HAVANA TIMES — I am 34 and about to have my first book published. I’ve been in this writing business for 17 years, struggling to get ahead, trying to get my foot in the door here and there, and the truth is that it hasn’t been easy.
At my age, most writers have already published at least two works. That’s more or less the norm in Cuba. Cuba’s Rizo printing presses have helped many young people get their work published. There is a Rizo in every province in the country.
That said, we also have to acknowledge that the opportunities afforded by the Rizo have had negative consequences – namely, all of the trash that’s published every year.
We also have to recognize that the Rizo don’t address the main problem we face, which is the way in which the works to be published are selected.
As was to be expected, my first book, La Pendiente (“The Slope”), will be published by a regional publishing house, that is, those that send their works to the Rizo presses – to Ediciones Avila publishers, in Ciego de Avila, to be more precise.
I owe the publication of my book to the award I received at the 19th Juegos Florales Poetry Competition. Receiving an award is pretty much the only way a young author can get anything published in Cuba.
Cuba’s literary awards system has a very characteristic feature: most have very small funds (in Cuban pesos), and some, such as the poetry contest I took part in, does not award cash prizes.
Intellectual property payments are rarely ever more than 10 or 12 thousand Cuban pesos (in the best of scenarios). In my case, it is only 1,000 pesos (about US $ 50.00). There are many reasons for books like mine to have limited print runs (a mere 500 copies). The main reason is that “poetry doesn’t sell.”
I know publishers do not follow up on the books they print to see how they fare – to find out who reads them, that is. I know that, even if my book is sold out within a week, no one will think of reprinting it or changing the price.
In Cuba, quite simply, there is no book market. Literature, like the chicken sold at the ration store, is yet another thing the Cuban State subsidizes.
I have just taken my first step, I’ve come out of the shadow of anonymity. My problems as an unpublished writer have been replaced with the typical problems Cuban authors face.