For those of you who missed the 2017 The Markets conference hosted by The Frankfurt Book Fair and Publishing Perspectives, we have recently been covering some of the sessions we attended while there. Today, we’re back with insights on some emerging publishing trends in France, this year’s guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
In keeping with the conference theme of change and the shifting international publishing landscape, the Markets conference session on France focused primarily on major developments occurring in the Francophone market and France’s changing relationship with writers from former French colonies. In this interview session, Jean Mattern, Executive Editor of Foreign Fiction at Éditions Grasset, spoke with Olivia Snaije of Publishing Perspectives about the linguistic and demographic transformations currently affecting the French book market. The questions addressed in the session included, “What does writing in a foreign language, or ‘translating’ different cultural and creative backgrounds do to stories?” and “Is language itself changing as well in the process?”
Given literature’s intrinsic relationship to language, Mattern’s insights on the state of publishing in France revealed a dramatically changing literary landscape. Some of the changes Mattern discussed in this session were already evident in the organization of the Bureau International de l’Édition Française (BIEF) stand at the book fair, which this year included 30 French-language sub-Saharan publishing houses for the first time in an effort to highlight the larger French-language book market. Reflecting this shift, Mattern spoke of the “political decision” by many publishers to include more writers from French-speaking countries who aren’t necessarily living in France or are not French citizens. While looking to other Francophone markets isn’t new, French publishers are now increasingly working with writers from locales in North and West Africa. This marks a decided change from the previous emphasis on writers and markets in places such as Belgium, Luxemburg and Québec, as well as signalling a greater change in the French industry’s (and readers’) perception of what constitutes “French literature.” Mattern partially attributed this development to changing demographics within France itself and the growing number of authors with an immigrant background or familial ties to former French colonies. As he further pointed out, where France was once a one-directional linguistic force going outwards to the Francophonie, former colonies are increasingly bringing the French language back to France with new localized colours and flavours.
Receptivity to, and an understanding of, the new approach to the French language and to the literatures of former French colonies are key to finding success in the present French market. Whereas France has traditionally attempted to keep rigorous control of the French language through imposed linguistic centralization, linguistic regionalism is increasingly being accepted and celebrated. French is the second most translated language in the world and some estimates calculate that there are approximately 240 million French speakers worldwide, with a large number of these speakers living in Africa (for example, 33 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 11 million in Algeria). Many French speakers living in former French colonies speak more than one language, and the majority of French speakers in Africa have a mother tongue other than French. Mattern also spoke about the local differences among the different countries of the Francophonie, pointing out that different national publishing patterns reflect the various histories and realities in different countries, citing, for example, that bilingualism is more prevalent in places like Tunisia and Morocco while it is more difficult to find French language writers in Algeria. While continental French still prevails, there is a greater understanding that the language may no longer belong exclusively to France.
Interested in finding out more about the book market in France? Check out our industry-targeted guide on this important market and stay tuned for information on our upcoming guide on exporting French-language scholarly and academic books, which will be published in the new year!