We want to debate. We propose a question and three authors discuss it. Please, feel free to add your views in the comments box.
We invited Jeferson Tenório, Natália Borges Polesso e Tiago Germano to reflect upon a topic that involves agency representation and more.
Recently, whilst attending a seminar in London on creative writing, publisher and talent agent Jody Medland, from Pen Works Media, gave writers interesting tips on how to approach an agent or a publishing house. He couldn't stress more the importance of a good cover letter and a synopsis. One of the points I was uncomfortable with and required further comments was the fact that Medland suggests we authors should always mention which celebrated and recognizable writers our work is comparable to. So, for example, if your style would resemble, somehow, the work by Mohsin Hamid, it would be perfectly acceptable to state that in your cover letter.
So, the question is, if this is the way forward, - and Medland was very clear that it is, how to place your work and help agents save time trying to establish or figure out your writing style without sounding presumptuous, and whose work would you compare yours to?
Natália Borges Polesso
"If I were to say my work can be compared to somebody else’s I would have to recreate a lesbian-queer-gay-feminist canon, which would not be chronological, but maybe, related to a geographic affection. I mean, these affiliations, if I should even use this word, ought to be based on the literature I read and felt represented by, thematically and aesthetically. Wow. That will be fun and will definitely sound a bit vain. Anyway, I cannot escape the complex feeling of displacement and misunderstanding of being compared to anyone that I find is great enough to make a comparison worthwhile. So I would go round and round in senseless circles of repetition and embarrassment and that would perhaps allow me to say I might have something of a Gertrude Stein’s mechanics with a pinch of Virginia Wolf’s stream of consciousness, because if you really have to state a comparison you have to go big and that would allow me to say I might have the wild impetus of an Oscar Wild. Then I would miss contemporary stuff and I would have to say Alison Bechdel’s auto fiction issues of being a lesbian in this world of ours is no easy task it is actually a matter of mastering the art of losing, especially in Brazil. And the art of losing, my dear friends, is one art.
But these are speculations. If I really were to write anything on the subject I would probably play Bartleby here and say I would prefer not to."
Name: Natalia Borges Polesso
Books you have written and published: Recortes para álbum de fotografia sem gente (2013); Coração a corda (2015) e Amora (2015)
Books you have written and not published: Controle; Interior Selvagem; Pé atrás; Romance sem título
Big publishing houses or small publishing houses: both
What time of the day do you write: I prefer to write early in the morning, but I write whenever I can (meaning: in between work hours)
Do you work or you just write: (please note the sarcasm.) LOL I read too.
Messy desk, clean desk: generally clean but I can do organized mess (meaning: I have to know where things are, even if they are under a pile of books, sheets, papers, stationary, etc)
Someone famous you wish could read your books: Chimamanda; Donna Tart, Alison Bechdel
Two writers everyone should read: Conceição Evaristo and Angélica Freitas
A writer's best friend is: her mind
"It is an interesting question. Even though in Brazil, especially if you live outside the Rio / São Paulo hub, agents aren't very common.
As a black novelist, the question is even more problematic. All that involves literature, copyrights, contracts of translation is still done in a fairly amateurish manner. The book fairs in Brazil, the majority of them, aren't clear business spots between publishing houses, agents and writers.
When there are negotiations, they can happen in a obscure and unclear fashion. The roles of agents and writers aren't always perceived as professions or careers. These events work more as a display for writers and their work and it is hardly and rarely materialised into copyrights and translation agreements that are significant.
I don't intend to perpetuated the idea that business abroad works better, and I understand that in book fairs such as Frankfurt's the role of the agent is a relevant and necessary one. In this case I don't see a problem about being compared to another writer. In fact, this is frequently the case in debut novels or with new writers. The comparison is inevitable. No matter how original your writing can be, reviewers and critics will often attribute your style to a more established and celebrated author. I don't see it as presumptuous, because I could argue that, for example, both Shakespeare and myself make use of the same aesthetic code which is literature. We choose words. This in itself already makes us equals. Note that I don't believe this has anything to do with arrogance or even delusion It simply means that .both newcomers and established writers work in the same territory. Therefore, to me seems natural that comparisons arise and that they help speeding up a business process."
Name: Jeferson Tenório
Books you have written and published: O beijo na parede (2013), Estela sem Deus (2018)
Books you have written and not published: All that are still in my head.
Big publishing houses or small publishing houses: Editora Sulina, Editora Zouk
What time of the day your write: Night.
Do you work or you just write: (please note the sarcasm.): I survive and I write.
Messy desk, clean desk: Bagunçada. Chaos is a fertile place for creation.
Someone famous you wish coyuld read your books: Woly Soynka, Spike Lee .
Two writers everyone should read: Conceição Evaristo e a Natalia Borges Polesso
A writer's best friend is: Memory.
"Actually, things don’t work like that here in Brazil. The relation between writers and agents, agents and editors, is far from what is pictured in England by Medland. The huge majority of agents here have given up on finding new talents, concentrating their work on writers who already are publishing and whose books are shortlisted for literary awards. On the other hand, the big publishing houses often do not accept new works which are not recommended by agents, what creates an spiral of hypocrisy (the base not only of our literary system, but of all of our society). If you write short stories, for exemple, you don’t have a significant publication to submit it to. Often, the solution is the writing contests, the self-publishing route and the small publishing houses (which are not capable to do the miracles on their own). So, how to talk about cover letters and synopsis to help a job that is pretty inexistent? I don’t know. To me, what is important is keep writing and finding ways to reach readers. I hope that my work establishes a dialogue with all of the authors I read, and trust me: I read a lot. My first book was an result of all my life dedicated to reading and worshiping some of my icons, such as Gabriel García Márquez, Fernando Sabino, Rubem Braga, Clarice Lispector. I want to believe that I have learned a little from them, and that a little of them and this learning process I can express with my writing. That’s my only presumption."
Name: Tiago Germano
Books you have written and published: My first book is called Demônios Domésticos (2017). You may also find my work in some anthologies of short stories.
Books you have written and not published: My first three novels - A Mulher Faminta; O que Pesa no Norte and Banzai!
Big publishing houses or small publishing houses: Small. The big ones... Well, they don’t give a damn to what I write.
What time of the day your write: Mostly mornings.
Do you work or you just write: (please note the sarcasm.) I’m an unemployed journalist trying to finish a PhD in creative writing. My research is supported by a scholarship from the Brazilian Government’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development.
Messy desk, clean desk: Messy. I’m not proud of it.
Someone famous you wish could read your books: Lucia Berlin – unfortunately, she’s already dead.
Two writers everyone should read: Lucia Berlin and my wife, Débora Ferraz, who’s also a writer and would be very jealous of Mrs. Berlin if I forgot to mention her as well.
A writer's best friend is: a book written by another writer.