Alumni in the Spotlight: Asdrúbal Hernández

Asdrúbal Hernández is a publisher, writer, and photographer living in New York City. He has worked for several newspapers, magazines, and many other media platforms in Venezuela and the USA. In 2011 he founded Sudaquia Group, a venture that aims to promote and offer products and services in Spanish for the US market through its divisions Sudaquia Editores, a publishing house of books in Spanish in the US, and Sudaquia Publishing Services, a consultant agency for any type of publishing and in-Spanish projects.

BREANA SWINEHART: Hello Asdrúbal! It is a pleasure to be interviewing you for the Pace MS in Publishing blog. To get started, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York and the Pace Publishing program in particular?

ASDRÚBAL HERNÁNDEZ: I went back to Venezuela after finishing my Bachelors in Communications at Loyola University in New Orleans and working for a year in Philly as a photographer and reporter. In Venezuela, I was invited to participate as a photographer and Production Project Manager on the production of an illustrated book about a region of my country called “Los llanos” (the plains), which is famous for cattle production. We began the project in the last trimester of 2005 and completed it by September 2007. This experience opened many opportunities, and I got involved with many different print and digital medias as a photographer, writer, and —in some of them—also on the managerial side.

I had all this experience and wanted to get some type of formal education about publishing. After searching on the web, I found a couple of Masters in Publishing programs in Spain and London, and when I checked the bios of the professors, all of them had some type of experience or connection with New York City, so I thought: “Why do I want to go to Spain or the UK when they want to go to NYC? I have to go to NYC, too.”

In spring of 2009, I came to NYC to visit the two programs that I was interested in: New York University and Pace. However, after meeting Professor Raskin, I had no doubts that the program that I wanted to join was at Pace.

BRE: You have many talents that would lend themselves well to multiple job positions in publishing, yet you choose to start your own company. What motivated you to establish Sudaquia instead of getting a job with a pre-established publishing house? What are your goals?          

ASDRÚBAL: Since I came to New Orleans to get my Bachelors in Communications, I have followed the growth of US Hispanics and found that there was a great opportunity there. When I came to Pace, I enjoyed spending time checking the shelves of many bookstores and felt frustrated finding Spanish sections filled up with no contemporary Hispano-American literature.

That led me to write my final thesis about the marketing of books in Spanish in the USA, which showed me a CAT scan of the books in Spanish publishing industries in the USA. It had found a great opportunity, in the right time, and in the right place, so why not venture into it?

Our goal is to become a bridge between Latin-American literature and Spanish readers in the US and around the world.

BRE: Can you tell us what the name of the company means and how you chose it?

ASDRÚBAL: Spanish people use the term “sudacas” to refer, in a very derogatory way, to all Latin-American people. Sudaquia is the place from where sudacas come from, or in other words, a derogatory way to refer to Latin-America. Sudaquia Editores was the name of the fictitious publishing house that I used in Professor Delano’s Book Production and Design’s class term project. When my wife, Maria Angelica, and I decided to move forward with the idea of starting our publishing business of books in Spanish, we thought that using Sudaquia Editores was a great idea because it was powerful, irreverent, and a great way to re-vindicate both the term and the Latin-American people by showing the richness and diversity of the Latin-American literature.

BRE: Can you tell us about some of the books that Sudaquia publishes? What book are you most proud of? 

ASDRÚBAL: Sudaquia begun with two collections originally, one of fiction (Sudaquia), and the other of non-fiction (Enfasis). In 2014 we added a poetry collection (El gato cimarron), and this Fall 2016 we just added a fourth collection (Cangejo) for thrillers, crime, and noir works.

It is very hard for me to choose [a book to be most proud of] because each title represents a journey. Some of the titles from which I feel great satisfaction are Siempre nos quedará Madrid (We Will Always Have Madrid)—a memoir by the Cuban author Enrique Del Risco, Métodos de la lluvia (Rain’s Method)—a poetry book by Leonardo Padrón, La filial (The Subsidiary) by Matias Celedón, Para comerte mejor (All the Better to Eat You) by Giovanna Rivero, and Caléndula (Marigold) by Kianny Antigua.

BRE: What are some major differences and/or similarities you’ve noticed between the publishing industries and their trends for books written in Spanish versus those written in English?

ASDRÚBAL: The main difference between publishers of books in English and publishers of books in Spanish is that, in the English publishing world, books are part of the entertainment industry, while in Spanish books are directly related to culture.

This simple difference defines almost everything, because while entertainment is “cool” and “easy to sell,” culture could become “boring” in some cases, and perceived as something meant to be for an intellectual elite instead of the average person. That defines the catalogues offered and the way marketing campaigns are crafted. For publishers of books in English, each successful author becomes a brand; on the other hand, each publisher of books in Spanish makes a brand of itself that influences authors through the catalogue of authors previously published and readers, due to the quality of the content and design of the books they publish.

BRE: Sudaquia is addressing the untapped market for Spanish-written books in America—how do you hope for Sudaquia to continue to impact the future of Spanish literature outside of Latin American countries? 

ASDRÚBAL: There is still a lot to do for literature in Spanish in the United States. Besides continuing to publish new titles by Latin-American authors, we want to publish more authors that write in Spanish and live in the US. It makes no sense that they have to either write in English or look for a publisher abroad because there is no option in the US. We want to keep expanding our reach in the US and find a way to reach some big cities in Canada where Hispanic immigrants have a notable presence. Sudaquia is part of a group of game changers for books in Spanish in the US, in that, little by little, as result of our hard work, literature in Spanish is gaining some space. We need and want to continue working for it.

BRE: What were some of the highlights from your time at Pace? Can you tell us about some of your internship experiences while there?

ASDRÚBAL: At Toppan Printing, I learned about customer relationships. Almost everyday we received proofs either from the printer in China or from the clients that needed to be processed and sent forward.

At Atria Books, I was submerged in everyday tasks of an editorial department and had the opportunity to experience firsthand the dynamics and philosophy of such a huge publisher as Simon & Schuster.  Some of my responsibilities were proofreading, English-to-Spanish translations, and finding and fixing errors in manuscripts.

BRE: What was the topic of your thesis as a graduate student in the Pace Publishing Program? Did it help you shape your career post-graduation?

ASDRÚBAL: My thesis topic was on marketing of books in Spanish in the United States. It was titled: Is there a market for books in Spanish in the United States?, and was an approach to a topic so niche as books in Spanish in the United States, going from a general understanding of the US Hispanic market to the specifics of books.

I think that it is pretty obvious the influence of this paper over my career after graduating is unquestionable. This experience helped me to learn many things about the books in the Spanish market in the USA, allowing me to achieve a better understanding of the market, the errors and achievements from previous ventures, and it planted the seed that pushed me to pursue this opportunity.

BRE: We just posted an internship at your company. Can you tell us a bit about what the student would learn as an intern working with you?

ASDRÚBAL:  During this internship, the student would have the chance to learn about marketing and publicity of a very niche product for a quickly growing market in the United States. This person will be working directly with me, allowing him/her to experience the everyday of a small publishing business.

BRE: What advice would you give to students who are interested in starting their own publishing company, or who are looking to stand out from other applicants as they apply for jobs?

ASDRÚBAL: For those that have an entrepreneurial interest, my best advice is to learn all you can about bookselling and marketing. Also, read Never Get a Real Job by Scott Gerber. Obviously you already have read and understood Publishing for Profit by Thomas Woll.

For those looking for a job, the best advice is to intern over and over and over, and go beyond what you’re asked or expected to do. If you are sure which specific area of publishing you want to work at, develop skills that you can use to differentiate yourself from the rest.

For both, I will also recommend on networking and follow-up, over and over. You never know who would be the one willing to help you open the door to the opportunity you’re looking for. I recommend you to read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, a great book about how to build successful relationships. And if you haven’t ever seen the Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, please do it. If you have, listen it again. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc.

BRE: And just for the fun of it, what book are you reading now? Or, do you have a favorite children’s book that you read to your young son?

ASDRÚBAL: Besides reading manuscripts, at the moment I’m constantly reading books about business, entrepreneurship, and social marketing. At the moment, for example, I’m reading Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson and Think Like a Rock Star by Mark Collier. I’m also constantly in search of information about news related to the publishing industry, including which are the bestsellers and why they became a bestseller, and trying to keep track of what the trends of books in English and Spanish are.

About my son, it is not if I have a favorite, but what he wants me to read to him. At the moment, he is enjoying Thomas the Tank Engine a lot from the collection of books he got on his birthday.

BRE: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share with current students or alumni?

ASDRÚBAL: Learn how to market and sell books, that is the core of the whole business. You could have the new Harry Potter, but if you don’t know how to market and sell it, it will never become the new Harry Potter. Knowing how to sell books will make you a better professional, regardless the path you want to follow.

BRE: You have recently been asked to join the MS in Publishing Advisory Board.  Congratulations! What do you hope to gain/give in this position? Is there anyone at Pace you would like to thank?

ASDRÚBAL: It is a great honor for me to join the Publishing Advisory Board. I’m sure that listening and sharing with all the board members will help me to keep developing as a better professional and person. My desire is to help in anyway I can, to make the Pace’s publishing program better every day. The publishing industry is changing in many ways, and it is our responsibility to keep the program current with the industry while strengthening the basics of the trade. I would like to thank Prof. Raskin, who believed in me since the moment we met. I’d also like to thank the faculty and staff that, in one way or another, helped through my years at Pace, with special thanks to Prof. Soares, Prof. Delano, and Prof. Denning, who have opened many doors and shared their experience and advice all these years.

Bre: Thank you, Asdrúbal, for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us!