São Paulo’s Professional Days: Language Challenges

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Ahead of the São Paulo International Book Fair, publishers explore key market hurdles for the Portuguese-language world.

Vasco Daniel Alves David Pereira of Assirio & Alvim holds one of the first rights meetings on the 67-table São Paulo trading floor, as the program’s ‘Professional Days’ get underway at Expo Center Norte. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Tavares: ‘Make the Most of Our Fair’
Affable and relaxed, the personable Vitor Tavares moved around the stage today (June 29) like a seasoned TED talker, encouraging the 26th biennial São Paulo International Book Fair professional program delegates to “Make the most of our fair.”

Tavares is chief of the Brazilian Book Chamber (Câmara Brasileira do Livro), and he proudly told the international gathering of publishing pros, “You have more than 3.5 million books at your disposal,” he said, many of them from Brazil’s own output of more than 30,000 titles per year.

“More than 166 booths representing more than 500 publishers” will be on the exhibition floor at the city’s Expo Center Norte.

This public-facing book fair officially opens Saturday (July 2) to run through July 10. And by the time today’s morning events wrapped up in this third edition of the “Professional Journey” program that precedes the fair, 67 tables were waiting for face-to-face meetings that are scheduled for today and Thursday.

The Brazilian Book Chamber’s Vitor Tavares opens the São Paulo International Book Fair’s professional program, welcoming delegates to the program and the upcoming fair. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

As we wrote in an earlier article, the program—also referred to as “Professional Days”—has brought to São Paulo some 20 international book-business players from Turkey, Egypt, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Rwanda, Spain, Mozambique, Portugal, Panama, and the United States for these industry-targeted events in association with the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, (ApexBrasil).

The biennial book fair itself, at Expo Center Norte, this year features Portugal as a special guest of honor, as Brazil celebrates 200 years of independence.

A fully physical format this year is in place for the fair, the organizers of which say could draw as many as 500,000 attendees during its nine-day run, with some 1,300 hours of cultural programming in preparation, more than 500 special attractions, 185 exhibitors, some 300 national and international authors, and eight spaces for cultural programming events on its broad exhibition floor.

Like the fair, the professional program is being presented in a fully physical iteration, and is bringing 20 overseas publishing players to Brazil for matchmaking sessions and discussion about publishing and contemporary market conditions.

Challenges Facing Portuguese-Language Publishers

The first day’s panel at the São Paulo International Book Fair’s professional program featured, from left, moderator and literary agent Juliana Farias (Brazil); Grace Dimas of Livros Horizonte (Portugal); Sandra Tamele of Trinta Zero Nove (Mozambique); and Gil Sales of Editora do Brasil. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

After Fernanda Dantas, the manager and international relations lead for the Brazilian Publishers opened the program with Tavares, an illuminating panel discussion came to the stage to discuss what’s best called the Lusophone international market, a way to avoid referring only to Portugal when talking about the Portuguese language.

Led by the Brazil-based literary agent Juliana Farias—who also has 16 years’ experience as a publisher—a panel discussion featured three seasoned observers of a major part of world literature distinguished by its language. In Publishing Perspectives‘ conversation with Farias after the event, she agreed that there are parallels here to the challenges facing Arabic-language publishing.

  • A veteran of the Sharjah International Book Fair‘s Publishers Conference, Farias pointed to the scarcity of literary agents in both the Arab world and the Lusophone markets of Portugal, Brazil, and parts of Africa.
  • Limits to significant services in some Portuguese-language markets also echo some of the difficulties faced by parts of the Arab world (distribution, retail coverage, and more).
  • As with the many cultures that are part of the Arabic readership, there can be real gaps in how much various parts of the Lusophone world know about each other’s literature.

When she turned to her panelists, she asked them for top-of-mind issues in their respective sectors of the international Lusophone marketplace.

Sandra Tamele: ‘Mozambique Has Five Bookstores’

Mozambique’s Sandra Tamele told the professional program audience, ‘We thought there was a community of Portuguese-speaking countries. But in real life, we don’t see that.” Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

If you’d ever like to arrest the attention of a roomful of colleagues some of whom are jet-lagged and a bit short on sleep, try telling them what Sandra Tamele of Trinta Zero Nove told the Professional Days delegates Wednesday morning.

“Mozambique has 30 million inhabitants,” she said. “We speak Portuguese but we are surrounded by English-speaking countries. And also Madagascar, which is a French-speaking country.”

Despite the fact that Portuguese is an official language in Mozambique, she said, “Only 11 percent of the population actually speak fluently in Portuguese.” What’s more, the country’s output is comparatively low. While Brazil is producing the 3o,000 titles annually that Tavares had mentioned, “If we got to the hundreds of new books in a year, that would be quite an achievement,” Tamele said.

“We have three large publishers that basically really sell, but with a notable scarcity of content by women.” Tamele said that she, in fact, represents 1 percent of Mozambique’s people who are black women who are educated and have a college degree.”

Tamele—who has twice been part of Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Invitation Program that creates fellowship grants for publishers in emerging markets—said her company is engaged in working with a number of women” not least in order to try to prove that women can write quality literature and work as translators, she said, in a culture that hasn’t given them the benefit of the doubt.

“In Mozambique,” she said, “we have five bookstores. I’m not kidding. They’re located in the capital city and then the north and midwestern regions. Then we have stores that sell books,” but not as their prime inventory. One of the reasons she has come to São Paulo, she said, is to try to expand the variety of her market’s literature.

“That’s why I’m here. If you have books, we’re going to present our catalogue to you, because we still have a lot of vacancies” and she’s looking for content to publish.

And when it comes to that point of the Lusophone world not necessarily knowing its own canon, she said, “We thought that there was this community of Portuguese-speaking countries. But in real life, we don’t see that. We don’t know what Portugal and Brazil are publishing, and I believe you don’t know a lot in Brazil about books and Mozambique’s publishing, either.”

Gil Sales: ‘There Is Very Little Structure’

Gil Sales of Brazil’s Editora do Brasil: ‘We deal with huge markets which are very well organized.’ Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Farias, in moderating, had asked her panelists to be honest and direct about their challenges.

And among the most interesting observations, Gil Sales of Editora do Brasil noted that he has worked for some seven years with Brazilian Publishers—the international marketplace outreach program headed up by Dantas—in an effort to help bring about a more supportive framework for Brazilian publishers working to access the international rights-trading world with their content.

“The Portuguese-speaking market needs to be specialized to be able to launch this product in another country,” he said, not least because the competition in parts of the international marketplace is so advanced.

“We deal with huge markets which are very well organized,” Sales said. “This is a compliment not a criticism. Germany, for instance, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and even South Korea and Japan. They carry out very good work in international affairs.

“This professionalization process is necessary,” he said, “if we’re to be at the same high level and to publish as much as they do.

“This is a barrier to overcome,” Sales said. “We need to think about strategies to be able to make our products arrive there. I’m a firm believer in the identity of each country” as a selling point—the exercise of each nation’s character as part of literature’s overall diversity.

He had begun touching on a point that Farias would flesh out, as well: the need for people in the publishing value chain to think at market-level—to look past their own positions in the creation and production of content and realize that they’re contributing to what makes their national culture—or linguistic culture, in the case of Lusophone literature—something distinctive and coherent, and yet as naturally varied and diverse as it is.

The literary agent—as in the Middle East, a figure largely missing in Portuguese-language work—is a key here, with Farias one of the few working examples. “And to understand the role of the translator,” he said, “that’s also lacking” in the Lusophone network.

Grace Dimas: ‘It’s Important to Have an Adaptation’

Grace Dimas of Portugal. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Grace Dimas of Portugal’s Livros Horizonte was responsive to Gil Sales in his concerns about translation and adaptation, particularly in children’s books that cross borders. For the most part, she’s supportive of adaptation so that, as Sales had put it, there’s not so much distance between a child reading and the content.

“Children are still learning how to read. So in terms of syntax, it’s different,” even within the same linguistic domain, like Portuguese-language work.”

However, the question of which book needs the more extensive adaptive approach, she cautioned, “has to be taken case-by-case. Let’s say it’s a Brazilian book. And it’s a novel. It’s quite different when you adapt it. So you could lose the author’s essence when you make an adaptation.

“But it depends on the book, of course. So it’s also important, like you mentioned before, to help the readers and to make this cultural diversity happen” in a way that’s coherent, but that protects the integrity of the original.”

And Tamele made the point that a multinational publisher buying up world Portuguese rights may create challenge, as well—and needs to be willing to sub-license to another publisher in-country for a territory such as Mozambique. Otherwise, a single “world” publication in language can’t be expected to work for all localities.

“We should establish a legal foundation when purchasing copyrights thqt you can negotiate in those copyrights or translations—depending on the Portuguese you speak.

Trading tables await the first session of meetings after the morning’s discussions. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson 

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Brazilian and Lusophone market is here, more on the world publishing industry’s rights trade is here, more on trade shows and book fairs in the international book publishing industry is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s global media partner.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.