The 10 Commandments of Selling Rights to French Publishers

In Feature Articles by Andrew Wilkins

Anne Michel of Albin Michel

Anne Michel of Albin Michel

The first commandment of selling book rights to French publishers: know their list! Nine others follow, courtesy of Anne Michel of Albin Michel.

By Andrew Wilkins

The French and South-East Asian markets were under scrutiny at last months Rights Directors Meeting, the annual event at the Frankfurt Book Fair for rights professionals.

There is an impression among some that France is a difficult market to sell into and the goal of the first half of the meeting was to help make things easier.

After a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of recovering French book industry from Éditions Plon-Perrin’s Rebecca Byers (“sales up four percent in August”), Anne Michel of Albin Michel, Moses-like, presented her ten commandments for selling to French publishers:

  1. DO try to know our list (so you don’t send us irrelevant titles)
  2. DO give as much information as you can (including author biography and sales history)
  3. DON’T try to hype the book if not necessary
  4. DO send a sample translation (“30 pages is good”)
  5. DO be patient and give us time (“it can take weeks or even months”)
  6. DON’T underestimate the personal relationship the editor develops with the book they publish.
  7. DO respect the priority option
  8. DON’T believe a book taking place in France is easy to sell (a warning to all those Provence memoir publishers)
  9. DO believe we are interested in the singularity of your own country (17.8% of books published in France were translations in 2014, from around 40 different languages)
  10. DO surprise us (big deals are not the only measure of success for French acquisitions editors, who will extract equal pleasure from snapping up an obscure title: “You can call us snobs if you wish but that’s the way we are!”).

Michel also affirmed the usefulness of developing relationships with established translators in France, particularly those who translate from less mainstream languages, as they can often influence the decisions of acquisitions editors.

Attendees also received updates of the European Union Prize for Literature, created to encourage translations within and outside the EU, and manful attempt from Michael Healy from the Copyright Clearance Center in the US to summarize the copyright situation in the 10 ASEAN economies (summary: much progress but still cause for concern).

Finally, the meeting turned to ASEAN markets, focusing on Thailand, Indonesia (this year’s Guest of Honor at Frankfurt), Malaysia and Vietnam, with Adam Silverman from harperCollins Publishers in the US closing with an update on digital rights and licenses.

About the Author

Andrew Wilkins

Andrew Wilkins is the director of Wilkins Farago, an independent, Melbourne-based book publisher. Until 2008, he was publisher of Australia's book industry magazine, Bookseller+Publisher. He travels regularly throughout the Asia-Pacific region.