This story was originally published in our “Publishing in Canada” magazine, produced in cooperation with Livres Canada Books. Download the magazine here.
By Luca Palladino | @lukaesque
Éditions Alto took the literary world by surprise 12 years ago by publishing Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, a little-known author at the time. A zigzagging, raucous book that spewed good storytelling, the novel, much like the publishing house, has since received countless accolades for the breadth of its vision and for the touch of lunacy present in its publishing projects.
And if you want to point fingers, its all Antoine Tanguay’s fault.
“For the past fifteen years, a new wind is blowing on Québec’s literary scene. New publishers take their place next to, but without replacing, larger publishing houses (Boréal, Leméac, Québec Amérique, Libre Expression),” says Tanguay.
“For me, this is a sign of literary maturity as the newcomers inspire ourselves from established publishing houses, and then we go our own way, showing our own true colors. This wind has brought new voices (Nicolas Dickner, Samuel Archibald, Kim Thúy, Audrée Wilhelmy, Éric Dupont, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, Perrine Leblanc) and a unique enthusiasm, a fresh vision in addition to a desire to carve out a place not only in Québec but also in the rest of the world.”
For Antoine Tanguay, the newest generation of publishers that have grown up with the internet and social media now have a global vision of literature. They read a lot, they are curious, inspired by what they read on the international stage. According to Tanguay, they want to take over the world and he has no doubt that they will succeed.
Éditions du Boréal
Pascal Assathiany gives the impression that he is part rock star, part publisher. With over 50 years’ experience in the publishing industry and 30 years building Boréal, he has helped usher in culture-defining authors who have marked Québec’s history and etched Boréal’s name into the publishers’ hall of fame—if such a thing were to exist.
Boréal is a house built on authors, and it has been run by authors who love to read. Giants like Marie-Claire Blais (Winner of the Médicis for A Season in the Life of Emmanuel); Dany Laferrière (who was recently inducted in France’s most venerable institution, L’Académie française); Robert Lalonde (author of The Heart is What Dies Last which was turned into a film by Alexis Durant Brault and presented at Cannes in 2017); the late Gaétan Soucy (most known for The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, his work has been translated into more than 20 languages); and Louis Hamelin (whose daring novel on Québec’s October Crisis won him four prestigious awards in 2010) have passed through the doors of Boréal.
“Our role at Boréal is to accompany Québec and Canadian authors and make sure their work stands the test of time,” says Assathiany, “whether those works are creative or philosophical.”
Always the visionary, Assathiany is now looking towards the future and how to create new readers in Québec society, especially among the younger generations. In order for Boréal’s books to be successful, they have to be read in a society that can read works critically and have the capacity to debate ideas. And that battle is never won.
Écosociété, as the publisher’s name implies, is anchored in ecological and other socially relevant (and sometimes controversial) issues and trends. Topics treated in its works include militarism, globalization, media criticism, and more, all for the sake of engaging readers.
This is an independent publishing house celebrating 25 years in business. Élodie Comtois—who spearheaded the fixed price for books movement (Sauvons les livres) and who has helped defend Écosociété against lawsuits from multinational corporations—is no stranger to practicing what she publishes.
“By condemning the abuses of capitalism and encouraging a transition towards ecologism, social justice, and political engagement,” she says, “our authors patiently and intensely cultivate knowledge.”
While Écosociété is well-established in Québec, it has been working on business development on the other side of the Atlantic for the past few years. For a publisher whose philosophy is the free circulation of ideas, it was an obvious choice for the house to seek out other French-speaking populations in Europe.
A consultant now works full-time from Paris to promote Écosociété titles in France, Switzerland, and Belgium. And Écosociété has announced that it will be distributed by Harmonia Mundi starting in January 2018, another clear indication of its international expansion.
“Among our most successful titles are books by Rob Hopkins, Jan Gehl, and Alain Deneault, as well as translations of Noam Chomsky.
“Also on our list of bestsellers is Jean-Martin Fortier’s seminal work The Market Gardener, which has sold over 50,000 copies worldwide.”
Together with his sister Alexandrine, Arnaud Foulon is heir to the Groupe HMH business started by Claude Hurtubise and bought by Arnaud’s father, the venerable (and still involved) Hervé Foulon.
The Foulons are fifth-generation publishers from their great-grandfather’s side, and today Groupe HMH comprises four publishing houses—Éditions XYZ, Marcel Didier (MD), Éditions Hurtubise, and Éditions MultiMondes—each with a distinct niche in the market.
The company also operates Distribution HMH, which handles distribution for at least nine publishing companies, including Black Cat Cideb, Eli Publishing, Bibliothèque Québécoise, and Éditions Hatier.
“The Québec book industry has neither the size nor the characteristics of France’s book market,” Foulon says. “In many ways, we work as if we’re in two parallel universes.
“Despite that, our recent successes are encouraging. We can point to Québec being guest of honour at high-profile European literary events including Foire du livre de Bruxelles 2015 and Salon du livre et de la presse de Genève 2017.
“We’re also heartened by the France-Québec Award and by the response of independent booksellers in Paris and Brussels.
“These things encourage us to think that there are many convergence points between our respective industries.”
Groupe HMH has long been recognized as a leader in the Québec book industry, and the Foulon family has been closely involved in guiding and structuring the market to strengthen its authors and fellow publishers.
“With the emergence of new prominent authors such as Jocelyne Saucier, Kim Thúy, or Nicolas Dickner,” says Arnaud Foulon, “Québec literature unveils its richness and complexity—of which Dany Laferrière is our best-known leading light of the ‘old continent.’
“This is a French literature, so to speak,” he says, “but one that showcases the American-ness that defines us, translating our own identity and our attachment to language.”
Groupe Homme is the single largest publisher of general literature in French Canada. The group publishes over 150 titles a year and has more than 3,000 titles in its catalogue. It benefits from being part of powerful media company Groupe Québécor.
The publishing group includes les Éditions de l’Homme, Le Jour éditeur, Petit homme, La Griffe, La Semaine, Québec Livres, and Juniper.
Groupe Homme publishes a wide range of titles from self-help and spirituality books to practical books (health, nutrition, cooking, sports), reference, nonfiction books for children and adults, as well as teen fiction.
In 2018, les Éditions de l’Homme, the founding publishing house of the group, will celebrate 60 years in the business, making it one of the oldest publishing houses in Québec.
Judith Landry, a veteran in the business, has adapted Groupe Homme’s business model to accompany the shifting tides of online entertainment and internet culture.
“In the world of free internet content and social media, our role as publishers is not only to offer readers exclusive, original, and quality content, but also to provide our authors guidance through creative and professional platforms that promotes their content,” she says. “It’s really a hallmark of our publishing house to be in a position to offer this global service, thanks to our innovative methods and risk-taking spirit.”
The future looks very bright for Groupe Homme and its international activities. It is one of the only publishing houses with an office in Paris, and the company has created a niche for itself as one of the largest sellers of self-help books on the European market. Groupe Homme also created an English-language publishing house in 2014 (Juniper) and looks to add to its 500 translated titles in 31 languages.
Groupe Librex unites more than 12 publishers under one roof—the oldest of which has been in business for more than 40 years—and are known for their excellence in general literature. Librex Expression, Stanké, Trécarré, Logiques, and Publistar are among them.
The group publishes fiction, biographies, practical guides and reference works in health and self-help, all designed for the general public. Novelist Kim Thúy and biochemist Richard Béliveau are among their best known authors. Groupe Librex is a phenomenal ambassador for the creativity and knowledge of Canadian writers.
A veteran of the book industry, Johanne Guay believes that publishing is in a state of constant evolution.
“The arrival of new types of entertainment directly impacts time spent reading today,” she says. “It is an every day challenge. Also, the book as an object is itself finding new roads. We have to be constantly curious about emerging reader interests and how they consume information.”
Johanne Guay was the first editor to publish Kim Thùy and has fostered a close relationship to her author. She believes author relationships are a key to Groupe Librex’s success.
“A successful publisher has to be more and more imaginative, tread on new ground, and be a trailblazer. And all of that has to be done at warp speed. The publishers in Québec are quite creative because they have had to develop within a very small market. Thankfully, we are able to find many of their books now published and distributed worldwide. Groupe Librex is of those houses whose progression has skipped over the border.”
The catalogue of Lux Éditeur reads like a who’s who of 20th- and 21st-century progressive philosophers, economists, and other writers. Their essays are meant to be provocative. The intent is to influence policymakers and civil society, prompting them to action and plunging citizens into debate.
For the past two years, Lux has initiated a new phase of its development in France by opening an office in Paris. Alexandre Sánchez is the company’s permanent presence there, and as such, she facilitates commercial planning and enables an ongoing expansion of the house’s French catalogue.
“We’re publishing more and more French authors whose ideas echo our Québec authors’ ideas,” says Sánchez, “and that, in effect, fits perfectly into our original editorial mission: half of our catalogue has long been dedicated to translations.
“Lux presents itself as a bridgehead in America for European readers, but also as an exploration base in Europe for French readers.”
For this Québec publishing house, the European market is important because it can vastly increase sales. But because Lux is specialized in social sciences and essays, the challenge for the publisher is to find a way to reach the greatest number of readers.
“Since we’ve begun selling our works in France,” says Alexandre Sánchez, “the editing process we offer to our authors is also aimed at adapting their ideas so they can find traction in the wider markets outside of Québec.
“When submitted to this transatlantic litmus test,” she says, “Québec thinkers—such as Alain Deneault, Francis Dupuis-Déri, or Normand Baillargeon—only shine brighter because of it.”
After more than 40 years in business and with some 800 titles active in its catalogue, terms frequently heard to describe this quintessential Québécois publishing house are “audacity,” “risk,” and “thirst.”
The father-daughter team at the heart of Québec Amérique, Jacques and Caroline Fortin, are admired as smart decision-makers with killer business instincts and an eye for international expansion. Québec Amérique specializes in publishing literary works, essays, visual dictionaries, and reference books.
“From expanding our flagship product—The Visual Dictionary in more than 40 languages—to the sale of rights in our fiction catalog, our presence in international markets has been an indispensable element for the growth of our company.”
Caroline Fortin is the newly elected president of Canada’s Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honour 2020 committee, and she sees the coming-of-age for Québec literature as a recent trend.
“We’ve seen a genuine international interest in Québécois literature,” she says, “and this has translated into sales and the success for our authors on the world stage.”
One example Fortin points to is Andrée A. Michaud, whose novel Boundrée (Boundary) is a haunting crime novel set on the frontier between Québec and Maine in 1967. It was recently longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
“Many of our authors write and are edited now with the express intention of being read far beyond our national walls,” says Fortin.
It’s a testament to the evolutionary gains being made by Québec’s publishers and their authors, she says, that so many observers in other parts of the world can see universally recognizable narratives in the daily struggles of the Québécois.
“Throughout my travels to participate in international book events,” Caroline Fortin says, “I recognize just how vigorous the French-language Canadian book industry has become.
“Many of our very innovative publishing houses provoke curiosity and entice readers with their inventiveness and their audacity.”
Audacity as a business philosophy is certainly paying off for Québec Amérique.