Are French Authors Better Off With or Without Agents?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Kindly Ones

In today’s feature story about the increasing influence of literary agents in French publishing, author Jonathan Littell is quoted as saying that, as an American (albeit one writing in French), getting an agent was second nature to him.

“In the Anglo-Saxon literary world if you want to publish a book, you look for an agent first,” he said, “So I never thought to do anything else. This French notion of sending your manuscript direct to a publishing house is foreign to me. I do understand that it worries some people in France, where a delicate balancing act ensures that certain books are published which would never be elsewhere. That system has a cost. In France, barely any authors make a living; the entire chain profits from the book, except the writer.”

That said, Littell’s observation seems a bit extreme. French authors don’t appear to be any more poverty-stricken than writers are elsewhere in the world. In fact, with the generous government support given to the arts, and the myriad of prizes and honorifics bestowed on French authors, they may have it better than their fellow writers in the US and elsewhere.

There’s also something to be said for a society where an author can still submit books directly to publishers with the genuine expectation they will be read. That direct relationship—with contracts hashed out over wine soaked lunches—has certain advantages.

So the question is: Are French authors better off with or without literary agents? Let us know what you think in the comments below or via Twitter using hashtag #ppbonus.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.