In the early 2000’s, mainly because the begining of Harry Potter movie saga (2001) and Lord of the Rings triology movies (2001), there was a boom of fantasy in the publishing market. The high demand for fantasy books gave the opportunity for several young writers to publish their books. Crónicas de Allaryia (Chronicles of Allaryia) by Filipe Faria were, perhaps, the most recognized books of this wave: a medieval fantasy heavily inspired in the dragonlance world that over the saga became more mature and original.
A generation of young readers/writers grew believing that there was a space for national authors in the portuguese publishing market. Zines flourished and some professional thematic antologies were organized.
Almost 20 have passed and the SF&F rush cooled down. The first wave of young writers was not followed by a second one. Some quit writing inside the genera, others quit writing at all. With a population of 10 million (and major difficulties in entering the Brasilian market) with poor fiction reading habits is hard to make a living writing, even more for a niche.
The major publishing houses like Leya, Presença or Porto Editora prefer to bet on safe authors (international best sellers). In the other hand, SF&F dedicated publishing houses, like Saída de Emergência, never debuted a portuguese author with a novel.
Around half a decade ago two small publishers were founded, each with their own distinct DNA: Divergência and Imaginauta, both manifested their mission as promoting SF&F in Portugal, specially by publishing portuguese authors.
But things were not straighfoward, as Pedro Cipriano (Divergência founder) can tell us:
It wasn’t easy! Six years ago, when we founded Editorial Divergência, there weren’t as many refenrences in the mainstream media about speculative fiction as there are nowadays. Today, more than half of the top series in Netflix are SF. So, when we started, it wasn’t easy to reach people because they didn’t knew what we were talking about (the term itself is still an issue). Also, there were authors writing SF but we couldn’t find them either.
Several months waiting for a good manuscript went by without any success. We ended up giving up and instead atempttend to make an anthology. We assumed that the authors didn’t have good novels or they weren’t keen to send them to us. Moreover, the short form requires lest investiment for both sides. So, we choose dystopia as theme and finnaly we got submissions whort publishing.
We did a couple of anthologies, meet several authors, most of them beginners, but we weren’t able find a novel to publish. Then, my wife had a brilliant idea: why not make a contest in which the winning novel gets published and the author gets a small prize in cash? We were quite happy about the first part, but not about the second. Two years after we started, we were still in the red and I was not very keen to give spend more money than absolutely needed. In the need we make a compromise, by making the prize money small. This year we are on the its fifth edition, after having renamed the prize after one of the best SF wirters in Portugal: António de Macedo. Along the journey, we meet even more authors. In each year the submission count increaded, for instance last year we had more submissions than in all precedent years summed. We also got better connection with our readers. After the first year, we finnaly got a steady stream of manuscripts with better quality.
That’s how we started publising Portuguese SF.
Imaginauta treaded a different path, as Carlos Silva (the founder) say:
In the begining, we had the same difficulties of Divergência. Frustrated with the lack of opportunities to publish, there were fewer and fewer people writing. Some of them started writting and publishing in english or quit completely, focusing on their money-generating careers.
Our first book was Comandante Serralves – Despojos de Guerra (Commander Serralves – Spoils of War), an anthology in which each author would write a story in a shared world, telling one of the adventures of the main character, Commander Serralves. We wanted to give the reader with a consistent universe while promoting new voices, half-way between a novel and a bunch of short stories. Other initiative was Colecção Barbante (The Twine Collection), a collection inspired on a XVII century literature format , allowed the publication of very short stories in a very inexepensive format. One of this stories was event translated to english and distributed in 2018 Eurocon in Amiens. Later, it was translated to Romanian also.
With these projects, we wanted to create a lab (or a playground, depend who is describing it) for authors to experiment and show their value. At the same time, our objective was to present good authors to the public and educate them to give value to portuguese authors.
The first novel we published was Crazy Equóides, a bold book from João Barreiros. It was our first work to be available in the main bookshops in the country and the reception was rather good. The hope renovated. There is still market for portuguese authors and we are here to give them an opportunity.
In fact, because of the strategy of the big publishing houses of mainly publishing translated works, and the crescent familiarity of younger generations with the english language, na undesired side effect is arising. When the first book of a saga (e.g. Game of Thrones) is first translated and published, some readers don’t want to wait for the translation of the second book and start buying the original version. English books, even taking into account the importation cost, are way cheaper than the same tittle in portuguese. An there is another nail for the coffin: sometimes publishers interrupt the translation of book series due to lower sales, pushing even further the readers to the original language. Slowly, without wanting it, the big publishers are educating the readers to consume SF&F literature in english.
Soon enough, the big publishers will have to face that part of the future of their business will be translation works of other countries than USA or UK and taking the risk of debuting portuguese authors both to the portuguese and international market.