‘Activist’ Fiction: France’s Magnier Looks for Rights Sales at Bologna

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Éditions Thierry Magnier rights manager Judith Parenteau says the ‘activist’ Collection L’Ardeur is earning new attention in the rights arena.

Opening Day at Bologna Children’s Book Fair and Bologna Book Plus 2023. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘L’Ardeur Has a Major Place To Take’
As many of our Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, Éditions Thierry Magnier, part of the Actes Sud publishing group, is the publisher behind the still-growing Collection L’Ardeur of books intended for readers aged 15 and older and described by the house as “resolutely on the side of pleasure and the free and multiple exploration that our bodies offer us.”

It’s a collection of books by various authors that, per the house, “addresses sexuality, desire, and fantasy, as well as gender and consent issues.”

As Eric Dupuy in Paris covered for us on January 19 in his interview with the eponymous Thierry Magnier, one of the titles in the collection—author Manu Causse’s Bien trop petit—was placed under a special order by the French interior ministry, limiting the book’s sales to consumers 18 and older. Supported by the French publishers’ association, the Syndicat national de l’édition, or SNE, which issued its own condemnation of the ministry’s action, Magnier has vowed to fight what he and many see as state censorship in the French national government, aiming to take down a commission created by law in 1949 to ‘validate’ all works of children’s literature.

Related article: Answering Censorship in France: Publisher Thierry Magnier. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Eric Dupuy

Publishing Perspectives has learned from Éditions Thierry Magnier’s chief of international rights manager Judith Parenteau that the company now is ready to begin a concerted effort to sell more international translation and publication rights to the books in this controversial collection.

Currently, there are 12 books in the collection, which originated in 2019. One of the 12, Chaud, is an anthology that had been previously published by the Swedish house Pirat Forlaget. The other 11 have been created by various authors expressly for the Collection L’Ardeur.

In international rights sales so far:

  • Queen Kong by Hélène Vignal has been sold into Basque and Spanish, a sale made to the house of Elkar Argitaletxeak.
  • Queen Kong also has been sold into Danish, a sale made to Gads Børnebøger.
  • Bien trop petit has been sold into Danish, as well, also to publisher Gads Børnebøger.

Judith Parenteau

“We think L’Ardeur has a major place to take in the young adult segment as counterpoint to dark fiction,” Parenteau says. “International interest about this collection is slowly growing.”

Both she and Magnier himself will be at  Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the Éditions Thierry Magnier stand being in Hall 30 at Booth D14.

If the name of the house is ringing a bell with our annual Bologna trade visitors, it might be because this was the winner of the Best Publisher of the Year in the European sector in 2011, and the house has won multiple Bologna Ragazzi Awards in the past. Its merger with Actes Sud dates back to 2005. What Parenteau and Magnier seem to be sensing now is that the action taken by the ministry in France—and the interest and concern in the case from world publishers—may indicate that the collection needs to be reintroduced and offered to the non-French rights arena.

“We’ve been contacted by several foreign publishers who keep track of French literary events or to whom translators from French reached out. That’s how the Danish rights were sold.”Judith Parenteau, Éditions Thierry Magnier

Parenteau refers to L’Ardeur as an “activist collection and an avant-garde collection,” which of course may make it all the more attractive to receptive and adventurous publishers. She also concedes that it “wasn’t the easiest” content to sell, “even for France.” Initially, she says, international publishers didn’t “seem ready to take the plunge” and produce it in their own markets and languages.

What seems to have caused something of a turnaround, she says, was Hélène Vignal’s win for Queen Kong of the Pépite d’or in December 2021. And if anything, the “second big turning point,” she says, whas when the French government banned Bien trop petit to underaged readers.

“We’ve received great media coverage and huge support from independent bookstores, from professionals, from Goncourt Prize winner Nicolas Mathieu, and overall, on social media,” Parenteau says. “We’ve been contacted by several foreign publishers who keep track of French literary events or to whom translators from French reached out. That’s how the Danish rights were sold. It started with a very enthusiastic French-to-Danish translator and ended up with two offers from Danish publishers.

“All of this has helped shine a light on this complete very engaged collection, and currently other titles are under discussion for Italian rights.”

Books in the Collection L’Ardeur

You can see the Collection L’Ardeur in its current 12-book state on the  Éditions Thierry Magnier site here. To read each book’s summary and information in English, click into the cover and then right-click for translation on the popup. Several highlights:

Juste avant que by Joanne Richoux (Until Before) is a book that “combines the end of the world and the languor that blossoms between two bodies” in a novel that juxtaposes the street violence of soaring social tensions and the darkness that descends on two young adults as “bulbs blow out and the anxiety increases. Desire, too.”

Apprivoiser l’ete (Taming Summer) is Marie Boulier’s study of “possibilities of being, of loving, and of loving oneself,” a book that has its protagonist asking, “Is it possible not to fit into the boxes that seem to have already been assigned to her? To seduce and desire differently?” In case you’re interested, here is a SoundCloud reading from Boulier’s work.

Le point sublime is another book in the collection by the highly regarded author Manu Causse, who also wrote Bien trop petite. In this book, Mina explores “the weight of friendships that are both vital and unhealthy.”

Maïa Brami’s Toute à vous (All Yours) is about Stella, who “caught him taking off his T-shirt in front of her window” and has been writing “fiery letters to this man about whom she knows nothing and who, it is certain, will never read them.”

And Premiers plans (First Plans) by Rémi Giordano is about Alexis who, thrilled for a chance to see behind the scenes of filmmaking, finds someone there named Matteo, who changes those “first plans” completely.

More summaries and information about the collection is available on the Magnier site, and Parenteau can be reached by those who’d like more information on available rights and/or meeting arrangements at Bologna at j.parenteau@actes-sud.fr.

Here is a link to the full collection with English information and summary text about each title. Catalogue l’Ardeur .

Thierry Magnier. Image: Éditions Thierry Magnier


More from Publishing Perspectives on book bannings is here, more on censorship is here, more on the freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is here, more on the Syndicat national de l’édition is here, and more on the French book publishing market is here. More on Bologna Children’s Book Fair and Bologna Book Plus is here, more on children’s books is here, and more on young adult literature is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.