Publishing Consultant And PublisHer Board Member Emma House Interviews Bookwomen Around The World.

Alma Čaušević Klemenčič is the CEO of Beletrina Academic Press, one of Slovenia’s most ambitious and innovative publishing houses, a role she has had since 2013.

She is also a council member of Cankarjev dom, the largest cultural establishment in Slovenia, and a member of the Managers’ Association of Slovenia, which listed her as one of the top three young Slovenian managers of 2021.

Like many publishing professionals, Alma’s academic background has no apparent link to book production. Degrees in cultural studies and cultural anthropology led her to become an independent researcher in cultural anthropology from 2009 to 2010, after which she helped organise and run the World Literatures Fabula festival during Ljubljana’s tenure as World Book Capital.

From 2011 to 2013 she was responsible for the management and implementation of the Maribor 2012 – European Capital of Culture project.

How did you pivot from cultural anthropology to publishing?

I never thought I was going to work in publishing. I was always close to the cultural world, going to and organising cultural events since I was a teenager. It was by chance I studied anthropology and cultural studies, which gave me a good background into what culture is and what it means for society. At that point, I thought I’d stay and work in academia and research, but I ended up helping organise the World Literatures Fabula festival, the main festival of the UNESCO World Book Capital Ljubljana 2010 programme. It seemed like an interesting and rewarding job suited to my skills as a born organiser. As I got more involved, I began to really enjoy it, including activities such as applying for funds and getting involved in European projects. I think for me, it is more exciting than academia would have been.

I then gained further experience by working extensively in dance, theatre, and other cultural institutions. However, the real breakthrough point for my career was when I received an invitation to join the Maribor 2012 European Capital of Culture project as head of production. There I worked with two colleagues who had founded Beletrina Academic Press 25 years ago as a student initiative. The student movement was very powerful at this time of independence, with funds being given to mobilise young people with various programmes. They invited me to join them to strategically reposition Beletrina in the publishing world.

The different experiences we gained over time and what we learned from the projects and collaborations helped us think about publishing in a new way.

What did working on book festivals teach you about the industry?

This experience was essential in giving me perspective on how important it is for people to see, hear and meet authors. You need to understand how different authors prefer to operate. It allowed me to understand the value of publishing as a form of entertainment, as well as giving emotions and allowing us to step into another world.

What part did books play in your work on the European Capital of Culture?

We had a literary programme supporting different producers and publishing houses as well as curating and hosting literary events. We hosted the main interviews and events with famous topical thinkers and supported these events with a book, aiming to capture and give longevity to the event – in the same way video does nowadays.

The programme also supported new publishing imprints and brands, giving the European Capital of Culture a legacy. Finally, combining different fields of culture was interesting and made it successful. It gave different visions of what you can do with books and how to rethink publishing. There are so many choices and ways to play with publishing, and it made me realise that we need to be bolder in this industry.

You joined Beletrina Academic Press in 2013. What do you most enjoy about the industry?

We mainly publish fiction, but we also have books in the field of humanities. We publish predominantly Slovenian authors, both known and unknown, and are doing a lot of experimenting with our authors. We recently had a manuscript from a man with a criminal past; his writing is fabulous and the subject matter can be influential. Our aim is to spark the imaginations of authors and to go beyond what they are used to.

Two years ago, we launched a sub-brand – Classical Beletrina – publishing world classics with new translations, new imagery, new promotion. It has been about 30 years since Slovenian publishing houses did classics, and this has proven to be a good business decision and opportunity. This year we have another new brand, Star Beletrina, focused on five children’s classics per year over five years.

We are very focused on book production and high standards of quality. It has been difficult to find a supplier to work with that can give us the quality we demand. Right now, we do our printing in Slovenia, but also abroad.

Nearly a decade ago, we launched a first digital platform for Slovenian ebooks called Biblos. The platform was set up in collaboration with all Slovenian public libraries and major Slovenian publishing houses, and functions as a national e-lending system in Slovenian public libraries.

What I enjoy most about publishing is the mash-up of two worlds; the business world of products, strategies, knowledge management, marketing, etc, with the softer side – events, authors and culture. I love the challenge and opportunity of connecting with other sectors – knowing that everything starts with a story but there is a variety of environments involved – it has a lot of history that is differently accepted in different minds. There is mash-up of classical, new, business and culture all in one industry.

What are the challenges and opportunities of Slovenian publishing today?

The industry today is certainly shrinking compared to the times during independence when it had huge importance, but in the new world of the internet the sector hasn’t really kept up. Lots of publishers closed their doors. However, I am optimistic and know that books play an integral role in people’s lives and the industry has the potential to become bigger. People have gone back to reading all kinds of books.

Being a small industry like Slovenia, we all know each other and what our focuses are. We can see how new publishers and new digital services can be launched. It is calm and stable right now but could be disrupted – it’s an adventure.

You are a council member of ‘Cankarjev dom’. What does this organisation do, and how does it fit with your day job?

This is the biggest cultural institution in Slovenia, including owning the biggest halls in Slovenia for events, protocol activities and bigger cultural activities. This gives me the opportunity to get on the inside of understanding and influencing national policy. Having worked a lot with public institutions through my previous roles, I’ve learnt to value the insight into how the national sector functions and what the role of literature plays in this. This role is very helpful for the strategic direction of the publishing company.

What is the proudest moment of your career?

I am very proud that I managed the challenge of producing the Maribor 2012 – European Capital of Culture project successfully.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

One of the biggest challenges was learning to stop over-controlling and trust that people will do their work. By doing that, I have learnt how to enjoy what I do.

What is the landscape for female leaders in publishing in Slovenia?
I believe it is quite good; or rather, I refuse to think, live, and act differently.

What does the future hold for you?

I don’t know. But I truly hope that good, interesting, and innovative people will be by my side.


This interview was first published by and is reproduced here with kind permission.