Publishing Consultant And PublisHer Board Member Emma House Interviews Bookwomen Around The World.
Andrea Pasion-Flores is owner and publisher at Philippines-based Milflores Publishing, which she acquired in 2020.
With a background spanning journalism, creative writing, and law, she became executive director of the Philippines National Book Development Board in 2007. In that role, Andrea was mandated to develop the country’s book publishing industry.
Andrea also worked as a literary agent and as an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Arts and Letters before joining Anvil Publishing, Inc as general manager in 2017. She also holds posts with the Book Development Association of the Philippines and the Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society. She is a regular speaker at industry events, and has represented the country at WIPO copyright industry roundtables.
“I liked how the law applied to creativity.”
How did you go from law to publishing?
What has been constant in my life is publishing, books, and reading. My school had a wonderful library, and I would borrow books almost every day. The thrill was filling up my library card as fast as I could.
As an adult I naturally gravitated to jobs that entailed a lot of reading – and writing. Law school was probably the aberration. Going to law school was not the expected step coming from an MA in creative writing, but I still had the mindset that I needed a ‘real’ job, that creative work wasn’t lucrative. I thought then I needed something more solid such as a law degree, which was very different from creative writing and the lovely things I was reading. It entailed a lot of reading difficult texts. But even when I was in law school, I was attracted to intellectual property, which was only an elective then. I liked how the law applied to creativity. I thought it was something that I could do alongside writing fiction.
Lawyering is a very technical profession. There are set rules of procedure, expected ways of writing contracts, pleadings, and such, which could run counter to the way a creative person works. But what studying law and law practice has taught me is how to think logically, how to approach issues, and solve problems. I’m comfortable with legal language and can navigate my way through a rights contract, which is a useful thing in publishing.
When I started as a lawyer, I knew I was a misfit in a law firm. I missed publishing, and actually called my former boss to get back into magazine publishing. But when I got there, I realised I no longer belonged. It felt too easy for someone who had my kind of training. That’s when the opening for the National Book Development Board turned up. I thought I was perfect for the job at that time, because I was a creative, had a publishing background, and I was a lawyer.
Tell us about Milflores Publishing and why you bought it.
Milflores was founded by an author by the name of Tony Hidalgo. He had specific ideas of how publishing should be, inspired by Mao Zedong’s saying, ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.’ Thus, the name Milflores or, in Spanish, a thousand flowers. The goal was to let many diverse ideas bloom. I don’t intend to change the philosophy. The vision is to let ideas flourish. I am looking at the formats, design, and distribution.
Tony had a good grasp of the Philippine market, which is a price-sensitive market. So his books had a fixed format to reach a particular price point. When I acquired Milflores – a name I found difficult to resist by the way, because of my own name – I knew if there was something I was going to change it would be how the books looked. I like to publish books I’d like to own. A reader who chooses print should be rewarded with a nice print edition of the book. Also, I like to publish books I’d like to read, while trying to reach as many readers as possible. I want to create books that will be around for a long time with this brand. The struggle to bring out a good book and make it known is always there, but when it happens there aren’t many things that make me feel as satisfied.
“Publishing in the Philippines is an industry where women flourish.”
What is the publishing landscape like – particularly for women – in the Philippines?
The Philippines is still a young market. There’s room for more publishers, and certainly there’s room for more books. The Philippines has a long way to go in terms of matching the production of its neighbours. So there’s growth in areas such as translation into the local languages, children’s books, non-fiction, and other categories. The goal, I feel, is to create more.
Distribution has improved due to the pivot of the consumer from bricks and mortar to online shopping, which included the way they purchased books. Quite a few trade publishers say that only 30% of their sales come from bookstores, with 70% coming from online shopping. Filipinos don’t mind paying more for shipping to guarantee their safety and convenience. The opening of many payment gateways made it even easier to purchase books online. Though publishers still distribute in book stores, the purchase of books from outlets that don’t take such huge discounts allowed for some leeway to pass savings to consumers in the form of discounts or reduced shipping. The Philippines does not have a fixed price law, unfortunately.
I would say that publishing in the Philippines is an industry where women flourish. Many publishing houses are headed by women and employ many talented young women at all levels, from editorial to sales. However, as far as I’ve observed over the years I’ve worked in the industry, I would say women create fewer books than men in the Philippines. Men who are able to dedicate more time to creating produce more work, and it’s not because they are better than women; but women are saddled with balancing families and jobs. To help balance this, maybe we need more grants for women, more residencies for women writers. At the moment, I have debut women authors on my list: it’s a conscious choice on our part to give more women a chance.
“I can’t imagine myself being a champion of any other industry than this one.”
You’ve been involved in many copyright initiatives, working closely with WIPO. What interests you when it comes to copyright?
I love how multiple rights spring from a single creative product and become multiple intellectual properties that create several income streams for the author. It’s amazing how the fount from which all these rights are created is comfortably accommodated by copyright law. The Berne Convention, a document adopted in 1886, is, for the most part, still an unchanged, living document, which is amazing.
Many forms of intellectual property, for me, start with the written word. I can’t imagine myself being a champion of any other industry than this one. I feel this is how I’ve put a law degree to good use.
What obstacles have you had to overcome in your career?
The Philippines is still a developing publishing market. There are many jobs that aren’t available here still – such as that of a literary agent, for example. In the Philippines, publishers deal directly with authors, which isn’t ideal. Also, because it’s such a small industry, everyone knows everybody, so most everyone are friends with each other, which is good but does not always result in professional transactions between parties. I was the first literary agent in the Philippines, and it seems we’re still waiting for the next literary agent to come forward, not just to sell rights abroad, but to transact business between creator and publisher. There are jobs in the book industry that don’t exist in the Philippines yet.
Ten years ago, when I wanted to be an agent, I needed to get out of my bubble in Manila and learn the ropes elsewhere. I was lucky I was a lawyer because I was comfortable with licensing contracts. So I joined the literary agency Jacaranda, because they had an Asian focus. I wanted to push an Asian agenda. Asia consumes the most Western content, as it is the biggest market in the world, but, in terms of books, it certainly does not sell as much back to the West. I thought a push-back was important. I stayed with the agency for four years. Back then I felt the resistance to an agent among local publishers, who are used to dealing with authors directly. I understand the hesitancy. I learned a lot while I was an agent, including developing the desire for each book I took on to cross borders and formats.
“I want to make Milflores a publishing company that makes it in the Philippines and carves a niche in the world as well. “
What makes you proud and what are your publishing ambitions?
I guess I’m most proud of the books I have brought to market. From children’s books to novels, to novels that have become movies or TV series.
Publishing is a long game, so I’ve published books when I was in my former job that are finalists in the local national book awards. I have three babies in this year’s awards: one poetry book that’s also nominated for design, and two collections of stories representing the authors’ life works. It feels like I’m a winner too. But now, I’m in the midst of making the books that hopefully will be the next books people will also love.
I want to make Milflores a publishing company that makes it in the Philippines and carves a niche in the world as well. With this ambition comes an ambition for a country like the Philippines to be able to support a company like mine. Can I achieve my dreams for the company from the Philippines? Or do I have to register the company somewhere else to achieve this goal? It’s one reason why I attend congressional hearings whenever a bill is up for discussion that concerns books. I know that I have to keep at it with other people to be able to achieve our common goals.
What does being president of the Book Development Association of the Philippines entail?
It’s so busy, it’s a bit crazy. I’ve just organised a pavilion for indie publishers. We want to have a recognisable cluster where indies can be seen. As you know, in a book fair, people will hardly take notice of a small booth (which is what most indies can afford), but if we’re lumped in a singularly-designed booth, I think it would make more of an impact. That’s the new thing in the coming Manila International Book Fair this September.
We’re also putting together a book institute to institutionalise capacity-building seminars for industry stakeholders. We have lots to learn still and, hopefully, this little academy of sorts will help stakeholders professionalise. Within that, we’re putting together a mentor-mentee program where more mature publishers help publishers in the Philippine regions who might need some handholding. Part of that programme involves flying the young publishers into Manila to take part in the book fair. In the future, we’d like to institutionalise publishing courses in the universities to guarantee a steady supply of publishing professionals who will already have basic publishing skills before they even enter the workforce.
We’re bringing publishers to the regions as well as looking at local authors to help develop books. Our regional book fair effort is called the Philippine Book Fair. It’s the book fair that will be going to different places in the country to bring together local government, local schools and universities, the general public to engage with authors, and performers and publishers to celebrate books.
We give a bi-annual publishers’ award called the Gintong Aklat awards (Golden Book awards). There’s another award we’re also looking at reviving, the Filipino Readers’ Choice award – which we hope to do by the end of the year.
“If the job you want is not available, there’s the possibility of creating the job you want yourself.”
What advice can you give to young women looking for a career in publishing?
There are many opportunities in publishing open to women nowadays; women just have to hone their skills to qualify for the job. That means working very hard. And for those opportunities not yet in existence, women can very well create these opportunities for themselves. If the job you want is not available, there’s the possibility of creating the job you want yourself. I wanted to be an agent in a country that didn’t have agents, so I became one. There are many more jobs in the industry not yet in existence in this nascent industry, such as foreign rights seller, subsidiary rights seller, and many others. Women who know what they want and work hard to get it – just keeping at it every single day because they love it – will get what they want eventually. It can be done, I have no doubt.
This interview was first published by BookBrunch.co.uk and is reproduced here with kind permission.