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Dispute Erupts Over Translation Rights to New Nobel Laureate

MADRID — After winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Louise Glück has found herself at the heart of less-welcome publicity, because of a dispute over who should hold the Spanish-language rights to her work.

Pre-Textos, a publisher based in Valencia, Spain, which has translated and released seven of her books, has called on the American poet to intervene in its favor after her literary agent selected another Spanish-language publisher a month after her award. Pre-Textos had let the Spanish rights to Glück’s work expire, but it maintains that it should be rewarded for broadening her readership and publishing, at a loss, her work.

“We want some kind of justice for 14 years of loyalty to an author who was almost completely unknown” to Spanish-language readers until the Nobel, Manuel Borrás, the literary director of Pre-Textos, said in a phone interview. “For years, we have lost money with pleasure, in the name of promoting great poetry and a wonderful author.”

Borrás acknowledged that he had little ground for a lawsuit against the agent, Andrew Wylie, but he said that “there is also something called ethics.” According to Borrás, Wylie did not offer Pre-Textos a chance to sign a new rights contract after Glück won the Nobel. Instead, Glück will now be distributed in Spanish by Visor, a publisher that specializes in poetry.

Chus Visor, that publisher’s founder, told Europa Press, a Spanish news agency, that he would start publishing Glück as soon as possible and did not understand the dispute. “What happened with Glück has happened with authors throughout life and in Spain as well: Many change publishers, including some who go to Pre-Textos,” he said.

In an email, Glück declined to comment, saying she preferred “not to weigh in” on the issue.

The dispute between Pre-Textos and Wylie has been debated on Spanish-speaking social media and largely presented as the fight of a small publisher against a powerful and ambitious agent, and Borrás said that he was grateful for the “tsunami of solidarity” that Pre-Textos had received, particularly from Latin America.

But Wylie said the issues began long before the Nobel news. Pre-Textos failed to renew the rights to Glück’s work after their initial contract expired in 2015, he said, and it did not pay the agreed-upon advance for the signing of a second contract. In addition, Pre-Textos ignored messages from the agency over several years, he said, then published her books “Meadowlands” in 2017 and “A Village Life” in 2020 without consulting her, despite having promised to do so.

“Pre-Textos have breached their contracts and the law, but they have also fallen in breach of every editorial standard,” Wylie said in an email. “While we recognize the respect that their list commands for many readers, this behavior would be unacceptable in any field.”

Wylie is well known in the literary world for his clout and extensive list of clients, among them writers like Martin Amis, Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, Miranda July and Elizabeth Gilbert. Wylie also represents the literary estates of such iconic authors as John Cheever, Jack Kerouac, V.S. Naipaul, Susan Sontag and John Updike.

After Glück won the Nobel Prize in October, Pre-Textos submitted an offer for translation rights, but Wylie chose to go with a different publisher, he said.

It isn’t unusual for agents to change their authors’ publishers to obtain more money, better marketing or a different editorial team. In the United States, Glück started out publishing her work at Ecco and later moved to Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Winning a Nobel Prize typically boosts an author’s sales and international audience and can lead to a frenzied competition to secure translation rights. Spain is a major player for Spanish-language publishing globally, releasing more than 62,000 books in 2018, a 3 percent increase from the previous year, according to the most recent annual data from the country’s national statistics institute.

Pre-Textos publishes about 65 books a year, and its catalog includes three other Nobel laureates: Peter Handke, Elfriede Jelinek and Patrick Modiano. Borrás declined to disclose the company’s earnings but said, “We have always been a slightly strange publishing house, betting more on the quality of the literature than its sales potential.”

Poetry, even by Nobel Prize winners, rarely sells well, he added, saying that the Spanish translations of Glück’s books had sold 150 to 200 copies each.

Damián Tullio, a translator working in Argentina, said that he initially felt outrage when he heard that Pre-Textos had lost the translation rights to Glück’s work, but he now thinks that Glück should seize on the newfound interest the Nobel has generated in her poetry, and should work with whichever publisher can provide the strongest and most international book distribution.

In general, Tullio said, “independent Spanish publishers have a lot of difficulty to distribute their books in Latin America.”

Borrás first came across Glück’s work when he was given one of her books during a visit to New York. He bought a couple more before returning to Spain and telling his editorial team that Pre-Textos should publish her.

Discovering her poetry was “love at first sight,” Borrás said. “Even if she aligns with her agent and disappoints us, I will continue to call her a great poet.”

Alexandra Alter contributed reporting.

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