On July 25th, we celebrate National Writers Day in Brazil. The date pays tribute to the 1st Brazilian Writer Festival once promoted by authors João Peregrino Júnior and Jorge Amado back in the 1960s. When I was surfing the web to read on the subject, I came across a story from December 2013 on The New York Times saying that being a writer is “Brazil's Most Pathetic Profession."
The first mistake of those who dream of publishing a book, or have done so already, is thinking about writing as a profession. Making such a statement is the same as telling anyone who writes for the media without being paid, or just for personal gratification, that they are not writers. The definition of "profession" is a social activity in exchange of compensation. Therefore, the dream of becoming an author is directly linked to book sales and possible fame. We can't really judge young people and adults who write stories thinking about earning an income, because throughout the years this title in and of itself has led to such a concept.
The one thing we can take into consideration is that many non-Brazilian authors have gained fame and now live off book sales, which must have influenced the perspective of the person who penned the article for The New York Times. Maybe Brazilians are actually the ones to blame, and I'm pointing fingers at the Brazilian media, some publishers, and readers themselves.
We have witnessed an increase in the number of Brazilian readers lately, which should give Brazilian authors more visibility. However, that's unfortunately not the case. Since Brazil became a colonized country, we have experienced a great influence of the foreigner in our daily lives.
On July 6, I decided to do an informal survey in one of the literary Facebook communities I belong to. I asked people to go through the books they had read the last six months and count how many were from Brazil and how many were from foreign authors. The result gave me a fright, even though it doesn't surprise me:
Being a writer in Brazil ain't easy, but is it really that difficult? It all depends on the writer's intentions.
I once read that people who go to Journalism school nowadays must be crazy, especially after having a diploma is no longer mandatory in order to work as a journalist, since there are fewer and fewer opportunities in the market. The situation is quite the opposite: after the internet became popular, there are more, bigger possibilities―you just gotta learn how to put them to good use. The same is true for authors.
Of course having a physical copy of your book brings you much joy, and we have several good publishing houses in Brazil that facilitate the process without any added cost to authors. Some will do it after analyzing the material; others will work on a print-on-demand system. For those who have embraced digital reading, opportunities are exactly the same. One tip I can give to those who aim for visibility is participating in literary competitions and challenges. Of course it demands some patience, but it's something that can be seen in a very positive light if you think about improving your craft and becoming more mature.
But that's not nearly enough! We need to break away from this idea that good books are only those that receive media coverage and make it to the shelves at bookstores. And, what we happen if we, the writers, weighed in on how many Brazilian and foreign books we've read in recent months? What would the numbers be like? I'm not saying that we should ignore the big names and all foreign authors, but it's important to discover new names.
Should we do it just to watch as the image put out there by The New York Times comes crumbling down? No. We should do it to break away with the concept that we ourselves have created. After all, that article was penned by Vanessa Bárbara, a Brazilian author.
Happy July 25th to all writers in Brazil, especially to those who are proud to call themselves authors!
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published at Editora Caligo, which authorized this translation and posting.
THAIS LEMES PEREIRA was born in Guarulhos, São Paulo, but now lives in Cambuquira, Minas Gerais. She goes to Journalism school and gave up the dream of studying Architecture to dedicate herself to what she really loves doing: writing. She wrote a poetry book entitled Pensamentos de outrora ["Thoughts from Another Time"], published by Editora Multifoco in October 2013. She also participates in the literary challenges organized by Entre Contos and has contributed to Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS), a project that promotes Brazilian authors through short-story translations.