Publishing house from the inside: Cicely
Beatriz Rubio, Cicely’s publisher: «the market is very saturated, there are infinite proposals and we have decided to compete in the long term, slowly, creating a catalog and community».
«Our books speak of current events, courage, and good literature. We like books that are well edited, unhurried, and that embraces the reader like good friends.» This is how Cicely Publishing presents itself on its website. Publishnews spoke with one of its editors, Beatriz Rubio, to find out more about a publishing house that is committed to giving its backlist a long life and embracing a loyal reading community.
How did the idea of founding this publishing house come about?
It arose after working for many years for large publishing groups. There comes a time when an editor has to choose between consenting to the alienation of working for these large corporations, without being able to choose the works in which he truly believes, being conditioned by the market, marketing, the influencer on duty, etc., for a meager salary and the false glamour of the profession. Or between becoming independent and embracing freedom, tranquility, and pause, slowing down, de-stressing, and recovering quality of life and health. There has been a lot of talk in recent days about working inside the BigFour, but someone should take a look inside the BigTwo. That said, it is true that working for these companies gives you a lot of experience and a lot of craft, but when you accumulate many years and have little left to learn, for most of the people who stay there the only thing they value is a secure paycheck at the end of the month, and what we value in our profession is the craft itself: contracting books, thinking books and making books. If we can’t do that, we wither away.
You cover a wide range of genres, what is your strength?
Our strength is in narrative and author graphic novels. The narrative is covered by two imprints: Cicely Classics, for recovered books, and Carmot Press, for contemporary narrative. In these two imprints, we have published the work of truly interesting authors, with a very powerful voice of their own, such as the eminent Amrita Pritam, who had never been published in Spanish, or Lidia Yuknavitch, whose La cronología del agua is one of the books that give us the most joy. As for graphic novels, we publish what we are interested in under the Distinta Tinta imprint. We have always been big fans of comics and having an imprint dedicated to the ninth art is a dream come true, and although we cannot publish as many comics as we would like, I think we have been able to find very interesting voices from the international scene that had never seen the light in our country, such as Jess Fink or Bianca Pinheiro. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to announce that a new poetry collection, Flores en el balcón, is coming out in February and we are very excited about it. It is directed by Irene Nicolás Martínez, co-founder of the defunct publishing house La Carmensita, and we are sure that it will soon become one of our readers’ favorite collections.
In your presentation on the web, you say that your books «speak of good literature». What is good literature for you?
I think most people understand what one means by «good literature», although there may be a personal appreciation of a particular taste. As an academic answer is not appropriate and simplifies a lot, we will say that good literature is that with literary quality, which is well written and then well edited.
Which stories do you tend to empathize with the most?
It’s not an easy answer because Cicely’s editors have very different tastes: while one likes more classic novels, the other prefers more intrepid works. The advantage over other editors, perhaps, is that none of us hates any particular literary genre or artistic manifestation. It is true that we are not interested in certain types of books for our publishing house, such as business books or parenting books, to give an example, but, in general, we are very friendly publishers, who do not enjoy rejecting manuscripts and who very easily put ourselves in the shoes of people who decide to give themselves to writing their work, even if it is really bad.
Returning to the question, despite the different tastes, there are common characteristics in the stories with which we most empathize. The first is that they are all ‘good literature’ (haha), and the second is that the voices of the authors are very personal, they have what is called a voice of their own, which is full of truth and whose writing is quickly recognizable. I am thinking of Robert H. Barlow, Novala Takemoto, Monica Drake, Nell Zink, or Lorel Manzano, just to mention a few from our entire catalog.
What are your best-selling titles?
The fortunate thing about Cicely is that we are managing to be masters of time and form so that the importance of sales is spread across all the books in the catalog. I think that’s every publisher’s grail: to manage to have an interesting backlist that sells more or less equally, and that your books become long sellers, rather than ephemeral novelties. That said, slowly but surely, the books that have sold the most so far are the aforementioned La cronología del agua, and Monozuki. La chica zorro is a juvenile novel (for big kids) written by R. G. Wittener that delights all Studio Ghibli anime lovers. In addition, recently and we imagine because of the manga and light novel craze of recent years, we are also seeing an upturn in sales of Kamikaze girls by Novala Takemoto, the seminal novel (and resounding bestseller in Japan) of the lolita movement, turned into a cult film by the grace of its director Tetsuya Nakashima. We published this novel in 2018, in direct translation from Japanese by Raúl Sanz Merino, and it has been in 2022 that it has started to sell the most.
«It may seem a bit corny cliché, but you can tell when books are edited with care and affection.»
Which title has not met your expectations?
Well, I’ll ask you another question: What kind of expectations: of presence in bookstores, of sales, of production quality? It is often said that no book is one hundred percent perfect, that there will always be a forgotten typo, a badly chosen paper… We give a lot of importance to everything related to design or editorial production because our expectations are very high, we know a lot about the subject and we want the quality of the book as an object to be excellent, within realistic economic possibilities, of course. So, as it is something that depends entirely on us, that is where we demand the most of ourselves.
Sales, distribution, or media presence are other matters. These aspects do not depend one hundred percent on us, so we do not get upset if our books are not present on the shelves of hundreds of bookstores or if we have to resort to being annoying enough with a journalist to get him to pay a little attention to a book we know he will like. In the end, the market is very saturated, there are infinite proposals, and we have decided to compete in the long term, slowly, creating a catalog and community, so for now (and knock on wood) the answer to the question would be no, for us no title to date has failed to meet our expectations.
«Readers are very sincere and tell you if they like the book or not and why. In the end, it is an opinion that is not as conditioned as that of the distributor’s salesperson or the bookseller. For that reason, although they can leave us their comments and opinions on our website, we try to attend as many festivals as possible and listen to them.»
Independent publishers are gaining strength, what actions are you taking to grow and be present among so much competition?
Let’s see, I think that independent publishers are not just gaining strength now, it’s that for years they have managed to position themselves among readers as a synonym of quality, especially in the face of the BigTwo literary publishing imprints. It may sound a bit corny, but you can tell when books are edited with care and love. We find horrifying those promotional videos in which the press-marketing person has taken the writer to the printer to monkey around in front of the press while he is releasing books like hotcakes. How can those books be made with a minimum of care? Do people know that between 5 and 10% of the print run is lost as printing waste, books that get stuck in the presses, that come out badly cut, badly sewn, or badly glued? How ecological is this when thousands of books are printed and the publisher already knows that 40% of the print run will be returned after a couple of months and will have to be destroyed because their sales strategy consists of flooding the bookstores? There’s no point in going to the trouble of choosing eco-certified paper if you’re going to have to shred a disproportionate amount of it.
That’s why at Cicely we want readers to know that the first of the actions we have set ourselves is to create a quality catalog, and edit the books as our motto says «so that they embrace you like good friends», so that the experience of holding one of our books in your hands, touching it, smelling it… is comforting, even those you read digitally! That you notice that it is a book made with love and that you want to keep it.
Secondly, we are betting a lot on eco-edition so that our books are not harmful to the environment. We have been working for a couple of years now only with paper from responsibly managed forests and with inks that are not toxic to the environment. And now we’re getting to grips with our carbon footprint and optimizing all the logistics of shipping to bookstores and online sales so that our shipments have the smallest possible footprint.
We are also thinking about more sustainable ways of dealing with distribution: there has to be a middle ground between print-on-demand and large print runs, a way that makes it possible to satisfy booksellers’ demand but without having to resort to printing thousands of copies that come and go and suffer so much deterioration that in the end, they have to be discarded because they become unsaleable.
Finally, we give a lot of importance to the direct opinion of the reader. Readers are very sincere and tell you if they like the book, or not and why. In the end, it is an opinion that is not as conditioned as that of the distributor’s salesperson or the bookseller. For this reason, although you can leave your comments and opinions on our website, we try to attend as many festivals as possible and listen to them. Hostia un libro and Efímera Librería Pop-Up in Madrid, Sindokma in Valencia, GRAF in Barcelona, are events that we love to attend to be in direct contact with readers. We get excited when they tell us that they read such and such a book of ours and liked it, or when they discovered such, and such a book in their neighborhood bookstore that they didn’t think they could find there… It’s an electrifying feeling, and it fuels us to keep improving.