Anne Trager has over a quarter of a century of experience working with the French in translation and publishing. She founded Le French Book, a mystery and thriller publishing house dedicated to translating French mysteries and thrillers into English. She is frequently asked about going the other way around, from English to French. Here she shares insights, in Part One.
France—the name itself evokes the good life, with food, wine, lovely countryside, and a huge network of independent booksellers and readers who love authors. Better yet, France is a country where one out of four books sold is a mystery or thriller, one out of five books published is a mystery or thriller, and a quarter of the bestsellers are mysteries or thrillers.
The country is very good to writers. When French readers love your books, they express it, they buy them, they stand in long lines at myriad festivals to have them signed. There are no fewer than 60 festivals in any given year dedicated to just the mystery/thriller genre.
The French market
The book market in France has a lot going for it: enthusiastic booksellers, avid readers, dynamic publishers, and a large number of trained translators. Furthermore, paper books sales are on the rise, even if even still have not taken off. Below are some figures about the book market in France. Make sure you go all the way down to the last three items in the list.
- 69% of French people over the age of 15 read at least one book in 2014
- 51% bought at least on new print book
- 24% bought 1 to 4 books
- 12% bought more than 12 books
- 22% of books bought were bought in bookstores
- 75% of mystery readers in France are women
- 4% of books marketed in 2014 were translations (cf. 3% in US)
- 5% of all translations are from English to French (7,060 titles)
Now that we’ve established it is a good market to be looking at, what exactly do the French like to read?
What do the French like in the genre?
I posed this question to some reporters, publishers, writers, and Claude Mesplède, France’s expert in all things mystery related and a big player in getting mysteries and thrillers recognized by a wider community of readers. Here’s what I culled from these conversations:
- Stories set in France do not interest French publishers. They are more interested in the singularity of your culture and country, or as one person I spoke to said it: “Books about violence in countries other than France.”
- “Scare me” tactics work well, that is, scaring readers for three quarters of the book and then having a happy end in the last quarter.
- It’s cliché that the French love noir. They do, but noir doesn’t necessarily sell.
- Stories of politics and social injustice wrapped up in mystery are popular.
- There is no market for cozies, except in YA.
- The French love series.
- Write well and hone your craft. This is the only way to get attention in France.
- “Literature” is a word in everyone’s mouth in France. Everyone wants to be writing “literature” and reading “literature” and publishing “literary” novels. This “literary” obsession is more of an aspiration than a commercial reality—traditionally, genre fiction was not considered to be worthwhile reading, so people working in the genre have fought long and hard for recognition.
- A distinction is occasionally made between the “doers” who know the mechanics of a good plot and “creators” that have some really good writing (and frequently some message about social injustice). It is best to combine both.
- Commercial fiction sells well. In light of the above, it is no surprise that the more you sell, the less “literary” you become in people’s minds, no matter what your style of writing. Eric Giacometti, an international bestselling thriller writer with more than 2 million books sold worldwide, told me, “The more books you sell in France, the less people in the industry think of you.”
So, how do you sell your foreign rights? Can you get the translation done yourself? Can you self-publish? For some answers, see part II of this article.
If you have specific questions about translation, France, French authors, or publishing in France, you can contact Anne Trager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Le French Book has nearly twenty titles in translation now and a growing catalogue of European mysteries and thrillers in English. Discover them at: www.lefrenchbook.com.
Translator Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for over a quarter of a century and just can’t seem to leave. What keeps her there is a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. She founded Le French Book to translate the country’s top mysteries and thrillers, so they can reach new readers. The company’s motto is “If we love it, we translate it,” and Anne loves crime fiction, mysteries and detective novels. The Winemaker Detective series was one of her first choices.