Tapping Into the Latino Market

From the Pope to Susan Powter, from John Grisham to Carlos Fuentes, from translations to originals to bilingual editions, book publishers large and small are trickling a sparse but growing supply of Spanish-language books onto the U.S. market this fall. The trend reflects the increasing Latino presence in the United States, although judging by their offerings, most publishing houses are clearly testing the waters with easy bets in their quest to tap this relatively new market.

Take Ballantine Books. Earlier this year it distributed "Camara de gas," the Spanish version of John Grisham's "The Chamber," in conjunction with mega-Spanish publisher Planeta. The book did well enough that Ballantine will distribute at least 10 other Planeta titles in the fall, including four other Grisham titles and a selection of classic Latin American titles. Ballantine's own fall offering is "A Simple Path," Mother Theresa's message for the 1990s, which will be published simultaneously in English and Spanish.

In a similar vein, Alfred A. Knopf will limit itself to reissuing "Cruzando el umbral de la esperanza" ("Crossing the Threshold of Hope"), Pope John Paul II's book, in both English and Spanish to coincide with the Pope's upcoming U.S. visit.

Given the abundance of Latino Catholics, both books should be easy sales. This will also probably be the case with St. Martin's Press' one Spanish book, a bilingual pictorial biography of slain Tex-Mex star Selena titled "Remembering Selena: A Tribute in Pictures and Words," by Himilce Novas and Rosemary Silva.

But don't expect the lists to be this safe for long.

Ballantine plans to expand its distribution of Planeta titles to include more original works by such writers as Octavio Paz and Mario Vargas Llosa as well as translated bestsellers. And Penguin, which published Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Of Love and Other Demons" in Spanish last year before the English translation came out, is launching Penguin Ediciones in February, 1996, with titles by contemporary authors.

Vintage Espanol, in conjunction with Spanish-language house Alfaguara, is way ahead of the game, with more than 25 original fiction titles in print. The fall list--without a doubt the most interesting array of titles from a single publisher--includes the classic "El lugar sin limites" ("Hell Has No Limits") by Chilean author Jose Donoso and Carlos Fuentes' new "Diana o la cazadora solitaria" ("Diana or the Lonely Hunter").

Several publishers have translations of self-help, inspiration and health books that have proven their worth in the English market. Simon & Schuster-Aguilar Libros has two pop psychology pleasers: "Alto a la enfermedad--Coma bien y viva mejor," a translation of Susan Powter's No. 1 bestseller "Stop the Insanity," as well as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's "Un pensamiento para cada dia" ("The Power of Positive Thinking"). (This publisher's real hit, however, may be the Spanish original "Querido Alberto," Eduardo Magallanes' biography of Mexican pop composer and singer Juan Gabriel, which has been highly publicized in the author's native Mexico.)

For those interested in spirituality and New Age, Llewellyn has translated seven popular English titles into Spanish, including "Como descubrir sus vidas anteriores" ("How to Uncover Your Past Lives") by Ted Andrews and "La magia y tu" (Magic & You") by Migene Gonzalez-Wippler. Also translating successful self-help books are Fisher Books, with Bob Deits' "Life After Loss" ("Vivir despues de la perdida") and Glade B. Curtis' "Su embarazo semana a semana" ("Your Pregnancy Week by Week"), and Bantam Books, with the Spanish edition of the mega-hit "The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies," now titled "Guia medica de remedios caseros."

In a category by itself is Curbstone Press, publishing Guatemalan poet Victor Montejo's book "Sculpted Stones" in a bilingual edition coming out in November.

And HarperLibros (an imprint of HarperCollins), which has published works by Isabel Allende and Barbara Kingsolver, this fall offers Carlos Castaneda's latest, "El arte de ensonar" ("The Art of Dreaming").

So those hungry for works in Spanish can whet their appetite this fall and anticipate the future.

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