Paris’ Pierre Astier: A French Agent with an International Agenda

In Europe, Frankfurt 2011 by Olivia Snaije

French literary agents remain rare, so Pierre Astier looked beyond a French-speaking clientele to discover award-winning talent in places like Macedonia and Iceland.

By Olivia Snaije

Pierre Astier

PARIS: French literary agents are still not a widespread phenomenon, but those who set up shop five or ten years ago are now firmly implanted, with good relations abroad, and, for the most part, in France. One of the most “international” of these established agencies, as well as the “youngest,” is Pierre Astier & Associés, opened by  Pierre Astier and his partner Laure Pécher in 2006.

Astier is a former publisher — in 1993 founded Le Serpent a Plumes — and editor (he still edits a small travel collection for Magellan); Pécher is a publisher and translator. Together, they created the only agency in France that specializes in foreign authors, including Yasmina Khadra, Agota Kristof, Patrice Nganang and Dany Laferrière.

Fifty percent of their authors are Francophone, said Astier, who groups together authors from France as well as authors from Francophone countries. (This is an attitude that writers from Francophone countries welcome, as often they will be called “Francophone” to distinguish them from French authors.) The other 50% of the agency’s writers are from other countries, such as Serbia, Macedonia, or Sweden. Although authors from the US approach him weekly, Astier says he does not represent writers from English-language or Spanish-speaking countries as he feels there are enough agents dealing with those languages.

Astier sold the rights to Goce Smilevski's Sigmund Freud's Sister in more than 20 countries

“The literature in languages that are less spoken is very good,” said Astier, pointing to the success of their client, the Macedonian writer Goce Smilevski, whose novel Sigmund Freud’s Sister won the 2010 European Union prize for literature. Astier sold Sigmund Freud’s Sister to Penguin (world English rights) and to 21 other countries. Astier and Pécher will be at Frankfurt with Smilevski’s new novel, Fathers and Daughters.

“This enables us to be a little more comfortable,” said Astier, who was getting ready to go off for a literary lunch with Lebanese writer and poet Vénus Khoury-Ghata. “This is our fifth year in the business and that’s it, we’re here to stay. At first we had a few publishers who grumbled or gave us derisive looks but now they have changed and we have no problem with them.”

Unlike many booksellers and publishers in France, Astier is open to e-books. “This is thorn in editors’ sides but I feel it is a positive development. One shouldn’t see this as a problem, but rather, as a solution,” he says. “E-book rights are not a problem when we’re dealing with foreign publishers, but with French publishers it can be like arm-wrestling.”

Astier represents Iceland's Gyrdir Eliasson, a featured authors at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair

Astier’s happiest moments come when he discovers foreign authors, such as the Icelandic Gyrdir Eliasson, winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2011. Astier met Eliasson at the Göteborg Book Fair and now represents him. At Frankfurt, where Iceland is this year’s Guest of Honor, Astier and Pécher will be selling rights to Eliasson’s short story collection, Among the Trees.

“The world of French literature is fascinating, but I need my house to be open to all winds,” said Astier. Nevertheless his agency also represents numerous homegrown French writers, for example, Grasset author and translator Gilles Rozier, whose D’un pays sans amour (From a country without love) is about the destiny of three Yiddish writers in Poland in the 1920s, and has been nominated for the Prix Médicis.

During the Frankfurt Book Fair you can find Pierre Astier and Laure Pécher in the Literary Agents & Scouts Center (LitAg) tables 26E and 26F.

DISCUSS: Which Country is the Hottest Book Rights Market in 2011?

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.