Publishing consultant Emma House presents the second in a series of interviews with members of the PublisHer community.
At the tender age of 33, Gvantsa Jobava has an impressive leadership record in the publishing world. Today, she holds three offices simultaneously: editor and international relations manager, Intelekti Publishing/Artanuji Publishing; Chair of the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association; and member of the Executive Committee at the International Publishers Association (IPA).
Gvantsa has managed numerous projects to promote the Georgian book industry, including Georgia’s ‘guest of honour’ publishing programme at the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair, and she is one of the managers of Tbilisi’s designation as UNESCO World Book Capital 2021. She has participated in innumerable book fairs and fellowship programmes around the world, and is a champion of women’s equality in publishing.
What attracted you to publishing and how did you get started?
I was born to a Georgian philologist father and English teacher mother, and lived in a house full of books. When I was young, I used to play with books, and soon started reading them. I started writing poems and loved to create my own handmade books, so books played a major role in my life from early on. While choosing my future profession I had two choices, journalism or literature and book publishing. I chose the latter. As soon as I graduated, I started my first job at a children’s publishing house and immediately knew this was going to be my profession.
What are the main aims of your role at Intelekti/Artanjui Publishing?
I started working at Intelekti Publishing and Artanuji Publishing in 2010. These two publishing houses belong to one family and have different profiles. Intelekti is 25 years old and one of the first private Georgian publishing houses founded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, specializing in Georgian literature, classic or contemporary. We also publish translations of world classics and modern bestsellers, textbooks and non-fiction. Artanuji is mainly focused on non-fiction books, Georgian and translated, but does publish some important fiction. Across both publishing houses we publish nearly 250 titles per year.
I started working as a rights manager and am now the international relations manager and an editor. In Georgian publishing it’s normal to double up job functions. I’m involved in creating new publishing series for the publishing house and editing books, but also event management, promotional campaigns, presenting at book launches and through the media. Finally, I am a literary agent for many Georgian authors, selling their rights to foreign publishing houses and attending international book fairs to buy and sell rights. Networking with our foreign colleagues is one of my favourite parts of the job, as well as managing visits of our foreign authors to Georgia. My favourite experience was hosting the 2015 Nobel Prize winner, Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, in Georgia.
“While gender was not an issue, my age was, especially in a country still dealing with Soviet traces.”
What challenges have you encountered in your career and how have you overcome them?
In 2013 I was elected as a deputy chair of the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association (GPBA) at the age of 27. After two years, at 29, I became the chairperson. Unlike previous chairs, I was not the founder or director, but an employee of the publishing house. While gender was not an issue, my age was, especially in a country still dealing with Soviet traces of ideology, opinions, views; a country full of contrasts and differences between generations. To gain the respect and trust of members and partners and in governmental organizations was hard, tiring and stressful.
When I started at the publishers association we faced many complications, including difficult relationships among members, financial problems and no recognized authority. The staff and board members had to make changes and unpopular decisions for a better future for our industry. All of us (board members, staff and association member organizations) had to overcome that.
Who has inspired you in the world of publishing?
It was Carmen Balcells Segala, the famous literary agent of Spanish and Latin American authors, and one of the most powerful and influential women in Spanish publishing. Her story and character, as one of the driving forces behind the 1960s boom of Latin American literature, was really inspiring for me considering that in Georgia we really don’t have literary agents. At the beginning of my career, when we met foreign publishers in different international book fairs, they were not interested in Georgian literature. Many of them didn’t know about our country, language or authors. Her story influenced my future development and I was lucky to have personal correspondence with her and to win the agreement to be the option publisher of [Gabriel García] Marquez.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
In 2018, when Georgia was the guest of honour at Frankfurt Book Fair and I worked as head of the publishing programme. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Georgia has essentially risen from the dead an, just 25 years later, we became the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair. We Georgians used to say that this opportunity was a miracle. We didn’t have any experience doing such a huge international project, it was a big challenge and unbelievably hard, but the results were worth it.
We wanted to declare loudly that we believe that even under current circumstances, with 20% of Georgia occupied by Russia, it is essential for our country, for the people living with democratic values to become a full member of the EU. I can’t say whether we managed to fully achieve our aims or not, but in October 2019 Juergen Boos, president of the Frankfurt Book Fair, declared that Georgia was one of the most successful Guests of Honour in the history of the book fair. We were very happy and proud to hear this.
In terms of the highlights of my career, at the International Publishers Association general assembly during Frankfurt Book Fair 2018, I was elected as an executive committee member. It is the first time a Georgian has been on the IPA board, and it’s a huge responsibility.
“In the Georgian publishing and literary field women are really dominating.”
What’s the situation like for women in publishing in Georgia?
I’m happy to say it’s very optimistic. According to the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association’s statistics, the percentage of men and women directors of organizations is 50/50, it is like a paradise of gender equality. On the association board we have six women and one man, in the association staff only women. In the last 10 years, 90% of GPBA chairpersons were women. In the Georgian publishing and literary field women are really dominating. Even 90% of the Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honour team were women.
What are your objectives as chair of the Georgian PA? Do you have any programmes to support women?
When I became chair of the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association, we had to work hard to make our association stronger not only locally but internationally. Today we are a strong institution to talk to and lobby the Georgian government for the publishing industry, but we still need to work hard to increase our influence.
The political situation inside the country is not easy, and we need a more educated society and a better educational system. Together with our partner organizations, we have ensured that education, book reading and literature, combined with social and political issues, are very much supported by the Georgian media. We try to use this situation positively and struggle against the stereotypes which are still strong in parts of our society, like gender equality, violence, freedom of expression, bullying, topics of sexual minorities and many other challenges of the modern world. We know that there is still a gap in book reading in our country, so reading promotion campaigns and projects are a priority for us.
As for women in publishing, we have many interesting female publishing characters, who are leaders and public persons who are already influencing society positively and providing examples of struggles for success and how to gain the appropriate position in society.
What do you hope to contribute in your position as an IPA Executive Committee member?
Being an IPA Executive Committee member is a huge responsibility and I want to be useful and active. The first year was challenging as I had a lot to learn. In April 2019 I attended the World Intellectual Property Organization’s standing committee on copyright and related rights (SCCR), in Geneva, and we will host the next IPA Educational Publishers Forum (EPF) meeting in Tbilisi, in February 2020.
GBPA has big plans as an active member of the IPA Executive Committee and I hope we’ll fulfil them. As for the topics I would like to contribute, I’ll underline freedom of expression, human rights, freedom to publish, and accessibility in education as important issues.
What are your views of PublisHer and how do you think it can help women in publishing?
I think PublisHer is a brilliant idea. When I attended the first PublisHer networking dinner in London 2019, I met many wonderful female publishing professionals from all around the world, sharing their stories and experiences. I realized that it was a start of an amazing movement which will achieve success. I follow the activities of this network and I’m sure this movement will be inspiring for women who are struggling for their rights. A network where you can meet the most successful female publishing professionals is a chance to learn from them and to be involved in joint projects in the future. I’m glad that the PublisHer network continues to develop and I will always be happy to contribute.
In March we celebrate one year since we launched PublisHer at the 2019 London Book Fair. We’ll mark this important milestone with a half-day conference for around 200 women who work in or close to the publishing industry, at the magnificent British Library, in London.
An opening keynote will be followed by three moderated discussions celebrating inspirational women who have generated positive change in world publishing. Titled ‘Pathbreakers’, ‘Pioneers’ and ‘Trailblazers’, each conversation will lay bare the wisdom, views and experiences of three personalities.
You can book your place free of charge here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/publisher-1st-birthday-summit-tickets-83972494993
This interview is also available on BookBrunch.