THE NO SECRET AGENT

THE NO SECRET AGENT

The concept of a literary agent is quite innovative for the Armenian reality. The same way, the Armenian contemporary literature is still at its dawn both in the local and international markets. Regional Post met with Arevik Ashkharoyan, the founder and literary agent at “Ari” Literary and Talent Agency who puts her everyday work at the promotion of the contemporary faces in Armenian literature.

Interview : Margarit Mirzoyan    Photo : “Ari” Literary and Talent Agency


Armenian audiences are still unfamiliar with the literary and talent agency concept. What does “Ari” do and how did you come to the idea of starting such an initiative?

“Ari” is a literary and talent agency and works with local contemporary authors and scriptwriters. Part of these people live abroad and don’t write in Armenian, but many of them live and create in Armenia and have gained a certain level of popularity here. We present our clients all around the world, offering foreign publishers to buy the rights of our writer’s works and translate and publish them in their own countries.
Risking sounding pompous, I personally came to this profession due to my great love for literature. I worked in different spheres, mainly at managing positions of local or international organizations but at some point, I understood that I wanted to do a job that I love and to work for myself. With one of my colleagues from the publishing sphere, we decided to integrate the agent concept, thus, we made our first steps about 10 years ago. At that time, we didn’t know what it meant to be a literary agent, but with time, we did some research and elevated our skills. This is not a job; one should have an extreme affection for literature and a desire to move forward because this is not a field where you can make a lot of money or achieve success on every step. The agent is a very subjective person who’s guided by his/her own opinion and sometimes considers the tendencies of the literary market. We try to both present intellectual and in-depth literature and also tackle the commercial part of the industry. The latter is a little bit harder to find in Armenia – for example, fantasy or detective stories – but still, we do our best to explore and promote new materials. For the future, my dream is selling movie rights to a filmmaking company abroad. 

 

What does it mean to be a literary agent in Armenia? 

The work of an agent is to be a mediator between the author and the publication. The problem is that publishers in Armenia are not used to having a mediator between them and the author and vice versa, the publishers are not used to working with the author directly without a mediator and we are stuck in between. But the hardest part is not working in Armenia but being an agent from Armenia as you are to represent yourself as an agent from a country they know very little about. They might know that we’re a post-soviet republic, as well as a couple of names such as Charles Aznavour or Serj Tankian, but unfortunately, they have no idea at all about the Armenian literature and the Armenian authors and that is a huge obstacle on our way. We start from zero, telling them about our history, and only after that, we present our contemporary artists. 
The publishing houses abroad don’t know how to position us in their audience, and this is one of the reasons why we are obliged to do our best and provide them with extremely entertaining and interesting materials. But what is considered interesting also differs from country to country and each publishing house has its own approaches. Some prefer quality content but with a limited audience, while some of them focus on the commercial value of the piece. 

 

What dynamics have you noticed during the past ten years? 

There are certainly positive dynamics that might not be visible in the circulation numbers of the books we’ve managed to publish abroad. I am usually asked about the numbers, meanwhile, there’s no such notion in the sphere, especially when it comes to writers that are not popular yet and have to be presented to the foreign audience for the first time. My main job takes place during books’ fairs abroad and fortunately, I managed to attend most of them and that’s also a positive dynamic as this way you enhance your visibility. During the past years, we became more recognizable and we established some ties with foreign publishers who are willing to systematically present our literature; for example, in Britain, France, and several other countries. 

Do you have a lot of inquiries from local authors?

There is a great number of authors approaching us, and we receive many letters and calls. This is a very good tendency, but the problem is that most of the time the authors send us raw materials which require a lot of editing, and sometimes a huge potential can be seen in these materials, but we’re not the ones to do the editing. I would love to refer these authors to specialized independent editors who would help them out. Authors mostly write about how they feel, whereas none is taught how to write as we don’t have this culture in Armenia. Even the large publishing houses don’t have many editors; just one or a maximum of two do. Each author should find his own editor and the editor should have his own signature style. 

 

I see many familiar faces on your bookshelves, contemporary authors that are quite popular within the country and people do read them here. What is the situation abroad?

We’ve sold Pachyan’s works in several languages: English, French, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian. I should say that the feedback was very positive both from different journals and blogs and just regular readers. They see a novelty in his works and in the overall style. For example, his “Goodbye, Bird” and “Robinson: Short stories” gained huge popularity in Ukraine. We indicate this based on the feedback received rather than on the number of books sold, and we consider this more important. Even today, 4-5 years after the publication, we can see a new article or a post on Pachyan’s works. We received dozens of positive feedbacks from France about Hovhannes Teqgyozyan’s “Fleeting City”. This means that these books are competitive, comprehensible and interesting. 

 

How did COVID affect the field and what is the future outlook of the agency?

Unfortunately, many book fairs got canceled. In March, we were planning a huge event during London’s book exhibition. We were going to travel there with Aram Pachyan and present our authors to the British-Dutch “Glagoslav” publication. They have published Susanna Harutyunyan’s “Ravens before Noah”, Karine Khodikyan’s stories, Aram Pachyan’s “Goodbye, Bird” and “Robinson: Short stories”. They also published Grig’s “Jesus’ Cat”. To me, this is a huge success. We’ve worked with “Glagoslav” for five years and we have already published a series of Armenian authors. From the recent initiatives, we initiated an international forum of women writers with a NewMag publishing house called “Zabel”. This was going to be a festival, but we will have to go with the online format. We are doing our best to stay active and promote the Armenian contemporary literature as much as possible but it’s essential, especially for small countries with a small language exposure, to have state support programs. The state provides translation grants to foreign agencies for publishing Armenian literature – which has almost got canceled this year due to the Coronavirus crisis, however, in order for literature to succeed the country should have two to three similar programs.

 

What do you think about the last situation regarding literature textbooks? Was it somehow beneficial for the Armenian authors?

In my opinion, the government has made the right decision. The new program is not perfect and there is a lot of work still to be accomplished, but the direction that the ministry has chosen is right and I really appreciate this approach. These changes aren’t going to make our work with foreign publishers easier but on the internal level this might be a tipping point. We have the “Ari” literary foundation which implements an initiative called “Let’s read”. During some of our camp activities, Aram Pachyan himself came and read some of his works for those children. Trust me, they can understand much more than we or the teachers think they can, and even in case they don’t – it still makes them think.
I used to be asked, “Does Armenia have contemporary literature?” “Who are those authors? Where are they?” After three authors appeared in the textbook, it turned out there are over 30 contemporary writers and many started to complain about why this or that author’s name was not on the list. This means that there is Armenian literature, there are contemporary authors and they have their readers.
 

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