French Language to Take Center Stage at FBF 2017

Dana Burlac of Editions Denoël takes stock of the current status of publishing in France ahead of the country’s Guest of Honor presentation at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair

I think that a crisis always contains within itself the seeds of change: if the rules that used to fit the publishing world don’t apply anymore, let’s change them, or let’s try and see what could be done differently, or more originally, in order for books to get the success they deserve.

by Giulia Trentacosti – Article first published in October 2017

The 69th edition of the Frankfurter Buchmesse is about to kick off and France, or rather the French language, will be this year’s Guest of Honor. The fair will take place between the 11th and the 15th of October, although more than 300 events involving hundreds of French-speaking authors have already been organized throughout 2017 in around 30 German cities.

The French presentation, entitled Francfort en français / Frankfurt in French, will consist of an eclectic and multidisciplinary programme, revolving around various strands: the French language and its diversity, innovation and digitalization, youth literature and education, as well as comics and graphic novels. Publishing in France

The themes of linguistic diversity and linguistic hospitality will be given particular relevance, as the cultural program sets out to celebrate Francophonie in its broadest and most inclusive sense. In particular, a strong emphasis will be placed on the concept of French as a language of preference and desire – an idea which is well illustrated by the numerous non-native speakers who have chosen French as their means of creative expression. Some notorious examples being the Czech writer Milan Kundera, the American and Afghan Prix Goncourt winners Jonathan Littell and Atiq Rahimi and the Chinese Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian – to name but a few cases.

As part of our ongoing Publishing Industry Insight Series, we asked editor Dana Burlac of Editions Denoël to comment on the current state of the French book industry and to discuss publishers’ expectations ahead of the fair.

Giulia: How would you describe the state of the French publishing market today?

Dana: I feel like the first semester of 2017 was quite disastrous, to be honest. Low sales, low enthusiasm, it was slightly depressing. It seems like the publishing world is slowly getting its head out of the water and we all expect greener pastures.

But I’m an optimist, and I think that a crisis always contains within itself the seeds of change: if the rules that used to fit the publishing world don’t apply anymore, let’s change them, or let’s try and see what could be done differently, or more originally, in order for books to know the success they deserve. Given that the traditional way of promoting (marketing, media, press reviews) seem to be less efficient than before, let’s promote more on social media, through book tubers, Instagram. Let’s try and communicate in a different way, work on the graphic design…

G: What are the general expectations ahead of the fair?

D: Because of this time of change we are going through, I expect more diversity, less traditional whodunnit/shehassuchawonderfullifebbutshesreallyapsychopath sort of books, and more novels in Arabic, Japanese, Spanish, etc telling us stories that take us away from our gloomy daily life.

G: Comics and graphic novels will occupy the centre stage in Frankfurt this year. Can you tell us a bit more about the status of these two genres in today’s French literary scene?

Publishing in FranceD: It’s not really my forte, but I am surrounded by graphic novel lovers and I get to see the amazing Jean-Luc Fromental at work (he is in charge of Denoël Graphic). I myself am getting more and more drawn to this literature, maybe because it is often a more immediate, visually-driven form, which is also entertaining and funny at the same time. Another sign, if needed, that the times and our reading habits are changing.

G: Another element of focus is going to be digitalization: what is the level of development of the digital market in France?

D: The digital market is growing steadily. I would just say we are trying to keep up with digitalization. On the other hand, I feel like this is not the main concern for French publishers as French people continue to read paper more than electronic books.

G: One of the key themes of France’s presentation is multilingualism and “linguistic hospitality”. Considering the general political climate in France and Europe today, would you say that French publishing is more or less inclusive than it used to be?

D: I’d say that strangely (but then again, France is the country of contradiction!), although the context is pretty morose and closing up on itself, France is in desperate need of exoticism, of different skies and lives, new cultures and languages. I see more books in Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish than before and we have access to literary cultures we didn’t have access to before: from Africa, Asia, even remote islands…

However, as the market continues to decline, my fear is that the place for foreign literature will keep narrowing down, given that translations are expensive and sales tend to be low for, let’s say, a Portuguese debut novel trying to emerge. I have this feeling that, although we are craving for new voices for around the world, there will instead be more French literature and less foreign fiction.

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