The 'boom' of the war in Ukraine arrives late at the bookstores: "they have passed the rice"

On February 24, Russia began its offensive against the neighboring country. Vladimir Putin had threatened and, even so, the attack caught the incredulous journalists off guard, who rearranged their agendas from one day to the next. Meanwhile, in the editorials the same thing happened but at a different tempo. The public did not want to read about anything other than the war in Ukraine.

The publishing market needs a courtesy period to get on the current train. Turning the rundown of a newscast, changing priorities on the front page of a newspaper or finding new experts for a debate table is not the same as editing a work. But it always ends up going up. The latest proof is that books on this subject have begun to sprout by the dozen during the month of June. The question is: have they arrived on time?

"Times have to be very fast because media intensity is essential for there to be demand," acknowledges Daniel Moreno, editor-in-chief of the Capitan Swing label. "The ideal thing is to have a book already published that is based in some way on the events and to be able to take advantage of the flow of editorial interest from the beginning", he assures, and reveals that "it is almost impossible to translate something closely related to a current issue and that it gets to be published right on the crest of the media".

Some publishers started with an advantage: they blew the dust off their back catalog and brought out some old titles that responded to the urgent news. Others, like Captain Swingchose to publish books prior to the conflict that were accessible, such as the two that they have in the catalog written by Russia expert Mark Galeotti: "A brief history of Russia serves to advance in more general and historical information, and then you can read We have to talk about Putin, which gives a context analysis of the Russian invasion," says Moreno.

In Publishing Rock followed a similar modus operandi. Sequestration order. Bill Browder's true story of money laundering, assassination, and standing up to Vladimir Putin came at just the right time. "In this case, it was his British agent who offered it to me and of course with the first pages of the book, we hired him," says Blanca Rosa, Roca's boss.

History books are one of the easy loopholes. Critical Editorial Rescued Russia by Antony Beevor. There are 680 pages of the "master of war narrative" that recount a key episode for those nostalgic for Russian imperialism. In the Editorial Dos Passos They also turned to the past, but in a slightly more original way, with Writing in the Snow, by Santiago Velázquez. "In the middle of the debate on whether to cancel Russian artists, this book is an allegation in favor of one of the great literatures of history," explains the label.

For its part, Astiberri rushed to grab Darryl Cunningham's must-have graphic novel, Putin's Russia. Through vignettes, the author investigates the politician's career as a schoolyard bully in Soviet-era Leningrad, a KGB officer and president of Russia.

But sometimes the opportunity just unwittingly appears. "We had already noticed No password needed several months before Putin had the strange idea of ​​starting a war. We published it because it is part of the popular crime novel saga Political Chronicles, written by the Russian Yulián Semiónov, from the that we had already released two titles previously", acknowledges Daniel Álvarez, from the publishing house Hoja de Lata. He assures that they are not looking for titles according to the present: "If I'm honest, we rather flee from the ephemeral trend of the moment." But what about the opposite? How do you go about writing and publishing a book about what's happening at the moment?

Not a few publishers have chosen to commission essays quickly to explain to the public exactly what they were seeing on television. Destination Editions quickly contacted Marta Rebón, translator of essential works by Svetlana Aleksiévitx, Vassili Grossman or Lev Tolstoy, and formed in Warsaw, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Beerseva. His is the work The Cain Complex. The "to be or not to be" of Ukraine under the shadow of Russia, which has just been published. Forbidden to doubt The ten weeks in which Ukraine changed the world (Akal), by Pascual Serrano, and The Invasion of Ukraine (Now Ctxt)by Rafael Poch, respond to that same need.

"The fundamental premise is that it be a topic that arouses social interest, that is on the street, that worries people. In our label we have a special vocation for these topics and, when something relevant comes up, we move quickly to find the specialists Today is a race against time for an editor", recognizes Félix Gil, non-fiction editor of The Sphere of Books.

They got the most coveted book of all those that have been published on the subject: the biography of the President of Ukraine, Volodímir Zelenski, by Regís Genté and Stéphane Siohan. And it is not the only one. They must compete against Zelensky: The Making of a Hero, by Andrew L. Urban and Chris McLeod, who has released the Publisher Deusto, and Zelensky. A natural portrait of the man who stood up to Putin, an audiobook by Ukrainian journalist and publicist Serhiy Rudenko.

"A title of these characteristics requires a lot of agility. As soon as we found out about this important novelty in France, we contacted the owners of the rights for our language and, after a hard and fast negotiation, we obtained them", explains Gil. "A lot of times it's not just a question of money, but of reputation, catalog and relationships," he says.

The other option is to entrust the title to someone who knows the matter or that person proposes, as happened in the case of Ukraine. The road to war (The Sphere of Books). "Already in 2021 we considered the possibility of a war breaking out and we proposed to the publisher to make this book when what we saw coming finally happened, since it would be essential to know the first phases of the conflict and not only the previous phase with the diplomacy that could have prevented it," says its author, Alejandro López Canorea, and also coordinator of the international news outlet Deciphering the War.

"The good thing is that it was not at all a new topic for us or that we had to assimilate, as it did with the general press," explains López. "After the invasion began, a thorough geopolitical analysis work had to be done on how all this affects the world, the region and the countries involved in the future", for which it was essential to know the reaction.

"The result continues to be thoughtful and profound content without the risk that immediacy brings," he differs, adding that for this reason it cost him less to reach the deadline agreed with the publisher. At this point, does that deadline coincide with the one imposed by the media?

Independent bookstores such as Tipos Infames, in Madrid, or Ramón Llul, in Valencia, have not noticed this publishing boom on their shelves. “It is perhaps because we make another type of more careful selection and we do not include immediate news on a certain topic. The same thing happened with the pandemic, there were many things, but they did not enter here,” they assure from the first. "The bestseller or the novelty are not our background. Large supermarkets such as Fnac or general stores such as Casa del Libro will notice it more," say the Valencians.

Precisely in the latter, on Madrid's Gran Vía, Raúl has been working for years and has witnessed similar waves of popularity. "At the beginning there was interest, but now we are in a moment of editorial saturation", explains the bookseller. "Most publishers have missed the mark. The first ones that already had a title sold very well, but the rest arrive when the market is already saturated and they have a harder time," he says.

Raúl explains that until a few weeks ago they had a prominent counter with books about the conflict. What they most requested were the biographies of Putin, "because they are morbid." "Then we took the module down to the second floor and it's already gone," he says. The only book he endures as a bestseller is Catherine Belton's Putin's Men.

"It is a punctual interest, it is caused by the specific event and the publishing world responds to the possible demand. It is not usually long-lasting and it is enough to look at how books about the pandemic have been disappearing from the novelty tables in recent months", shares Álvaro Manso, spokesman for Cegal and a bookseller in Burgos. "With COVID-19, a lot was published about antibiotics, bacteria and pandemics until the subject faded away. We have a huge stock of books that have become obsolete," adds the manager of La Casa del Libro.

In his opinion, interest fluctuates depending on media coverage. "In this heat, if we had new books on climate change, they would be selling like crazy," she compares. "That the media keep the issue alive and on the front page is very important," shares Félix Gil, editor of La Esfera de los Libros. But he also believes that "relevant events or characters always have readers looking for less fleeting perspectives."

Blanca Rosa, from Roca Editorial, answers with total honesty: "The truth is that I expected the sales of Order of embargo to be better because they are very interesting books that delve into world conflicts that affect the whole world. Its author, Bill Browder, he is Putin's number one enemy, his lawyers were assassinated and he is risking his life", highlights the editor. "Many times the public watches television or reads the news and thinks that they already have enough information, but they lose the frameworks and the interests behind the violent actions," laments Rosa.

Alejandro López Canorea, author of The Path to War, is the only one who remains optimistic: "People interested in understanding the conflict beyond propaganda ask us for this type of text, much richer in nuances than what they can find in an article or report in the general press. And even more so when the big media are losing interest. That's why a new edition has just come out and is now available in bookstores and supermarkets".

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