations. These connections are helping us to create a space that highlights ideas and literatures by Latinx and Hispanic authors that are essential to the richness and diversity of American culture.

Thanks to the LARB / USC Publishing Workshop, my collaborators and I improved our knowledge of distribution and diffusion in the U.S., and we also found resources to help us finance our work and make it sustainable. A venture that began as a hobby has become a professional outlet in the U.S. for us. Furthermore, we are proud to be part of a community that fights for greater equity, access, and inclusion in the publishing industry.

Photo of Sara Cordon
Photo credit: Lisbeth Salas

Sara Cordón is currently a PhD candidate at the Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures department at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research critically examines the changes that are taking place in consumer habits and the forms of creation and legitimation of Spanish-language literature in the twenty-first century. She received her MFA in Creative Writing at NYU, her MA in Humanities at Carlos III University of Madrid and her M.A. in Book Publishing at Salamanca University. She is the author of the novel Para español, pulse 2 (Caballo de Troya/ Penguin Random House, 2018). She co-founded the bilingual New York-based publishing company Chatos Inhumanos.