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How Well Does French Literature Play Abroad?

By Edward Nawotka

Earlier this month Manuel Carcassonne, director general of French publisher Grasset, spent a week in the United States meeting with publishers, editors, and book critics to get a better sense of how French books and literature are received by readers and media. One of the outstanding questions is why such a limited number of French books are translated into English. Is it because of the lack of interest? Is it because of the quality of the books? Or is it because of pre-existing clichés about French literature: that’s little more than auto fiction and/or quasi-philosophical treatises about the human condition.

That’s not to say that there aren’t serious and very worthy works of French literature that are translated in English – it’s more to say the readers are having a hard time finding them. Much of this has to do with the modest print runs of a small, dedicated crew of publishers who bring them to market.

In an interview with Publishing Perspectives (see above) Carcassonne noted that a book like Irène Némirovsky’s Suite française was a French novel and was very popular. Why couldn’t that success be easily replicated? I pointed out that for many, the book wasn’t identified as explicitly French, but rather as a World War II novel. And this is a genre that always sells.

So tell us, how well does French literature play abroad? Is it hemmed in by preconceived notions? Is there an untapped market for works of history, politics, biography, romance and other genres? (Yes, we know people are interested in French self-help.) If that’s the case, what books do you think would work in the English-language market?

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4 Comments

  1. Posted May 15, 2012 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    I totally agree that more needs to be done to get French books “out there.” That is, in fact, what motivated me to start up Le French Book (http://www.lefrenchbook.com), a digital-first publisher that brings French crime fiction, thrillers, novels, short stories, and non-fiction to new readers across the English-speaking world. Basically, I couldn’t stand it anymore. There are just too many good books not reaching a broader audience. There is a very vibrant, creative culture in France. I think that the recent explosion in e-reader ownership provides a perfect medium to introduce readers to some of these French authors. Our motto is straight-forward: If we love it, we’ll translate it. Clearly, from our company name, we are not afraid to call the books French either. We are working in genres where that could even be an advantage. With ebooks, we won’t have the issue of small print runs and access. The rest then is about marketing.

  2. Posted June 5, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    je vien de terminer mon premier roman en francais, voulez-vous l’editer et le publier.
    J’habite a Boca Raton Florida, il n’y a aucume compagmie pour ce service.
    Merci

  3. Posted June 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    je viens de terminer mon premier roman en francais, voulez-vous l’editer et le publier.
    J’habite a Boca Raton, Florida, il n’y a aucume compagnie pour ce service.

    Pour repondre a votre question.
    Je trouve que les gens ont beaucoup de passion pour les romans d’amour, policiers et mystérieux. Ils sont aussi très intéressés dans les titres spirituels et livres d’enfants.

    Merci

  4. Posted June 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    I forgot to say that I would my book to be translated and published in english
    Thank you

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