The publishing house on the way to Frankfurt: Impedimenta
Impedimenta is the publisher of beautiful books with more than 300 titles published. Enrique Redel highlights the importance of the commitment to the publishing fabric of Spain in Frankfurt 2022.
Since 2007, Impedimenta‘s objective has taken two paths with the same goal. It was intended to be a publishing house that would rescue those fundamental works of the Western canon that could no longer be found among the new titles in bookstores and, at the same time, it wanted to promote those works worthy of the name «new modern classics».
A few years later and with more than 300 titles published, Impedimenta reaffirms its objective and considers that it has more than achieved it. For this reason, Publishnews has contacted its publisher, Enrique Redel, to find out a little more and get a preview of how this publishing house faces the road to Frankfurt 2022.
Where did the idea of founding the publishing house come from?
I can say that I am a late professional publisher. Although in a way, and from a vocational point of view, I have always been a publisher, ever since, when I was ten years old, I was writing small books, photocopying them with borrowed money and selling them to my relatives, I eventually ended up studying law and practiced the profession for a few (rather uninspiring, otherwise) years. So I didn’t become a ‘publisher’ until my thirties when I discovered that publishing (working with authors and books, making and promoting them) was truly intuitive for me. After a few years ‘learning’ the trade in other publishing houses, in 2007 I decided, together with my partner Pilar Adón, to found Impedimenta. Without realizing it, I had been writing down in notebooks for years the titles of those books that I would like to find on the novelty tables and that was not there. And I felt that I needed to dictate the publishing program myself. Propose my own publishing plan. I also had a very clear aesthetic idea in mind, very demanding, very perfectionist, and I wanted that to be one of the hallmarks of the project from the very beginning, together with a solid catalog, designed for the long term and with a canonical vocation. I adopted illustrator Arnal Ballester’s motto, «Patience, we are planting» and I set out to create a publishing house with a demanding catalog, with well-made, beautiful, and attractive books, that would never be satisfying and that would always keep an eye on the validity of modern classics, on the creation of new contemporary classics and that would always think in the medium term, not in the short term. Impedimenta is now fifteen years old, the one-man publishing house based in a small office on Monte Esquinza Street in Madrid has been transformed, we are now seven people on staff and we have our own headquarters in Argüelles, we publish thirty new titles a year and I can say that every day we reinvent ourselves, we rethink, we challenge ourselves to do better things.
When you discover a magnificent text and suddenly you see it clearly, you know that you can recommend it, that you can make it grow, that you can make it reach the readers.
How would you define your catalog?
Selective (we publish only between twenty-five and thirty books a year, no more), very much based on the author’s policy (it is a catalog in which the real discovery is the authors, rather than their works seen individually), inspired by the curiosity and restlessness of the editors, rather than the search for the so-called ‘niche market’, which treasures not only good texts but also beautiful books, very propositional and energetic (we prefer to fall in love with a book and propose it, rather than first look for the niche and then fill that niche. The real publisher’s job is to create the need for a type of book, rather than to satisfy a need already created by fashion. Also, that energy that we show when recommending, if it is genuine it is transmitted). And also a coherent catalog, that is to say, one that has unity, a logic, that you see behind it a clear path, a taste.
As far as editing is concerned, which part of the book’s creation do you enjoy the most?
There are two moments that I find the most stimulating: the first, is the discovery of the title. The first one is the discovery of the title, the crush that makes you fall in love with it and make you want it to be part of your catalog. When you discover a magnificent text and you suddenly see it clearly, you know that you can recommend it, that you can make it grow, that you can make it reach your readers. That moment, before you start looking for the rights, building the book and almost even selling it, is priceless. On the other hand, I love the moment when, with our designer, Daniel Matías, we look for the cover motifs. I have said several times that I am incapable of buying an ugly book. For me, the book is not only the text but the beautiful object in which it is embodied. The book, as an artifact and as an idea, can be made in a slovenly way or it can be elegant, harmonious, or beautiful. We prefer that, out of respect for the author, the reader, and the bookseller, the book is cared for. Sometimes the search for the cover motif takes days or weeks, and becomes somewhat agonizing, like trial and error. But when we find the perfect image, we are overjoyed. We feel we have done our job well. Then comes the marketing part, which I find less suggestive at all levels. Personally, I consider it a more cumbersome, more boring, and less ‘vocational’ work. I can say that I feel more comfortable choosing books and designing them than selling them (even though Impedimenta’s books do well, something we are happy about).
What book/books have you published that have gone unjustly unnoticed?
In any publisher’s catalog, there are always titles that, perhaps because they are more purely literary, unintentionally carry the minority gene in their DNA. Exquisite books that one adores but that, inevitably, have a very limited audience. I would highlight two: Amor de Artur by the Galician Xosé Luis Méndez Ferrín, a book that marked my early youth when I read it in its original language and that we published translated into Spanish very early on, in 2009, with a cover by Frank Cowper Cadogan. The admired Constantino Bértolo considered it one of the best books of peninsular literature of the 20th century, and for me, it was undoubtedly the best. A very delicate book, with a lush style, very dense and very poetic, very influential on entire generations of Galician writers, of enormous literary height and tremendous beauty. Unfortunately, we have managed to sell, over the years, only a few hundred copies, and although I continue to recommend it (to the delight of poet friends and exquisite booksellers), sales are what they are and that weighs on me.
On the other hand, The Water Diaries by the English writer and naturalist Roger Deakin. It is a thorn in my side because it is an exciting book, very entertaining, and a classic of the nature writing genre of the last decades, but we did not manage to convey its importance to the reader. Deakin, a peculiar guy, documentarian, and writer, who lived in a farmhouse surrounded by a moat of water in Suffolk, imitating the ‘swimmer’ of Raymond Carver’s story, decides to swim across Britain (several times he gets into trouble and is about to die in the Hebrides), and this book, he documents his journey through British rivers, wells, and seas. We accompanied the edition with a complete map of baths on a map of the island of England. Taking advantage of the fact that we will shortly be publishing his posthumous book, Wildwood, in which he recounts his travels through the world’s oldest forests, we will try to relaunch the title. It is in our genetic code to give all the opportunities in the world to the books we adore.
And a title you have struggled to publish that you are particularly proud?
I could talk about those books that have marked our catalog and made it grow: Solenoid by Cartarescu or The Summer My Mother Had Green Eyes by Tatiana Tibuleac. Or The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. But these are titles that were not too difficult for us to contract, either because the author was already part of our catalog, as in the case of Cartarescu, or because it was the first work, as in the case of Tibuleac, and there the bet (the author’s and the publisher’s) was rather mutual.
So if we are talking about that title that we had a hard time contracting and that in the end turned out well, I would perhaps think of A lo lejos by the New York-based Argentine Hernán Díaz. It’s a twilight western, set in Gold Rush California, that tells the story of a Swedish immigrant, Håkan Söderström, known as «the Hawk,» who sets out on an impossible pilgrimage to New York, without speaking the language, in search of his brother Linus, whom he lost when they embarked in Europe. It is an atmospheric and wonderful book, full of silences, spanning many decades, and reminded me very much of when I read The Adventures of Jeremiah Johnson. I remember that it was especially complicated to contract, because the agency pushed us to the limit, not in the advance but in convincing them that Impedimenta was big enough to publish such a book (finalist of the Pulitzer and the PEN/Faulkner and originally written in English). Finally, the bet worked out well, and we are now in the fourth edition of the book.
How is Impedimenta preparing for Frankfurt 2022?
After two and a half years of pandemic and the last edition that didn’t quite end up being in person, and that had a lot of virtual, we face Frankfurt with great enthusiasm. Spain is the guest country this year and I think it is a key moment because the focus will be on our industry. I think it is important that the focus is not only on authors, who are a key part of the country’s commitment but also on the publishing industry. Spain is the second-largest producer of paper books in Europe (the fifth if we include e-books), and we have a potential market of 500 million readers. As for Impedimenta, we are not a publishing house that ‘sells’ rights, we buy much more than we sell, but that does not mean that we cannot try to make our brand better known to foreign publishers and agencies, taking advantage of the fact that we are a guest country.