The Brazilian literary market is currently experiencing a surge of great creativity. Production is hale and hearty, with publishers moving away from narratives about an exotic country with overflowing eroticism toward more universal stories. These new narratives are well constructed, full of cynical, loving, skeptical, and melancholy characters. Milton Hatoum depicts a cosmopolitan Amazonia, with no mention of forests, indigenous tribes, or monkeys; Daniel Galera, considered one of the most influential young Brazilian authors, captures the contemporary zeitgeist; and Reinaldo Moraes would put the readers of Fifty Shades of Grey into a state of shock with Pornopopeia, his epic pornographic work. While the wind blows in favor of the new generation and publishers strive to discover fresh talent, an increasing number of writers whose earlier works were rejected are currently being “discovered.” As a result, some are questioning the ability of editors to determine what is worth publishing and what isn’t.
Editors are like literary curators: they vouch for the literary quality of the books that they publish. Editors are not simply people who like reading and base their decisions on their own preferences. Readers do that. Editors wander through literary genres with a certain self-assurance; they’re capable of understanding the merit of a plot even when the characters and setting are far removed from their own experience. They have eclectic tastes, and they put their own preferences to one side while evaluating a manuscript. Good editors try to hone their judgment so that their prejudices about an author or a genre don’t prevent them from recognizing the quality of a submission. They know how to distinguish stories that grab their attention but have limited appeal from those whose literary qualities they can appreciate but that don’t speak to them personally.
Theoretically, anyone who can read and write could be a writer, and we are all, without exception, storytellers. It’s natural, then, that when a manuscript is rejected, the author asks why his or her book was deemed unworthy of publication when so many others are seen as fit for print.
But being a good writer requires far more than the ability to read and write. In school, we are taught to communicate—we are given a basic command of language. But becoming a sophisticated writer is a lifelong exercise. Many would-be writers do not read, or read very little, though they dream of publishing books. They have big aspirations, but lack entirely the skill and dedication to be a writer. In addition, the idea that every person’s story is good enough to become a book is erroneous. Everyone has a story that could give rise to a book, but in most cases, the book in question would be really awful.
All editors make mistakes. I have yet to make a decision that I bitterly regret, but this may well happen sooner or later. But even if errors of judgment are inevitable, editors can take certain precautions. We all have pet peeves; I dislike science fiction, so I avoid reading submissions in that genre. However, in the case of new authors, there is a basic rule: editors can’t apply the same criteria to a debut novel as they would to the work of an experienced author. If they did, they wouldn’t publish any new authors. They must see the author’s potential, pointing out imperfections but still insisting on the quality of the work. It’s perfectly reasonable to hold editors responsible for their mistakes—we may be overlooking a lot of good writers—but the fact that Companhia das Letras and many other Brazilian publishers are opening their doors to new authors is a sign that we are doing something right.