Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Pass-Along Writer

The Pass-Along Writer

I often hear this from readers:

“I loved your book so much, that I gave it to my sister. She passed it to her daughter, who brought it to her teacher, who lent it to his wife.”

It’s gratifying to know that my work is read with such enthusiasm that readers want to share the experience. It’s wonderful when a reader is motivated enough to search for me on the internet, to find my website or this page, and to comment on the work. But for self-preservation reasons, I must admit to feelings of dismay when they tell me that my book has been passed along this way.

While writing is primarily an art for writers, it is a primarily a business for publishers. When a writer's work is being considered, editors must convince the marketing department that the writer is a good investment. One of the things that determine this is whether work like hers has sold well in the past.

In the case of Latina writers, they look at how other Latina writers have done in the marketplace. This determination is done by number of books sold. Not number of books read, books sold. My experience has been that our generous community buys one book then passes it along to a friend, a sister, a cousin, a co-worker. Four people have read the book, but as far as the publisher is concerned, only one person did, since only one book was registered on their sales tracker. So, 75% of our readers are not even counted!

You could be the most gifted writer out there, but if the numbers don't support an interest in the kind of literature you produce, it is unlikely a publisher will take a chance. So it is up to us to make publishers take Latina writers seriously by voting with our wallets.

Buy a book by a Latina author even if you shelve it until you have time to read it. Buy books as birthday, anniversary and wedding gifts. Create a wish list at, so that your friends can click there and buy you a book by a Latina author when they want to make a gift, when they want to thank you for a kindness, or when they just want to express their love. Buy books and donate them to your children's school library, so that Latino kids will see that there are people like them writing about people like them.

And speaking of, when you have read a book by one of our fabulous Latina authors, take a few minutes and write a review on Amazon, so that people who are browsing can "discover" them.

Every time I spend $25 on an item of clothing that I am only half committed to, I think how those same $25 spent on a book will bring me hours of pleasure without making me look in a mirror and criticize the bumps and bulges around my waist and where my bra meets my shoulders. A book is the most forgiving of companions, and $25 is a small price to pay for the joy of forgetting everyday life and delving into worlds created by others. That $25 is a blip in the publisher's screen, but every time that screen blips, another Latina writer has a greater chance of seeing her name in bold letters on a hardcover.

So, thank you for reading my work. Thank you for wanting to share it. But please, if you can afford it, buy another copy for your friend, cousin, or teacher – don’t pass it along. In this way, you ensure that your favorite Latino authors will continue to be taken seriously, will continue to be published, reviewed, and placed eye level on the shelves of your favorite bookstore.


Anonymous said...

Esmeralda, I totally agree with you on this topic.
I am not a writer but I appreciate good books and products and feel the need to support our writers/artist. Especially if you are Puerto Rican like myself. My family, friends and I believe if is good and especially from one of our people, we must support. You are my favorite writer and I will support your work always.

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez said...


I am so glad you blogged about this! Marcela Landres talks about this a lot. I get many of the same kinds of emails.

I'd add that in my case, my books are published domestically in English and Spanish simultaneously, with different ISBN numbers. So I could sell five books in Spanish and five in English, but it would not count as ten books sold for purposes of bestseller status. That hurts us, too, especially when it comes time to negotiate our next book deal.

I've wanted to write about this borrowing books stuff for a while. So glad you did!

Esmeralda Santiago said...

Alisa, you make an excellent point! I have the same problem with English/Spanish editions. Compounded to that is the fact that the books are through different publishers, so keeping track of the numbers becomes even harder. Thanks for writing.

rosie said...

Esmeralda, Thank God I found your blog. You are one of my favorite writers, i loved "when i was puerto rican" Your books are the best. Of course i will support your cause. Im not going to lie, i have read most of your books by borrowing from the library, the only ones i have and cherish are when i was puerto rican and almost a woman. All i can i say is thank you!

Esmeralda Santiago said...

Borrowing books from the library is a great way to support your favorite writers. Libraries keep track of how often books are borrowed and, while the numbers don't make it to the publishers, librarians can be instrumental in building buzz about a particular writer. I am a great believer in and supporter of public libraries. I would not be who I am today if it had not been for the generous and gifted librarians in Brooklyn who kept me supplied with increasingly challenging books as I learned English. My favorite place to hang out, other than my house, is a public library. Now, if they would only serve coffee...

Anonymous said...

I meet you in p.r. in May 2007 at the AARP Convention and I was very pleased to know that P.R. has such talented people. since then I have read all of your books and love them. thank you for such good books and by the way I have purchase every single one of them.

sincerely, alba delvalle

Anonymous said...

Estimada Esmeralda:

A pesar de que llevo 15 años en este pais y hablo inglés muy bien, prefiero hablar en castellano con los otros latinos. Te quiero felicitar por tu excelente trabajo. Hace unos años me leí "Cuando era puertorriqueña" y recién ayer me acabo de terminar "Casi una mujer"...qué te puedo decir...los dos libros me encantaron! Yo saco libros en la biblioteca cerca de mi casa, así que me da gusto saber que esa también es una manera de ayudar a los escritores latinos. Yo soy chilena, casada con un puertorriqueño y tenemos una hija de 1 año, así que me encanta leer sobre Puerto Rico para poder enseñarle a mi hija sobre sus dos culturas; la chilena y la puertorriqueña. La cultura estadounidense la aprenderá al vivir en este pais. Hubiera preferido mandarte este mensaje por e-mail directamente a ti, pero no encontré ninguna dirección donde se te pueda escribir. Tengo tantas preguntas, me encantaría saber qué pasó con los personajes del libro, tu mamá, hermanos, etc. Una vez más, felicitaciones por lo lejos que has llegado. Un saludo cordial,


Anonymous said...

Dear Esmeralda,
I hope that when you read this you find yourself in good health... Today, after 3 years of holding on to your book, When I was Puerto Rican, I began to read it. I loved it! Thank you for letting me live in Puerto Rico through your experiences. The book is on my daughter's HS Reading list but she can't or won't appreciate the work. It's our fault for not having taught her Spanish but neither my husband nor I felt we could serve it justice. He was born in NY and I was 3 when my family moved to Brooklyn. I hope that anyone who reads this who has small children does not repeat our mistake. Ironically, I am a Spanish bilingual teacher. It's great that I have the opportunity to "learn" my culture as I teach it. I look forward to reading all of your books.
Thank you for addressing the issue of library borrowing. Patrons should also be aware that reasonable requests to purchase books are also honored if their budgets permit.

Laura Meléndez said...

Esmeralda, acabo de terminar de leer "Cuando era puertoriqueña" y me puse a buscar información en el internet porque me quedé con la curiosidad de saber que le pasó a tus hermanos... ¿salieron de Brooklyn? ¿echaron pa'lante? No sabes cuál fue mi sorpresa y francamente, mi decepción, al encontrarme con este blog y lo que dices sobre comprar VS prestar. Pensé que venir de una familia pobre, como muchas de las nuestras, hubiera sido suficiente para entender que para muchas personas, o cogen el libro prestado o no lo leen. Además, cuando uno presta o regala un libro leído, es también una expresión de cariño para con el recipiente, le dice: "esto me movió y quizás a tí te pase lo mismo". Particularmente en los días en que vivimos, dónde la juventud no lee y prefiere comprar una canción por $0.99 en vez del disco entero, me parece que el que tu libro se esté leyendo, aunque las ventas no lo reflejen, es un triunfo. Quizás resultaría efectivo para los escritores latinos, en general, encontrar una manera cibernética de contar. Crear quizás un 'mailing list' y poner la información en el libro, cosa de que el que lo coja prestado comoquiera se apunte en la lista. Soy realista y entiendo el poder de los números de ventas, pero también entiendo la falta de recursos en nuestra comunidad.

Anonymous said...

Hello Esmeralda! I just want to say that my mother and i absolutely love your books(I own all of them!). You're an inspiration not only to puerto rican women but to all women of all ethnicities/religions/etc.

:) xx

rosie said...

are you no longer blogging?

Heidi said...

This is somewhat off the topic of your post, but I heard you on public radio recently, on the Living on Earth show. You described how when you were living in Brooklyn with your family you would tell stories to your siblings, and often the princess in the story would be the heroine who had all kind of adventures. I wonder if you have ever considered publishing stories like that. There are so few books out there for little girls where the main character is an empowered girl. Dora is about the only one. Everything else is Disney princesses or Barbie. I think mothers of daughters would love to find books with stories like you described!

Cynthia said...

Dear Esmeralda,

I never knew what an amazing memoir was until I read your book. Just by reading the first sentence, "There are guavas at the Shop & Save..." I knew that this book would be a great read (The topic is so random, but it connects with a little bit of your life that you write about in this book). I'm a senior in high school, and for my English course, "Wives, Witches & Warriors," my teacher said that this book would be a major topic in our class. Someone had asked why, and she said, "Just begin to read. You'll see." And that's exactly what I did. It wasn't only because it was required to be read, it wasn't because the title intrigued me (I thought to myself, "Well, what is she now?" Since it says, "When I was..."), and it wasn't because I was an avid reader, though, that probably could have been part of it. It was mostly because I have a good friendship with my English teacher, and I trusted her when I went up to her after class and asked her about the book when she told me, "Cynthia, it's an amazing book. I loved it, and I hope you'll love it as much as I do." After I started reading, I couldn't stop. It was amazing. After about three more days after handing out the books to us, she finaly brought up the topic. "So, class. What do you think of the book so far?" Yeah, people talked about it, but not enough as I thought. In my head, I was saying, "Don't these people like the book? Why isn't anyone jumping out of their seats to give Mrs. Martinez their opinions?" Though we were really getting into the topic of the book, like how many siblings you had, what the beginning of the book was about (Someone said you teaching us how to eat fruits we've never heard of, which goes to show, she didn't read past the first page), the bell rang, and we didn't get the chance to continue. But after that bell, I ran to Mrs. Martinez and told her how much in love with the book I was, and she was beaming. We just started talking non stop about it. She told me how it tied with our class: Your mother struggling to make her family stay together and in order, you being adventurous and curious, the environment in which you lived in . . . basically, you were surrounded with woman most of your childhood. Women, like your mother, who wanted to work. Wanted to get married. Wanted a beautiful life. This book has a way of showing how women can step out of our status quo: fairy tales and beauty. We can be courageous, fearless, curious all while being beautiful. This week was our Mid-Winter recess where we have no school for the week, and I took this week to finish the book. After finishing it about four hours ago, I am so desperate to read "Almost a Woman." I also can't wait to begin chatting with my teacher about your book. You really are amazing. I feel bad for the kids that feel that their uninspiring lives is more inmportant than taking atleast half an hour to read a book that is worth putting the world on hold to finish reading. You have a way with words and a way with entering peoples hearts. You've entered mine, and there is no way you're leaving. God Bless you!


Anonymous said...

Ms. Santiago - Enjoyed your book When I Was Puerto Rican. Hoping it will be our Common Reading for freshmen at our college.

Tacy said...

Good for people to know.

Niki Hermes said...

Dear Esmeralda,

I read your first memoir over two years ago as my newly adopted Colombian teen ager was reading it in Spanish. I finally read "Almost a Woman" and "Turkish Lover" this past week. I couldn't put either of them down and anxiouly await your fourth memoir! I am so glad the clerk at the bookstore recommended your books. I was going to "pass" them along to family and friends, but afer reading your blog, I will gladly give them as gifts. Best wishes to you. You have inspired me with your writing.