This week Claire Storey caught up with Mexican Literary Agent Lorenza Estandía who helps Spanish-language children’s books find their way into the greater world…
World Kid Lit: Hello Lorenza. Welcome to the World Kid Lit blog. Before we start chatting about books and authors, I wonder if you could tell us more generally about your job as a literary agent. What role do you play in the chain between the creation of a story and its end publication?
Lorenza Estandía: That’s a really interesting question. I assist authors in the following ways:
- Advising on the legalities of signing contracts with new publishers or for new editions
- Bringing together all the relevant information about their books: technical details; available editions; reprints; sales figures; which publishers have published their books; any translations into other languages including the territories and publishing houses involved; reviews of the titles both at home and abroad; a summary of cover images. Authors often don’t have full information on their books.
- Selecting the most appropriate publishers to present an unedited manuscript to or to approach regarding reissues. I work to find a publishing company that’s a good fit for an author’s work.
- Identifying trends in children’s literature across different countries through meetings with editors and agents at international fairs
- Preparing information about the authors and their books with a view to selling rights. For example, the blurb on a book is often aimed more at the child reader – or the adult buying the book for the child – not someone buying the rights, so the blurb often needs adapting.
Once a book has been published, the most important thing I do is to help publicize the author and their work so I can place them in other countries and territories, ensuring that children and young adults around the world have access to excellent books that were originally written in Spanish. To convince foreign publishers about the quality of the texts in our catalogue, we need to build professional relationships based on mutual trust, which involves requesting meetings with registered agents and exhibitors at international book fairs.
WKL: How did you become a literary agent, what attracted you to this role, and what do you enjoy about it?
LE: I previously worked as an editor for 22 years. In March 2019, I left the publishing house Editorial Norma after 14.5 years. A couple of friends – an author and an editor – suggested I start working as a literary agent, selling translation rights for authors creating books for younger readers. In other countries around the world, an agent is a key role within the industry, but here in Mexico there’s hardly anyone doing it. As far as I am aware, I am one of only two agents in the whole country.
Being a literary agent is tough. Abroad, Mexico is seen as a country that purchases book rights to translate and publish in Spanish. Authors from Mexico, Latin America, and even some Spanish writers, are not known in Europe, Asia, Africa or Arabic-speaking countries.
I joined the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (National Chamber for the Mexican Publishing Industry – CANIEM), and I worked on the Governing Board for four years. I started out as a representative of the Committee for Children’s and Young Adult Books before taking on the role of Secretary. This gave me the opportunity to see the whole publishing chain. Now as a literary agent, I can apply everything I have learnt to help works of a high literary standard, originally written in Spanish, make their way into the hands of young people around the world.
What I love most about the role is meeting and learning from people from different countries, with languages, cultures, interests and publishing methods that are different from my own.
WKL: What sort of stories, characters, settings, themes get you most excited?
LE: Our Agency Catalogue is made up of 121 titles, all of which were originally written in Spanish by nine authors – one from Argentina, one from Spain, and from Mexico – as well as eight books from an independent Mexican publisher. Our selection is broad and diverse, ranging from picture books and illustrated story books to novels for teens and young adults, as well as poetry, drama, and non-fiction. I love different books for different reasons including their plot, strong characters, theme, literary quality, use of language, and illustrations.
WKL: Could you tell us briefly about the authors you represent? Do you specialise in a certain age group or genre?
LE: I work with books for a target audience of 0-18 years across various genres: picture books, novels, drama and non-fiction. Literature for children and young adults also has a large number of adult readers to consider as well.
I represent several prominent authors:
Marcos Almada Rivero (Mexico) is an author and illustrator who specializes in fiction and humour for children through picture books. He also creates animations.
Judy Goldman (Mexico) is a bilingual Spanish-English author. Judy adapts myths and legends for a children’s audience.
Christel Guczka (Mexico) writes fiction for children and young people, often dealing with difficult topics.
Antonio Malpica (Mexico) is an author who is renowned for his prolific publications. He has won many national and international prizes. He is particularly well-known for his novels, especially in the realm of mystery, suspense and terror.
Verónica Murguía (Mexico) is a children’s fiction writer who often writes about animals and different kinds of fear. She writes fantasy for older children, and historical stories often set in the Middle Ages with strong female characters.
Gabriela Peyron (Mexico) is an author and French-Spanish translator. Her books are written for the very youngest and junior readers and often feature family-based settings.
Monique Zepeda (Mexico) is a psychotherapist and author who writes fiction and non-fiction for both children and young adults. She often writes about coming-of-age and relationships with adults.
Mónica Rodríguez (Spain) writes for children and young adults on a variety of topics, both storybooks, novels and drama. She has received several literary prizes in Spain.
Luis Pescetti (Argentina) is well-known for creating series for children based on philosophy. He has one series for children and one for young adults, both of which are full of humour, emotion and word play.
WKL: When you think about selling rights into English-speaking territories, do you find a certain genre or age group easier to place? What do you consider the challenges that prevent more English-language publications?
LE: The English-speaking market is the most resistant to purchasing rights for books written in other languages. I have sold two stories for junior readers to a North American imprint that distributes in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Philippines and Singapore. In 2022, I have noticed a trend away from picture books to middle grade and young adult books that deal with difficult topics. I have had several requests for books discussing emotions arising from the world lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In the USA, there is censorship in literature for children and young adults. Publishers can be unwilling to accept titles they think include topics that are too difficult for children, and in some cases, for young adults, too.
Even if the topic interests a publisher at first, the length of a book can be a deterrent due to the translation costs involved. In most countries, there is no financial support for translations. As a literary agent, I have to invest a great deal to have chapters or extracts translated and to mock up books in English so they can be read by agents and editors working in different languages.
Some of the rejections I have received are because a book doesn’t correspond with the publisher’s direction or the illustration style isn’t typical for their culture. This can make it difficult for me as an agent to identify what sort of material may interest the publisher.
I have been working as a rights agent for three years now, and the other markets I find difficult to sell into are France and Germany. Despite attending book fairs in person or virtually, I have been unable to secure meetings with any editors or agents from these countries.
WKL: Do you have a favourite success story? What was the process like?
LE: I have sold 14 titles by six authors into five languages: English, Russian, Slovakian, Simplified Chinese and Turkish. The first four languages were negotiated during the pandemic at the virtual book fairs. The Turkish book came about following an in-person meeting at Bologna 2022.
The sale of the Middle Grade book Auliya by Verónica Murguía which has been translated in Russian was arranged at the 2020 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. This process was really interesting. The first contact was with a Spanish editor who lives in Paris and works for the Russian publisher. Her request was for high-quality books with rich language. I sent her seven suggestions. She rejected the first four, but as she finished reading the fifth, she announced that she was interested in purchasing the rights. But it still had to receive approval from the publisher’s editorial committee – which we got. And the contract was signed in July 2021. I received the printed copies recently. The author has also been involved with a Russian book blog that plans to review the book. It has been a very interesting experience for the author, Verónica Murguía.
The second success story was a series for younger children with eight titles to be translated into Simplified Chinese. The negotiation went through a co-agent in Taiwan. I had presented several titles from our Agency Catalogue to some of his clients, sadly without success. In one email, he mentioned his interest in illustrated series for younger children featuring animal characters. While this sort of material wasn’t in our catalogue, I was familiar with the work of the author Marcos Almada Rivero, and I called him to discuss the project. The resulting conversations were very interesting and he was grateful that I had thought of him. We contacted the Mexican publisher and they were happy for us to proceed, and we sent the material to the co-agent. The first offer we received was very low, and we rejected it. One week later they came back with a much more attractive offer, both in terms of a print run of 5,000 copies of each title as well as the advance against royalties. These books are currently being translated.
WKL: And one last fun question – if you could be a character in one of the books you represent, who would you be?
LE: The author Antonio Malpica confessed to me that he had named one of his protagonists in one of his books after me. The title of the picture book is ¡Lorenza, bájate del perro! (Lorenza, Get Off the Dog!). It was a very emotional moment when he told me. But otherwise, I’d like to be like Soledad, the protagonist in Loba (She Wolf) by Verónica Murguía because of her strength and resilience, combined with Natacha from one of Luis Pescetti’s series because she’s so much fun!
Lorenza Estandía González-Luna studied Education at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). She worked for 12 years in the public sector in basic education for the rural population and at a higher level. She worked as an editor for more than 22 years publishing children’s and young adult literature, adult literature, books on business and administration and school texts with the following companies: UNAM, Ediciones SM, Editorial Nuevo México de Grupo Santillana and Editorial Norma. She has been a judge for several literary prizes for young readers. She was a member of the Governing Board for the Consejo Directivo de la Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (National Chamber for the Mexican Publishing Industry – CANIEM) from 2015 to 2019. In 2019, she launched her own business as a literary rights agent.