Tips from Lucia Riff, Brazil’s Top Literary Agent

In Frankfurt 2011 by Maria Fernanda Rodrigues

By Maria Fernanda Rodrigues

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Lucia Riff is the top literary agent in Brazil. Her Riff Agency was established in 1991 and today she represents many of best known Brazilian authors, both at home and abroad.

We spoke with Riff in advance of her presentation at today’s International Rights Directors Meeting.

PP: What has changed in the Brazilian publishing market in the last 20 years?

Riff: Everything! In the beginning of the 1990’s we were using faxes and typewriters. Inflation was really high and nobody trusted Brazil or believed in the future. Brazilian authors were no big deal, the government didn’t buy many books — the first government´s big purchase wasn’t until 1998 — and the libraries primarily focused on taking donations. The picture was discouraging.

Today, we live in a completely different world and the change is not only about computers and e-books, or about governmental book purchase programs, or even about the recovery of Brazilian economy. We have a fairly stable economy, although the recent economic crises that is shaking the world also worries us. We have more people ascending to the middle class and buying more, and a publishing industry consolidated by governmental purchase programs and by increased sales in other sectors.

In addition, the relationship between Brazilians and international publishers has changed radically over the past 20 years. Back when inflation was present in our everyday lives, publishing houses had difficulty in paying royalties to their international partners.

Today, sales are good enough to catch the attention of publishers and agents from abroad who are nowadays interested in having their best titles published by an important Brazilian publishing house. Besides good sales reports, what Brazilian publishers deliver today, generally speaking, is punctuality, great printed editions, and beautiful covers. Selling to Brazil is worthwhile.

What would be your tips for an agent who wants to sell book rights to Brazil?

Get to know and have respect for Brazil and the market. We are improving and growing and we have a lot to offer, but it is good to know that there is a long way until we became a modern, balanced and successful country. Brazil has a strong, competitive and creative publishing industry. In order to have good results you need to know who is who, what people do, and keep yourself updated. In this market things change very fast.

What kind of books from abroad work and don’t work well in Brazil?

Brazilian market is really open to different kinds of books, and what sells and doesn’t sell oscillates. I’d say that, in general, Brazilians like different subjects and they have an open mind about what is new, different but also might just be a fad.

Some time ago, if I was given a fantasy book series as Game of Thrones I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Now, these books are bestsellers. Diets have already been best sellers too. But, nowadays, at least in Brazil, this sort of book is not a big deal anymore.

Unlike USA where people prefer to read books “made in USA,” Brazilians are positive about translations.

What are Brazilian publishers looking to discover the international market?

Publishers are always trying to find the next bestseller before it becomes a bestseller. Ever since Harry Potter juvenile books are very popular. But non-fiction sells well, as do biographies, business, thrillers and many other categories.

Brazil is eager to promote its authors overseas. What are the obstacles to exporting Brazilian literature?

The biggest of all difficulties is that Portuguese is a little known and studied language. Next is the high cost of translation. Often small, literary publishers are most interested in translation. Now that we have the “Program for Supporting The Translation and Publishing of Brazilian Authors Abroad,” so the situation should be much better from now on. Third, you can only sell if you work really hard. If we don’t offer our best work, prepare good materials, and have the right contacts…nothing is going to happen.

Who are the most popular Brazilian authors abroad?

Paulo Coelho, João Ubaldo, Rubem Fonseca, Clarice Lispector, Chico Buarque, Luis Fernando Verissimo, Jorge Amado, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Milton Hatoum, Moacyr Scliar, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Cristóvão Tezza, Lya Luft, Leticia Wierzchowski, are just a few examples. There are a many more, of course!

Who are the Brazilian authors that have not been, but should be published abroad?

There are many good authors who deserve to be published abroad. Livia Garcia Roza, Beatriz Bracher, Flávia Lins e Silva, Socorro Acioli, Alcione Araujo are only a few of them… It is just a matter of time for us to get there.

What countries are most open to Brazilian literature?

Portugal, though not as much since the economic crisis, Germany, Italy, France, Argentina, México, Colombia…

What can you say about the Brazilian digital books market?

The digital books market is improving rapidly and stimulating the market as a whole, but at the same time it is bringing many difficulties and forcing publishers to adjust.

When a publisher buys the rights of a book is it possible to publish the digital version too?

Not necessarily. It depends on the offer, the publishing house, the book. But I would say that the most common nowadays is the to offer including digital rights, which includes the obligation to launch the book in both physical and digital formats. The big problem is related to the books in the backlist, out-of-print or in an old translation, where the rights are not clear. Dealing with the new is easier than dealing with the old.

When do you expect digital books to take off in Brazil?

It depends on when e-readers become popular, that and once the market for textbooks turns digital, then we will see the change.

About the Author

Maria Fernanda Rodrigues