Fata Libelli is a young, Spanish publisher of genre e-books. So far, they have released Sui Generis (which includes weird stories by Quentin S. Crisp, Reggie Oliver and Mark Samuels) and Hic Sunt Dracones, a collection of stories by Tim Pratt (which I reviewed in Spanish a few weeks back). Their next ebook is Ad Astra, another single-author collection, this time with stories by Peter Watts. Here at Sense of Wonder we are huge fans of this publisher, so it is an enormous pleasure to have our favorite collaborator, Cristina Jurado, interviewing Susana Arroyo and Silvia Schettin, the girls behind Fata Libelli. You can read the original, Spanish version of this interview on Cristina's blog, Más ficción que ciencia.
Cristina: How did you two meet?
Silvia: I met Susana eight years ago, thanks to a common group of friends. It may sound nerdy, but it wasn´t really this group of role players who made us bond (we only played together once) but the fact that we were both Philology students, interested in the Theory of Literature. There was a time when we used to meet with other friends on Friday nights to talk about the questions on our exams. Wild nights for Philology students, but not what you expect!
Susana: I would say it was, eight years ago? Thanks to common friends who used to play role games. We studied Philology and loved to talk about Theory of Literature, so we quickly became friends. The idea of start a business together was born years later, and I can say it took as both by surprise.
C: A publishing company isn´t something one can start overnight. It comes with an intense research in several domains: from the state of the art of current publishing industry, to the laws about intellectual property and copyrights, as well as financial and logistics advise. How did you create it?
Susana: The birth of the company was long and tedious. We have been both working in translation and publishing, but had no idea how to start our own company. First, we went through the legal formalities (all the paperwork to establish the partnership, registration in different official agencies, learning about tax issues, etc.) Then, we contacted legal advisors to understand in detail all topics related to intellectual property and data protection (in order to sell in Internet, and to send newsletters, one has to guarantee the users´ privacy). Next we had to hire tax advisers to help us with things like contracts, payments abroad, taxation and sales tax management (the unfair 21% of sales-tax for e-books). Everything related to finances and logistics was easier, because e-books don´t need much of an initial investment, and they don´t need to be stored or distributed physically. We´ve invested quite a lot of time in deciding the design of the books, trying to make them recognizable and charismatic. I think it took us one year to give birth to Fata Libelli and, even today, it demands a lot to eat.
C: You also publish a blog in which you address topics related to fantasy literature. What do you think about Spain´s fantasy landscape?
Silvia: We started the blog because we wanted to write about fantasy literature from a theoretical perspective, but without being dense and brainy. We felt like exploring the genre using the essay form -that possesses us sometimes- with a platonic enthusiasm (See? This is all a bit crazy…). The issue of the state of the genre in Spain is one of those inevitable questions that had been answered in many ways: a lot has been written about the lack of a solid tradition –like in the Anglo Saxon market-; the shortage of serious publishing companies; the fact that ours is a market niche with few writers and less readers… In any case, it seems that in our days, fantasy is fashionable, although this is irrelevant because fashion trends are temporary. The important thing is what it remains when those trends leave: a fertile breeding ground in which many new ideas, styles and genres can grow.
C: Is there any other publishing company that serves you as a model?
Susana: We deeply admire the Canadian ChiZine. They publish books of great literary quality, offering carefully design products, working equally well with paper books and e-books, and having been able to grow slowly but surely. We also like Angry Robot because of its ability to involve readers, and the courage they show when experimenting with new ideas. There are other publishing companies we admire because they bet on unconventional books, and because they win their readers over, like Chômu Press, Tartarus Press, Small Beer Press and, of course, the fantastic Valdemar in Spain.
C: The name “Fata Libelli” comes from a text by Latin Grammar author Terentianus Maurus (II century). Each of the books you publish has a Latin tittle. Is this a trick of mind domination that you perpetrate by using estrange spells in classical languages?
Silvia: As you can imagine I´m not going to reveal our master plan in order for everybody to read it. So, I´m not going to answer this question neither in a negative or affirmative way, but rather in an opposite way.
C: It is rather a cliché to ask an editor about preferred readings, fetish authors, and favorite genres… Through the works that you publish in Fata Libelli one can grasp the answer to those questions. I´m interested in discovering something new, less obvious. What kind of literature do you avoid? (You can uses as many examples as you wish)
Susana: I don´t avoid any genre or literary form, but it´s true that best sellers –forged every season in the publishing world´s sweatshops- don´t interest me much. If a book is well written, any theme, plot or genre can be appealing, and time would not make its interest fade away, contrary with what occurs with fashion-dictated best sellers.
Silvia: I never avoid any kind of literature, exception made with anything that has to do with Coelho. Of course, I have my favorites in literature. What I can tell you, even though poorly -I´m afraid- is what attracts me from books. There are readers that get frustrated with short stories or the briefest formats because they always want to know more: what happens to a character when the story ends, if he or she will have kids, if the marriage will work, why he or she acts the way the story tells… I´m the opposite: I love the uncertain sensation of having more questions than answers, to peek into the depths of a world or a character, about whom not everything is being explained. I like mystery in short stories and novels, regardless of the genre.
C: Which profession, different than the actual, do you think your work-partner would most likely attempt?
Silvia: Susana is someone with so much talent, so intelligent and with an enormous capacity to organize tasks; she could work in a thousand professions if she put her mind into it. And, all of them, at the same time! Even then, she would have time to do more things in her spare time. Selfishly, I´m extremely happy that publishing has recovered her from the perils of an academic life. Otherwise she would have embarked in a wonderful venture combining literature and the digital world. I can´t imagine her doing anything else, because I believe she was born for this.
Susana: If Silvia wasn´t a translator, I guess I could imagine her managing a vegetarian restaurant located in a remote village in Galicia, lost in the heart of a mountain. That version of Silvia would take care of a dozen pets, while listening to heavy metal and cooking recipes involving seitan and tofu.
C: Is there a “perfect book” that you dream to publish?
Silvia: I don´t know if exists such a thing but, at the moment, I´m happy to see how this project is coming about, slowly but surely. My emotions at this very moment don´t allow me to think about the future (I just say “Azathoth, Azathoth, let us live through this, so we can continue publishing books”). Naturally in the solitude of my cave, I have crazy ideas, some unfeasible, others maybe not so much. Lately, for example, I´m very interested in bilingual editions. As I said before, I´m so busy at the moment and so excited about the every day tasks of my job that dreams don´t keep me awake. The good thing about digital publishing is that it´s a rookie, and its possibilities are still been explored, so I hope we can continue experimenting as advances come along.
Susana: I don´t believe in the “perfect book”. But I have faith in e-books standards evolving to a point in which they will allow more complex and enriched reading experiences. Today, conventional e-books are merely code lines, with some embedded styles and maybe some multimedia resources. I´m convinced that, in a few years, we´ll be able to produce more beautiful and rich commercial e-books that will work well in any device.
C: In Fata Libelli´s blog you have published a very interesting entry on the Weird, an unfamiliar genre in our country. I would like to know more about your personal opinion regarding this type of literature: how did you encounter it; what attracted you in the first place; which authors do you follow and why; and what interests you from the recognizable and yet bizarre mix of references that the genre proposes.
Silvia: I´m not sure if it´s really unfamiliar, or it´s just that people don´t associate it with the name. Lovecraft is very well known, and it was him who coined the term and set the parameters. It doesn´t really matter. Labels are an interesting intellectual exercise, even fun, but what it´s important is for people to read Weird stories. In my case I must confess a weakness for horror, the ugly sister of the fantastic three: ugly in sales, in readers and in reputation. When I was little I read lots of adventure books but, when I discovered horror, I devoured everything I could find, from the classics to Gothic novels, contemporary horror and, of course, anything published by Valdemar. I also waited Sunday nights to listen to a radio broadcast called “Historias”. Gothic novels are all right but they present wear-out formulas (that´s why they are subjects to parody). I read M.R. James, but I remember his short stories in a different light. Poe blew me away. From there, I tried to read more stories in the same style, from Le Fanu to E. F. Benson or Vernon Lee. My answer is nostalgic but also honest. Not always it can be rationalized what one likes, and I´m afraid of rationalizing too much my own taste. I don´t want it to become an unconsciously cooked invention to please the reader. I like, as I already said, a certain subtle estrangement, a bit sinister and disturbed (or maybe revealing?), that the already mentioned authors uncover in between the lines of reality.
C: It´s well know my weakness for a certain author of Weird, multi-tattooed, voluntarily bald, with a PhD in International Relations an a very special talent, responsible of making me pinch myself every time I read his stories so I have to ask myself, am I dreaming? Jokes aside, I would like you to tell –nobody listens- your meeting with Him. During the interview, what did surprise you about him?
Silvia: You know we share that weakness… with half the cyberspace! I remember a video in which he was nicknamed “sexy beast”. It´s funny when I meet someone who likes reading, but doesn´t specifically read fantasy, and has never hear about Miéville, even if it has been numerous times in the pages of The Guardian. I think, “it´s our secret!”
I asked him if I could interviewed him by e-mail, so I could write a post for my personal blog, because I feel comfortable writing and talking and because I never envisioned other ways of interaction. He didn't accept any more written interviews because they take too much time away from him, but he was open to other options. On the spur of the moment I asked him if we could meet when I visited London. He told me he felt flattered and I explained that I was planning a quick trip to London with my boyfriend. I thought mentioning my boyfriend would make him feel at ease about my intentions. Anyhow, the rendezvous was in a public coffee shop because, who knows the intentions of my boyfriend. You never know!
I was surprised to see in him gestures of Jack Sparrow. I thought he was really fun. And he is very tall. I wanted to touch his biceps but I don´t think it could have been appropriate. Nothing else shocked me much: I´ve seen many of his interviews, and he always behaves in such a gentlemanly way, that I wasn´t surprised at all. Our meeting was an hour long, only. There was envy from my part, because I really envy people who speak eloquently in public, and anybody who has seen him in an interview knows that China is like that. In addition, talking in a language that it´s not my native language makes me look a bit silly. Simply talking to people makes me look silly, so all that accumulation of silliness could have stained his imagine of Spanish fans. The good news is that he loves to talk, and so it´s not necessary for you to speak too much: if you frown like a Russian thinker, it appears that you understand everything and you even look very intelligent.
It´s clear to me that he is an extremely cerebral writer, who has a distinct idea of what he wants to do and how: that it´s revealed in every of his thoughts about literature. But he is not intelligent in a cold way: he exudes charisma. I loved the fact that he has an Android as a cell phone. “Good, China, good”, I said to myself. I left that interview with a master plan to become buddies with him, but I´m afraid, it didn’t work.
C: Why in Spain there are less female voices in fantasy, especially in science fiction and terror?
Silvia: I sincerely don´t know if I´m capable of answering this clearly, but I will try to give my opinion. There have been numerous comments about it: some say it´s a question of numbers, because there are not many authors, so there are less female writers; some other say that there is not a lot of people writing fantasy, much less women, because we don´t have the tradition of Anglo Saxon countries; there is people who defend that there is less women interested in science fiction and horror than men, and then they copy and paste a biological explanation about it; others say that it´s a club of proud males; some state that women are pushed to write fantasy because it´s what they are good at, and that not many would buy a science fiction book written by a female author. I´ve heard that there are women doing things in the genre but the promotion is almost non-existent to prevent people from break away. I've also heard that female characters in fantasy literature are so pitiful that nobody can feel the necessary empathy to get hooked, and I´m not even going to attempt to answer those who try to define the genre. I honestly don´t know. Maybe the best answer is a mix of all that and more things that escape my reasoning.
Nevertheless, the same thing happened with the statement that “no girls play game roles” and now the number of women in conventions is higher than years ago. I´m not comparing both things but taking into account that fantasy imaginary is everywhere -specially in audiovisual media-, the seed is been planted to see the rise of more female writers. They also need publishing companies publishing and promoting them as genre authors.
Susana: Fortunately in my working experience I´ve never encounter an editor like that, but I´m afraid that type-casting is more common in the Anglo Saxon publishing industry, where there are commercial subgenres with gender defined audiences (I´m thinking "chick lit") and where companies take those things into account when hiring authors. J. K. Rowling is the best example of an author who had to hide her name at the request of the publishing company. Tim Pratt has also published novels as T. A. Pratt because his editors told him that urban fantasy novels with a female character would not sell, if a male author wrote it.
This year in Fata Libelli has published more male than female writers, but next year will be the opposite. We didn´t plan it, we just look for authors that interest us without taking into account their gender. In any case, it looks like the number of female readers is growing every day in Spain, so the landscape will probably change in the next few years.
C: We see lately many moves in fantasy collections, from the take over of RBA Fantástica by RBA, what is happening with Timún Mas… how do you see the future of the industry (not the literature) in our country at a short-medium term?
Susana: I think the future will depend on the patience of those companies and their short-term profit expectations. This genre is, by definition, a niche-oriented one, and everybody is waiting to see how it becomes mainstream in the next few years, juts like it has happened with detective or erotic novels, thanks to a handful of best-sellers. We are clear on the fact that e-books and crowdfunding will allow the arrival of many indie projects, oriented towards small genres. This is a kind of publishing that, even though it will never be profitable on a massive scale, it will allow many minority texts to see the light. The next few years are going to be really interesting for the industry, not only for the more commercial projects but also for the more independent ones.
C: High sales tax in e-books (21% in Spain), how does affect profitability in a venture like Fata Libelli?
Susana: If the sales tax in e-books hinders already profitability of any traditional publishing company, in the case of digital businesses is a basic problem. To be forced to pay 21% in taxes marginalizes e-books, compared with paper ones (as if e-books were not cultural objects), increases the price and leaves editors and the Spanish bookshops unprotected, facing companies who pay taxes in other countries (Amazon is the best known example). We hope that, in the short term, this situation will change, and e-books achieve the same status as the paper ones.
C: What are you immediate projects?
Silvia: As you know, Peter Watts´s book is about to come out, and also the Christmas special. We have announced a short Lovecraftian anthology for next February with Caitlin Kiernan, Laird Barron and Elizabeth Bear. In April we will publish a collection of short stories by Reggie Oliver, for whom we care a lot because of his kindness, craftsmanship and dedication to this genre, so particular and special. After, although we don´t have confirmed dates, we will publish two collections of short stories: one by Elizabeth Bear and another by Nina Allan. All this is what I can confirm (we have to sign agreements in order to tell more), but we still “scout” around a lot. We would love to publish more hard science fiction, but our search is been difficult. In the future we will like to work with longer formats, even though we still believe in short stories and novellas as a special part of our company. That is not going to change. More plans require more investments; so whatever we can do in the future will depend on the success of the company. We are patient, knowing that this is a long-term project. Despite all, we are hopeful. Our fetish publishing company ChiZine said in the last WorldCon that this is the first year in which they can work with the certainty that they will no close. We shall endure!
About Cristina Jurado: Cristina Jurado Marcos writes the sci-fi blog Más ficción que ciencia. Having a degree in Advertising and Public Relations by Universidad de Seville and a Masters in Rhetoric by Northwestern University (USA), she currently studies Philosophy for fun. She considers herself a globetrotter after living in Edinburgh, Chicago, Paris or Dubai. Her short stories have appeared in several sci-fi online magazines and anthologies. Her first novel From Orange to Blue was published in 2012.