Indie-stry Insights: Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes
Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes is a published author and the founder of Victorina Press.
What made you want to work in publishing, and more specifically, found your own publishing house?
I have always been a keen reader. I was particularly interested in poetry because the Chilean school curriculum included the study of poets such as Gabriela Mistral. Later, I studied to be an EFL teacher and at University we studied literature from Spanish and Latin-American to French, and Russian.
As a poet, I previously published two books, and as part of a literary group of women in Chile I also collaboratively published two collective books of poetry in Spanish. When I started working for the Open University in the UK, I was part of a team that produced textbooks used by our students studying Spanish and Social Sciences. That was my first experience in the field of publishing, but also as part of a team of authors.
In the UK, I am also part of a literary group of Hispano-American women called Las Juanas and we have published two bilingual (Spanish-English) collective books — one of poetry and one of short stories. As an author I have experience in publishing, but after I retired from the OU, I wanted to explore the world of publishing from the other side, so I decided to study an MA in Publishing at the University of Derby.
Tell us a bit about founding Victorina Press — what did those early days look like and what was the process like?
The first part of the process was easy as I needed a name and I had always wanted to pay homage to my mother whose name was Victorina.
During my MA in Publishing, I realised how little I knew of the whole process. I created VP in August 2017 and published a bilingual (Spanish-English) anthology of poetry with Latin-American poets living in the UK. Everything I did was by trial and error. For example, when giving the dimensions to a friend who did the cover design, typeset and layout, I made a mistake ( I said A4) and only realised when the printed books arrived!
Also, the printers used a very thick paper because I didn’t specify what I wanted. But I managed to finalise the book and we launched it successfully at the Embassy of Chile in London. For my second book published later that year, I had these experiences fresh in my mind. This time, I paid for the cover design, I got the dimensions right, and the book looked beautiful. I also paid for a freelance typesetter who did the layout too.
These days, VP pays for an illustrator and designer, a typesetter, a copy editor, and the team working with me. So, the early days were ‘easy’ but full of learning and enthusiasm. That determination is still here but my responsibilities are bigger (and sometimes expensive)!
Victorina Press’ motto is ‘bibliodiversity is beautiful’. It is lovely to see your Chilean roots reflected in this. How do you strive to ensure your books represent diverse voices?
For me, bibliodiversity refers not only to the authors and their background and whether their voices represent other dismissed voices, but also to the themes, genres or topics of their book. The work of authors already published by VP is diverse in that there are older authors having finally found a publisher who recognised their literary abilities in older age and there are more women than men. True to my roots, there are also writers from Latin-America. I have also given publishing opportunities to exiled and refugee writers from Iran, Syria, and Palestine. Living and working from the UK, I of course give the chance to local authors too. I want their voices and their creativity to stand out in a publishing world in which roots are not important and exclusion, dominance and power run rampant, and large publishers prevent the possibility of other worlds, other cultures and other ways of learning and knowing.
What genres do you publish and what do you look for in a submission? Can you tell us about the process from submission to final draft?
At VP we have everything from poetry and children’s to historical fiction and recently, academic books.
When I receive a manuscript, presentation is the first thing I look at, along with a clear structure and plot with a synopsis no longer than a page.
Regarding the second question: someone submits their manuscript, I read it and decide if that person can be offered a contract which does NOT include any advance on the possible royalties; there is a short period of negotiation in terms of the contract and if the writer suggests reasonable changes and we accept it, the production process starts.
After the contract is signed, we ask the author to produce a clear copy of the first draft in Word to be copy-edited. The editor takes about a month (depending on the length of the text) and then sends their suggestions to the author who can accept or reject those comments (if they reject them, they have to defend or justify that rejection), so some time goes by until everything has been sorted.
Only then can we start with the typeset and layout of the book and parallel to this, the cover designer or illustrator (if it is a children’s book) is being prepared, always consulting with the author. After the typeset and layout has been done, it is sent back to the author for minor corrections and changes.
At this stage, two people can do the final proofread (the author and myself) but the weight of the responsibility of this falls on the author. Then, we print some proofs and the author is given the chance to comb through the material. When we are all happy, it is then sent to the printers who can take up to a month to send the books. We release the book about two and a half months later. In the meantime, we have to prepare the marketing, AIS for bookshops, send some copies to appropriate magazines and reviewers as well as to different literary prizes (they usually ask for the printed copies but nowadays some organisations also accept PDFs). And finally, we launch and release the book which by then has been put in Nielsen who informs Amazon and other bookshops that this book is out there. So, because we are NOT a vanity publisher and do things in a more traditional way, the books can take up to a year or two from submission to releasing it to the public. We pay for everything which is why I say we are not a vanity publisher who uses a self-publishing format but the author pays for everything.
You publish a range of books, including children’s, poetry and memoirs. Do you get to work on all of them or are you more specialised?
My interests and specialisation are poetry (I am a poet myself), memoirs, auto-biographies and historical fiction. So, I get to work on those but when it comes to children’s books, I leave that to the illustrators and the author(s), although I accept or reject the initial manuscript of the idea. All the negotiations happen without me, but I intervene if it is necessary. I am a member of the British Sociological Association (BSA) but more specifically, of the Auto-Biography Study Group within the BSA where I have been participating for about 12 years now, doing research, giving papers and publishing in their Year Books.
You have quite a few translated books coming out this year. Can you tell us about any of them?
Yes, apart from three anthologies (2 of poetry and one of short stories) which are bilingual (Spanish-English), VP has translated several works from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English.
My Beautiful Imperial/ Mi Querido Imperial
One Woman’s Struggle in Iran: A Prison Memoir
Entre Arpilleras y Carbón de Piedra: A Prison Memoir
The Marsh People
For those who may not know, how does marketing for an independent publisher differ from a large publisher? Are there any particular strategies you use?
The main difference is the budget, of course. Large publishers have a team of at least 4 people devoted to the marketing of books. But when the marketing has to be done by a total number of three or four people who are doing other things to do with a particular book, then we rely on and ask the authors to promote their own books by creating a website, approaching local bookshops to see if they would store their books, doing workshops and participating in different social media. We have also converted all our books into e-pubs or Kindle through Amazon. Another strategy we are trying to carry out is to use MailChimp and we also rely heavily on social media and our website.
Lately, we have invested in creating biblets through Nielsen and we hope that they’ll give good results. Last but not least, we have been recording interviews of our authors and uploading them to our YouTube, which has generated a lot of interest.
And finally, what advice would you give to aspiring publishers with the ambition of setting up their own publishing house?
Dreams can come true (el Sueño Existe) so if you believe in yourself, and are willing to be serious about this fascinating world, then do not let anybody say that it is not possible. Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.
I also think collaboration between small independent publishers should be a regular instance. We have started with Friend of Alice Publishing and I intend to continue with other publishers, particularly with those belonging to the International Alliance of Independent publishers whose tenets with respect to bibliodiversity are the same as Victorina Press.
You can find more out about Victorina Press @victorinapress and victorinapress.com