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Overview of Fall ‘08 publishing season

Latest update : 2008-09-20

With more than 676 new titles, the all-important French Fall publishing season has an assorted offerings this year.

The Fall publishing season in France is an important ritual on the French literary circuit. Every year, by the end of August, French booksellers get agitated, critics get irritated, and writers become nervous as a profusion of titles hits the bookshelves.


This season is no exception, with the publication of 676 novels, of which 466 are French and 210 foreign. However, after ten years of nearly-uninterrupted increases in literary production – in 1998, 488 novels were published; in 2007, there were 727 -- the trend is stabilizing.


Despite a slight decrease in numbers, however, one particular issue continues to be debated. Does this seasonal profusion of book offerings actually, in the end, harm the visibility of some of these new publications? Do titles have the chance to find their public or do they simply languish unnoticed on the bookshelves?


“It’s a false debate that recurs every year. [But] there are no sales declines. The business is doing well,” says Christine de Marzières, acting head of the French Publishers Association (SNE), a trade association of book publishers. De Marzières adds that books are the staple of the French cultural industry, in terms of turnover.



Ninety-eight publishers present their offerings this season


If the number of titles has stabilized, the number of publishers offering their wares has slightly increased. The Fall ’08 literary offering features 98 publishers compared with 90 last year. “The rise in small publishing houses adds to the creative mix,” says de Marzières, who adds that “the selection of manuscripts is the fuel that runs the trade.”


The French Publishers Association lists 5,000 publishers in France having less than 10 titles each on their catalogues. And these same small publishers benefit immensely from the Fall publishing season.


“I have published an average of ten books per year since 2002. But in general, I only publish three in the Fall season,” says Sabine Wespieser, founder of the eponymous publishing house. “Because one has to be careful and just publish the books in which we believe in, if we want to give them a chance.”


Generally created by former employees of leading publishing houses, small publishers aim to put out a select catalogue of titles that reflect their tastes and their publishing mission.


The catalogue: a publisher’s first goal.


Having worked for the French publishing houses Actes Sud and then Flammarion, Wespieser chose to launch her own publishing house in 2002 to defend “her” authors.


The success of the Sabine Wespieser imprint shows that patience can pay off. With a staff of three full-time employees, and one part-time worker, Wespieser today lists 68 titles on its catalogue, including bestsellers such as Duong Thu Huong’s “Ground of Lapsed Memories” (“Terre des oublis”) which sold nearly 250,000 copies.


This year Wespieser published one of France’s most promising novelists: Philippe de la Génardière, with his “Year of the Eclipse” (“Année de l’éclipse”). With an initial publishing run of 5,000 copies, the book has already gone into reprint and is approaching the 10,000-copy mark.


But if publishing houses stress the importance of select books, they also need bestsellers to ‘balance their books’, so to speak. “Generally, with the well-known authors, such as Fred Vargas, a longtime Viviane Hamy author,” says Christine Andreucci, a journalist at the weekly “Livres Hebdo”, the editors can allow themselves to experiment.


Again, this year, experienced authors have not shied from small houses. Viviane Hamy, for instance, published “L’Incendie du Chiado”, Irvin Yalom’s “The Curse of the Hungarian Cat” (La malediction du chat hongrois) by Gallade and Rivages presented the latest David Lodge, “La vie en sourdine”.


The large historical publishers – about 20 publishers in France with more than 5,000 titles each – continue to make their offerings this year. Gallimard and Fayard have 18 novels each, Le Seuil 15, Grasset 14, Le Rocher 13, Flammarion and Actes Sud 12 each one, Stock 9, Plon and L’Olivier 7 each, and Le Mercure de France 6.


Making the 20,000-copies mark for a French bestseller


On the shelves, Amélie Nothomb for example, author among others of “Fear and Trembling”, is expected to do well. Her last book, “Le Fait du prince” sold 200,000 copies. Considering that a French book needs to sell 20,000 to become a bestseller, Nothomb has turned into a mass production figure.


Other media darlings belonging to an essentially French genre of chick lit, biographic or “autofiction” as it is known in French, peddle their works of intimate sexual revelations. Catherine Millet (author of the 2002 memoir, “The Sexual Life of Catherine M.” of which 700,000 copies were sold in France, and translated into 33 languages), writer and editor of the magazine “Art Press,” explores the jealousy at work in a couple put to the test by infidelity in “Day of Suffering” (“Jour de souffrance,”) while Christine Angot, in the same vein, offers her fourteenth novel, “The Market of Lovers” (Le Marché des Amants).

Date created : 2008-09-16