carolina orloff charco press bookblast diary

Interview | Carolina Orloff, co-founder, Charco Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My father owned and ran a large bookshop right in the centre of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I am from originally. It was a bookshop that had been in the family for three generations, and where the likes of Borges, the Ocampo sisters and Bioy Casares had current accounts. Both my parents were and are great readers and I grew up surrounded by books from a very early age. No doubt my love for literature grew from that. I even started writing at an early age, and had a book of poetry published when I was thirteen.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Definitely in literature, in some form. I’ve always studied and worked with literature. I did an BA in Literature, followed by an MA in Translation and a PhD in Latin American Literature. I then lectured on literature, translated literature, examined literature papers and even wrote articles and books on one of Argentina’s most celebrated writers, Julio Cortázar.

Has your vision from when you started Charco Press a year ago changed at all?
No – haven’t been going long enough for that!

How do you balance originality and profitability?
Originality is perhaps a little bit easier for us, given that we are the only UK publisher dedicated to publishing contemporary authors from Latin American countries. That, in itself, is an original ambition. As to profitability – as we only started selling our titles in September 2017, it may be too soon to answer! Perhaps ask us again in another one or two years?

What was the book that made you fall in love with reading?
I would have to say it was Bestiario, the first collection of short stories published by Julio Cortázar.

What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
We choose authors and books based on a mix of personal taste and also from keeping up to date with what is happening in the Latin American literary scene. We are interested in the books that are being written and read right now, in the conversations that they spark in readers today. There are many factors that come into play when publishing a writer, and sometimes it is completely beyond our control whether we can publish a writer or not. We tend to publish writers that have not yet been published in English but have already been translated into other languages; writers that have been awarded national and international prizes but who are completely unknown in the English-speaking world.

Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How well have publishers adapted to industry changes?
It has perhaps been a slow adjustment, with many publishers still seeming to look at eBooks as an after-thought following getting the print version out (guilty ourselves at times!). And now Audiobooks as well. But the key is being where the reader is, and in the format the reader prefers.

Do you enjoy reading ebooks? Will the physical book die away eventually?
I have to admit and that I am not a big fan of ebooks, but then I am someone that always reads with a pencil in hand. I don’t think the physical book will die away. It is a matter of choice as to how we consume or experience something. The individual can decide their preferred method for consuming/experiencing a book, a movie, a song.

Your views on marketing and distribution? And on social media?
Having a coherent marketing campaign and being well distributed throughout the country, having a presence in independent bookshops as well as in the big chains and also in libraries, are all very important to a small publisher like ourselves which is just starting. Social media plays a key role in the promotion of our books and our events.

How important is funding for independent publishers?
Extremely important, crucial actually. It is the difference between the reader being told what to read and being able to choose – really choose – what they want to read. Without independent publishers taking risks to bring some riskier works to the table, the options would be dictated a lot more by sales projections and profitability.

Your favourite literary journals?
I’ve got many, but certainly Asymptote, 3AM, White Review, Palabras Errantes.

Nearly 80% of the UK’s publishing industry wanted to remain in the EU. In the wake of Brexit, what are the implications for book publishing and translation in your view?
We are too new to know any other kind of political climate, but the truth is that in practical terms Brexit is already adding complexities for instance when it comes to certain contract negotiations, where the “standard” wording pertains to the current economic union, and it has been difficult to have discussions with those partners that this does not adequately cater for the future. It feels like businesses both in the UK and in the wider EU have no clarity as to how things will finally turn out, so they are just having to blindly march onward as though nothing has changed. This is not ideal. We have no facts or figures to back this up, but from certain quarters (i.e. those opposed to the UK withdrawing from the EU) there appears to be a reaction, a hunger to take in more cultural references from outside the UK, in order to feel like that perceived lost connectivity is being maintained.

Your favourite qualities in a person?
That they are a discerning reader!

For what faults do have you most tolerance?
I am a very tolerant person . . . I guess it depends on who I have to forgive.

Your chief characteristic?
Perseverance

Your chief fault?
Stubbornness (which is of course linked to perseverance..)

Your bedside reading?
Uf . . . I should actually send you a photo: the pile of books is higher than the bed-side table. To mention a few: Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, This Little Art by Kate Briggs, Un mundo huérfano by Giuseppe Caputo, La débil mental by Ariana Harwicz, Museo Animal by Carlos Fonseca, and many many many more!

You are organizing a literary dinner party. Which five writers, dead or alive, would you invite?
I think right now it would be great fun to have a dinner party with all five authors Charco Press has published. Well, and if I could bring Julio Cortázar from his grave, just to share some whiskies at the end, I would . . .

Your heroes and heroines in fiction and in real life?
I think my heroes and heroines vary a lot depending on where I am in life, this goes for heroes and heroines in real life too. I admire a lot of people for their great achievements in history. Modestly, I have to say that Sam – Charco Press’ other half – has become a bit of a hero to me. Charco Press would not exist without him, without the work we do as a team. Oh, and did I mention we gave birth to a daughter at the same time as we launched Charco Press? I don’t think we are heroes, but there were moments there where I felt very close to Don Quijote.

Who would be in your dream book club?
I already form part of a fantastic book club and I fear the other members might take offence if I start listing who my dream book club mates might be . . .

Your motto?
If you don’t try, you don’t know. You always have the “no”.

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georgia DC

Bilingual editor, rewriter, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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