Publishing Consultant Emma House Interviews Members Of The PublisHer Community.

As the founder-owner of Sonia Draga Publishing Group, which she established in 2000, Sonia Draga is a true publishing entrepreneur. Her company quickly became one of Poland’s biggest publishing houses, specializing in contemporary fiction, biographies, reportage and popular science, publishing around 200 new titles per year. The group owns four bookstores, three of which have cafes hosting literary events, and four imprints: Debit, for children’s books; YA fiction brand Mlody Books; non-fiction imprint Post Factum; and NonStop Comics, producing graphic novels.

As well as running the Publishing Group, Sonia is an author, translator and TV host. As President of the Literary Fiction Section of the Polish Book Chamber, she also works tirelessly on behalf of the industry and promoting reading for pleasure. She is also a member of the board at the Book Fair Ltd, the company behind major book fairs in Warsaw, Gdynia, Szczecin and Katowice.

How did you get into publishing and what attracted to you the industry?

I was born and brought up in Silesia and graduated from the University of Economy in Katowice. My path to the publishing sector was rather unusual, before starting in the publishing industry I was distributing car audio equipment and the first book I published (and actually translated and did the DTP myself) was Car Stereo Cookbook, a handbook that I considered essential to boost the sales of the car audio equipment I was distributing. It was very exhausting as I had to work on the translation during the night (literally!) whilst my days were spent managing the publishing house. I was also looking after my son who was seven at the time. When I saw the result – a physical book – I was so happy that I recalled my everlasting love for books and decided to try with a fiction book. The industry was very difficult as a field for business opportunities, but I was passionate about the books and persistent. It took two years before I finally saw positive results.

Your publishing house has grown significantly over the last 20 years. What plans do you have for the future?

I have invested a lot in recent years – in the new imprints and in the bookstores – so I am fully focused on these projects, to nurture them so they become profitable. As soon as possible, we plan to organize lots events in our bookstores with a range interesting people.

I have also been asked to do lectures on publishing at the local university, so I may put some focus on academic activities. But to be honest, it is so difficult now to talk about future plans. For the moment, my concerns are more about the immediate future. I hope we will have an opportunity to talk again after the pandemic is over and the world goes back to normal – then my mind should think more properly about the future.

What are the proudest moments of your career?

I have two that really stand out. In 2012 Sonia Draga Publishing was chosen as the Best Publisher of the year 2012. And in 2015 I was awarded the National Order of Merit by the President of France for distinguished achievements in promotion of French literature.

What challenges have you encountered in your career so far?

I think I face challenges almost every year in running my business – when I had to change my distribution partners, move the warehouses – but one was definitely 17 years ago when I was preparing the Polish edition of the book written by the author who not that well known until March 30th 2003, when his latest book at that moment The Da Vinci Code, became a world phenomenon.

The next challenge was publishing the books by EL James, the Fifty Shades of Grey series. We sold over five million copies of different editions of the books written by just these two authors, so it was a huge operational challenge.

As well as running your publishing group, you have a career as an author, translator, TV host, photographer and interpreter. Can you tell us more?

I am especially keen on foreign languages and, apart from Polish speak English, French, Italian, Spanish and Swedish. I have translated several books from English including: Car Stereo Cookbook, by Mark Rumreich; Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner; The Polar Express, by Chris van Allsburg; Mozart Finds Melody, by Stephen Constanza; and my most recent one is How Contagion Works, by Paolo Giordano.

I love travelling and photography as well and have authored several travel books illustrated with my own photographs: Mexico – a country of contrasts; South Africa – a country of surprises; and an album with own photographs, World in My Camera. I am also a regular contributor of articles to a Polish literary magazine. In the past I have been a host for the TV programme about books, Silesia Reads.

Which books are you most proud of publishing?

There are so many books I am proud of! I need to start with Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown. That was the first book of his that we published. I bought that book together with The Da Vinci Code six months before the premiere of the second one, based on my own intuition. As such, I was named one of the ‘early believers’, which obviously makes me proud. Then I must mention Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, one of the best literary books we’ve published and that we need to keep reprinting.

The My Brilliant Friend tetralogy by Elena Ferrante, a real jewel in the publishing world. The books by Jussi Adler-Olse which took me two years to negotiate with the agent and the previous Polish publisher, who is of academic profile and thus was not very successful with Jussi’s thrillers. I fell in love with them and decided not to give up in those complicated negotiations.

There are more stories like that – also with some of our children books, and graphic novels, and non-fiction titles, but I am trying to be concise.

Who do you admire most in the publishing industry?

Bodour Al Qasimi is one such person – she is at the head of not only a publishing group, but many international initiatives, coming from the country where men have better opportunities to reign.

What is the situation for women in publishing in Poland?

The situation for women in publishing is improving, however very slowly. At least it is no longer surprising to see a woman at the head of a bigger company, but men still dominate the top positions. But I must admit that 20 years ago when I started in this industry, I had to fight hard to prove my competence – it was like that for the next 12-15 years. Only in the last few years have we seen men pay respect to the women at the positions in our industry. The biggest bookstore chain has been run successfully by a lady since 2015, so that has been proof that women like her can manage this kind of venture. Actually, she is another person in the industry I admire.

What are your views on the global PublisHer network and how do you think it can help and support women in publishing?

I think this is a great initiative and I do hope it could be of help to women in publishing around the world. I don’t know yet what could work – but any conferences, any possibilities to exchange ideas will be always helpful. The world is still run by men, so we, women, have to connect and support each other.


This article first appeared on Book Brunch: