Brazilian publisher Marcelo Nocelli talks about the challenges and pleasures of running an indie publishing house.
Nara Vidal talks to Marcelo Nocelli.
Capitolina: Tell us about how Reformatório started.
Marcelo Nocelli: Reformatório started in 2013. In 2009 I had quit my job as a printing technician in a multinational where I worked for 15 years in the attempt of having more time and avoiding the frequent traveling as well as dedicating more time to Literature. I was 35 and had already published two of my books and was waiting to hear from a publisher about publishing my third title.
I then, started studying Literature at University and that is where I met my business partner Rennan Martens. At that time, he had just finished secondary school and showed and impressive knowledge on books and literary works. We became friends. One day I heard from the publishing company they were not going to publish my title. Rennan and I sat at a bar table and he mentioned we should publish the book ourselves combining my technical knowledge and our love for literature. It didn’t seem serious at the time and we planned to publish my book and one other by a poet friend of ours. We were going to stop with these two titles, but subsequently, we started receiving manuscripts, interest from readers, enquiries from shops to buy our titles. That was when we took it seriously and made a business of it.
C: What is a typical day like at Reformatório?
MN: A typical day in the office is mostly like any other business. We deal with bureaucracy, tax, contracts, logistics. The best part is selecting manuscripts, editing texts, looking after the printing production. But it is mostly a business like any other.
C: What are the main difficulties of running the business?
MN: Trying to balance finances. Making a book is an expensive job, even with all the advantages we have today such as printing on demand, digital printing, for example. But launching a book is always a risk and a bet. You never know what course it will take. Sometimes we are conservative about the expectations of a title and it ends up selling well and having a long life. Some others only sell at launch parties and never again. Storage for stocking the books is also a complicated matter because it requires a lot of space. It took us sometime to figure out the business model that works for us, but we are now a little savvier.
Titles from Reformatório
C: Why keeping a publishing house in times when critical thinking and debate are constantly challenged and even rejected?
MN: That is precisely one of the main reasons why we keep going. There is more than rejection to reading and debating. Today there are strong policies in place to try and marginalised the Arts, the Education and critical thinking. There are cuts in laws that incentivise cinema, for example. Music and literature are the quickest shot to fire against all this. Books have always been associated with critical thinking, precisely a door to open debates.
C: Based on your publishing experience, do Brazilians read or not?
MN: This is a hard question. Based on what we produce, which is contemporary Brazilian literature, the answer is no. But I follow the movement of young readers who go through lengthy titles of Fantasy or Adventure, for example. Some people only read the classics or translated fiction that are heavily promoted as best sellers. Some readers are only interested in self help or business titles. Not to mention the Bible, the most read book in Brazil. So, there is certainly an interesting readership potential. But forming new readers in a time of digital and social media and TV series that have, a lot of the times, a language that does not challenge the reader, viewer, consumer is a complicated matter. It is a shame that schools cannot always be consistent on their plans to form critical thinking readers, therefore the responsibility falls on us all involved with literature: writers, publishers, teachers. I take part in a lot of book fairs and it is important to take time to speak to readers or potential readers and introduce them to authors they might have never heard of but could sparkle their interest.
Titles from Reformatório
C: How can you assure quality in what you publish?
MN: It is complex to assure quality in everything because what is good for one reader might not be for the other. But we try, as much as possible, to select works we like. This is a difference from bigger publishing houses, as we do not carry out market research to predict sales potential, so the selection in our publishing house is very much according to our taste and somehow this contributes to establish the identity of our business. We have come across manuscripts that we rejected and turned out to sell well in another publisher. This also reflects how selective we must be. Sometimes we have to pick one manuscript amongst three or four excellent ones. At Reformatório we have na editorial board, particularly for more experimental and different works. The first reading is always done by me and Rennan. But we find it important to make sure we hear the editorial board, particularly if we want to offer works that are fresh and original. It wouldn’t make sense to keep repeating the same style and play safe with every book.
C: Do you think, in general, the relationship between publisher and author is a good one?
MN: Most of the time, yes, I believe the relationship between publishers and writers is a good one. Friendship and partnership are not unusual. In terms of book design and production, there is certainly a lot of professionalism. Commercially speaking, however, there are still problems, mainly because of the low numbers in the sales.
Apart from the good quality of the text, we also try to identify in the author how interested he or she is in cooperating, working together to help promoting their book, their expectation regarding the industry and our publishing house. It is interesting the point out that today in Brazil a lot of people can live out of literature, but not necessary of book sales. Less than 1% of Brazilian authors live of copy rights. A lot of the times, small prints end up doing an agent like work. We recommend authors to take part in book fairs, literary talks and workshops.
To illustrate this, some quick Maths: at our press we publish around 300 copies of a title. In average one book costs 35 Brazilian Reais. If you sell out, the author receives 10% of this which will be 3,50 Brazilian Reais per book, with a total of 1,050 Reais. Trouble is that sometimes 300 copies can take three or fours years to sell out. We have titles in our catalogue that have not sold 50 copies.
There is much detailed information, but some titles have sold over 4 thousand copies. Sales can be a little unpredicatble.
Sometimes we can also offer a partnership, when the author contributes to the publishing of the book. But no matter what we always work endlessly to promote our books, all of them.
There are a lot of points we must improve such as making sure our authors have a track record of all the sales and press copies, and we are very aware of them. We aim to improve always.
C: How important is to have a title translated into another language and are awards important?
MN: Having a title translated is an achievement for the author, for their career. Usually we disappear in the process of a translated edition because there is often another publishing house looking after the translated title. Financially there is no return, but it is a step up for the author and his or her work relationships and exposure.
Awards do help quite a bit. Sometimes the book doesn´t even have to win the main prize, but for being longlisted or shortlisted makes the interest in that particular title grow which results in better sales.