OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Cyril Godefroy was the perfect match for the translation as he also has a blog and podcast on self-publishing in French, so he has a built-in market for the book. [If you have a built-in market in your language, I'm always open to talking about other translations for my non-fiction, in particular.]
In this interview, Cyril outlines the self-publishing market in France and what you can do if you want to break into it.
Tell us a bit more about you and your writing and publishing background
I wrote my first books in 2007, printed a bunch through Lulu and… not much else. So I moved on, but I'm back in indie publishing since 2013.
I've also been a publisher of iPhone apps, some of which I did myself. So I worked with a platform (the AppStore) before. A tough market, with international reach and competition, often from companies that have better developers and marketing strategies than I did. At the end of 2012, I saw the end of the indie shops coming. Nowadays, only a few of my friends are still indie as developers.
I now publish self-help books. Classics, such as Napoleon Hill, but also more recent books covering leadership, meditation, good habits, etc. All these books can only be found online, and are available only as PDF ebooks, and progressively ePub and amazon format. Most of these books are not available on the platforms. They are usually ebook + audiobook.
Since I started to publish these self-help books, I've also written a few books on self-publishing, which are available on major platforms. Interestingly, I had a publishing course on the catalog, and I started building on it, leveraging a good mailing-list of leads. This is what I wake up for, what I’m rooting for.
I also have a podcast on self publishing, which I started just after the 2015 Paris Book fair. I don't have 200 podcasts yet, like Joanna. Barely 20 or 25, but we all have to start somewhere! This helped me meet other indie and hybrid authors, and I’m finding the same spirit that I enjoyed while working as an indie developer.
I just started writing non-fiction, with NaNoWriMo. It was a pleasant experience, and one thing that I intend to do again as soon as possible. I thought publishing in the fiction genres was key to have a better knowledge of the ebook market, and it was also a good excuse to write my first novel.
What does the current market for ebooks in France (and in French look globally) like?
Which devices or sites are most popular? Where do you see the growth in this market and how long before it matures to the same extent as English speaking?
Amazon is the biggest player, and has the lion's share. Probably over 60% of the ebook market, despite having opened KDP and selling Kindle ebooks only since December 2011.
iBooks is probably the second market, with a head start since April 2010. But if you look at the top sellers there, it's mostly traditional publishers. From time to time I see what looks like an indie-published book, a name I recognize, but only a few.
We also have Kobo, which has made a distribution deal with the Fnac, a chain of entertainment and electronics stores. So in France, it's Kobo/Fnac. A bit like Tolino in Germany, but with only one chain.
And then you have all these numerous little actors, start-ups that try to shake the market. Booken, for example, is an ebook reader like Kobo's. Iggybook is selling multiformat ebooks from indies, something at the crossroads between WordPress and a book store.
Amazon is trying to lock everything and everybody on the Kindle of course, and pretty successful so far. Which drives me nuts… Like you I believe in the compound effect, and not putting all your eggs in one basket.
About the maturity : not this year, nor next year. There’s not as much momentum as in the English-speaking countries. It will take a few years more.
The fact that vanity publishers are alive and well in France is, I guess, an indicator of the dire state of the publishing industry. Not all of them are crooks, but you should read some contracts that some people have signed. Their definition of success is not to sell books, but only to have a few printed.
How has the French publishing establishment reacted to Amazon?
They don’t like it, that’s for sure. And it looks like they are heavily pressing the politicians to stop the expansion of Amazon for all books, both paper and ebooks. The parliament forbade Amazon to sell books with free shipping for example.
And in France, we have this strict public price law : you cannot for example find the same book for different prices in Fnac, Amazon, your local book store or a supermaket. The publishing establishment is always trying to twist this law to add difficulties for Amazon.
Establishments are always conservative, of course. In France, they have more friends to talk to, that’s all.
What is the state of self-publishing in France? How do you see it emerging?
About one third of french adults would like to write a novel, if you trust what the latest surveys say. But many people don’t know how to write good books, nor how to market them.
We also have the « ecrivain » syndrome. You must be born a writer, it’s not something that you learn, if you believe in that syndrome. Which is crap. Do you realize that we are just starting to see universities in France who put creative writing on their curriculum ? In the 21st century ?
So this emergence came first from the authors who were fed up with the publishing industry: books that had been refused, books that couldn’t be published (It’s too big !), books that weren’t published anymore.
And now we see new authors appearing who go « Kindle first ». They may try to find a publisher, but after a few rebuttals, they publish it themselves, from time to time with great success. Somebody like Amelie Antoine who got the Amazon Kindle award and sold 20 000 ebooks in 2015, or Aurélie Valognes, Alice Quinn. What’s strange is that their novels have also been signed by a fairly publishing company Michel Lafon, for the three of them, after they sold so many books on Kindle.
We have yet to see more repeat successes. Only a few authors have published more than one novel so far. So we are just at the first level.
We start to see more autheur entrepreneurs also. Alice Quinn was the first one : she sold many ebooks of her first novel « Queen of the Trailer park », then paid herself for a translation to english, and afterwards signed with Amazon Crossing for that translation. She also made an enhanced version for iBooks, and made a deal with Audible for the audiobook (no, we don’t have ACX here). And she signed with a traditional publisher, but that was not a success.
But the kind of strategies you talk about in How To Market a Book, having a web site, creating a mailing-list, writing more books, creating box sets with other authors in similar genres to cross polinate… that’s something I’m convincing authors to work on, « bird by bird ».
Why did you want to translate How to Market a Book?
I’ve been writing ebooks on self publishing myself and it deals with many of the aspects of marketing in a serene, step by step way. It covers both the basics and the more advanced strategies, from the point of view of someone who has written and published both fiction and non—fiction books. Joanna, you’re the creative entrepreneur figure that many authors can relate to. The fact that you’ve been self publishing for many years, on markets that are much more mature than ours is also a key factor.
Of course I could have rewritten a book such as yours, but it wouldn’t have been as good and useful, and English–speaking authors who are light-years ahead of our french indies have a lot to teach us.
The fact that we are both author-entrepreneurs (or I pretend to be) made it also easier to speak with you. We share the risks and the rewards on the same level. Who wouldn’t want to work that way ?
What are your top tips for finding an appropriate translator for French?
It depends if you’re looking for an indie or want to find a publisher. If you’re looking for an indie, make sure they also have a way to market . If you have the translation but don’t have the mailing-list, you are in a lose-lose situation and it will be very hard to market.
If you are looking for a publisher, the same rules apply, but think about the distributor also, it better be Edilivres, Sodis or another big one otherwise your book will be distributed, but only in a few book store. Other than that, I’m not the right person to ask.
What kind of genres sell best in France?
Same as everywhere else I guess. Romance and thrillers come first, then other genres. Some genres are definitely absent. Cozy mystery for example. And we don’t have paranormal vampire romance yet…
We have a few genres which sometimes rank well, such as humour, which surprises me
What are your tips for marketing to French speaking readers?
Adapt your strategy by finding the right tools. But the recipes for success are usually the same : find a genre you like, create a momentum in that genre, with a web site and a mailing list that are on target. Of course, you are always allowed to do genre-hoping if that’s what you like.
Regarding the tools, web sites such as Babelio, monbestseller.com, livraddict are interesting and specific to the french market.
Where can people find you and your site online?
You can find me online on http://www.edition-ebooks.com but make sure you revise your french first! I also have my podcast on iTunes, a channel on YouTube and of course you can find my books (and yours) on all major retailers 😉 Comment Publier Un Livre is on Amazon, Kobo and iBooks. You can find me on Twitter @cgodefroy.