New publisher swims against the tide

On the phone her voice sounded youthful and reserved. Vana Avgerinou was promoting two books by Panos Karnezis recently published by her seven-month-old publishing venture, Macondo — the name of the fictional town in her favorite author Gabriel Garcia Marquez?s novel ?One Hundred Years of Solitude.?

At the age of 32, Avgerinou decided to return to Greece and establish her own publishing house, going against the tide of people in the same age group who are increasingly leaving the country in search of a better future abroad. She had left Greece for London 11 years ago, along with a desire to follow an academic career.

?Part of my doctoral thesis had to do with publishing in Britain,? said Avgerinou. For this she interviewed publishers and literary agents and started developing an interest in the world of publishing. Following her thesis, she collaborated with Granta magazine and Portobello Editions, a house specializing in foreign literature in a country where only 2 to 3 percent are translated works.

She subsequently collaborated with major publishing houses, among them Penguin and Random House, before working with Bloomsbury, where she edited, translated, read manuscripts and controlled the quality of translations. At the same time, she tried to enter the field of translation in Greece.

?It?s a hard thing to do because there is an abundance of translators and when you?re unknown it?s extremely difficult. That?s when I first got the idea of creating my own publishing house and selecting the books myself. And despite the fact that I knew nothing about the Greek publishing world I decided to take the step,? she said.

Avgerinou believes that local book production is too big given the country?s size, leading to a number of books being lost in the process. At the same time, however, she considers the existence of small private initiatives a plus — a major difference between the publishing landscapes of Britain and Greece. Another big difference between the two countries is that fixed book pricing no longer exists in Britain.   

?Booksellers now set up their own prices. In this way they determine which books will become best-sellers and they boost them by lowering the price. This has led to the demise of a large number of small-scale bookstores and publishing houses. It is extremely hard to survive as a small editor in this kind of environment,? noted Avgerinou.

The young publisher has no illusions about the state of affairs in her chosen field. She believes that digital books will develop quickly in Britain in the next five years. Print, however, will not disappear: ?It will simply become a work of art,? she said.

Digital books, according to Avgerinou, attract people who are not primarily seduced by reading per se, but rather by technology. She believes that Greece is bound to follow suit, which explains why Macondo books are also available in digital version. 

Dividing her time between London and Athens, Avgerinou spends a lot of time working online. Macondo books are printed in Greece because Avgerinou wants to be part of the Greek market. She is involved in all the different stages of the company?s activities, ranging from editing to covers and book titles, as well as contacting major booksellers around Greece. Her aim is for Macondo books to develop an identity and be identifiable with the publishing house.

?I?m not aiming at becoming a large publishing house,? she said. ?I just wish to publish quality contemporary and classic authors. I would like for Macondo to be identified with leading writers.?

In the meantime, it is still too early to account for profits and losses stemming from her business decision. How does she feel about the risk she took?

?I have yet to make money, but I feel I did the right thing. If I hadn?t done this I would have spent the rest of my life wondering about it. I?m pleased with the aesthetic result of my work and this gives me the strength to carry on.

?There is always opportunity in tough times, as long as you have some kind of work philosophy and vision. The more you know, the harder it is to do certain things. As far as I?m concerned, I did it thanks to the courage of ignorance.?

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