Self-publishing is well established in the English-speaking market, but it is an emerging force in other languages and territories. We will likely see the most growth in book sales in other languages as ebook and print book retail expand online over the next few years, so it's an exciting time if you speak a language other than English … or you can work with others who do.
I tried self-publishing in translation a few years ago and it was way too early. With an inability to market in other languages, and a tiny ebook market in non-English territories, I ended up paying off my translators and pulling my translations from the market.
Except for French non-fiction! In the last few years, I've worked with Cyril Godefroy, one of the early French adopters of self-publishing. He has translated and published several of my non-fiction books, and because he is able to handle the marketing, it has been the most successful of my translations. So I'm thrilled today to welcome Cyril to the blog, where he will share more about the French-speaking market.
Did you know that self-publishing, both in ebook and print formats, is a thing in France?
You wouldn’t guess from reading newspapers’ articles about the global self-publishing sector. But it is.
As an independent publisher, self-published author and self-publishing activist, I’ve been observing and writing about the ebook markets in France for 4 years, as well as interviewing in my podcast other self-published authors on how to market their books in France. Oh, and that tiny percentage of translations sales in Joanna’s book sales report? I’m afraid it’s mostly me: I translated and published two of her books in French.
This article will give you a better awareness of the French market if you’re considering translating to French.
Of course, keeping your translation/language rights is a pre-requisite for getting your toes wet in that market. Always keep your rights!
French language market
French is a language that’s used by citizens of 3 countries in Europe (France, Belgium and Switzerland), many people in Canada (not only in Quebec), and some countries in Africa (North Africa and Central Africa). There’s also an influence in the former colonies. There are also many expatriates.
So when you publish in French, you don’t publish only for France.
But in this article, I’ll talk mostly about France.
Ebooks are still a new thing and the numbers pale in comparison with English-speaking countries. Digital books represent a mere 6% of books, according to latest surveys (published by publishers, so take it with a grain of salt).
You’ll notice the same discrepancies between self-publishers and trad publishers as on other markets: most books in the top 50 on Kindle are self-published books, with reasonable prices (2.99€ -> 5.99€) while trad publishers usually have books at a higher price, sometimes even higher than paper (especially with pocket books). As I write this, 5 of the top-10 ebooks on Amazon Kindle store are self-published books; books that will not be accounted for in industry surveys.
French readers like translations. If you look at Romance of SF/Fantasy categories, you’ll notice many names that are also available in US/UK stores. Same for thriller/crime fiction, but we have more authors in these categories. Personally, I prefer a good thriller/adventure in English: I learn new slang words.
There are 572,000 ebooks in French on Amazon Kindle, compared to 3 841 000 ebooks in English: it’s a smaller market, where it might also be easier to get good visibility.
The platforms that are in the English markets are present in France, with the notable absence of Barnes & Noble. Actually, the market seems to be split between 3 major players (Amazon Kindle, Kobo, iBooks) with many smaller players (Bookeen, Nolim, Decitre, etc).
KDP allows you to publish to amazon.fr, and you should, if you have kept your rights for that market, even in English. Make sure you set the price right (2.99, 3.99 whatever) and not a weird price that would surprise the readers (3.06€ for example). It is the biggest platform in France too, with over 60% market share (pretty hard to come up with a precise number). There’s a small team of representatives for KDP, ebooks in general, Amazon imprints that you can meet during Paris book fair (« Livre Paris », end of March usually).
Fun fact: Mobipocket is where the ebook explosion was seeded. That French company created in 2001 was bought by Amazon in 2005, and most of its inheritance made it inside the first Kindle. Cocorico. Of course, things have changed a lot since.
Kobo has an agreement with the well-known retailer Fnac, and ebooks you publish through Kobo Writing Life will also appear in Fnac’s store. Fnac has also extended its stores to southern Europe (mostly Spain and Portugal). It’s helped Kobo become very quickly one of the key stores on the French market, and the second easiest to publish to.
The Kobo Writing Life (KWL) team is dynamic, active and you can meet them during smaller events (Crime or Romance festivals for example). There’s not much difference from the English market: if you publish non-fiction, you’re in for a surprise, as Kobo is mostly interested in fiction books.
Some other things to note: I have noticed a few times a lag of communication between Kobo Writing Life and Fnac web site, meaning that your cover may not be displayed, prices may not be updated at the right time, etc. You need to double-check and contact KWL if Fnac’s web site is slow to update.
iBooks has been on French markets very early, but nobody knows what iBooks team for France looks like. They mostly tie relations with trad publishers and so far, I’ve been unable to discuss with any of the team members, despite many attempts. They’re at the same rank as Kobo, or so it seems. You’ll be better off with them if you publish non-fiction books than with Kobo, but barely.
Having a French Apple account will be necessary to review the iBooks store for France, and to know what works and what doesn’t work on their market.
In France, most self-published authors start with a publication on Kindle, then maybe on Kobo, and rarely on iBooks. Getting an iBooks account is harder, especially for non-english speakers, as it requires a US fiscal number, and the biggest distributors (Smashwords or Draft2Digital for example) are still mostly in English.
During summer 2016, I made a survey with the self-published authors or would-be self-published authors I have on my list and came out with results you can read (in French of course) here. None were very happy with iBooks service or sales…
As far as I can tell, publishing your ebooks on smaller platforms by yourself is a tour de force: you need to go through a distributor that has signed a contract with them.
A few small distributors exist, that will publish your ebooks to most stores, such as Bookelis and Iggybook, but they mostly focus on paper. We’ll talk more about them later.
Translation is hard: better give it to professionals. People for whom French is their mother tongue.
Working with BabelCube doesn’t produce great results, as I’ve seen in the past. Poor quality is what I’ve seen from books translated through this tool.
Working with freelancers on Upwork: you can get cheap translations, but from people from non western countries, Africa sometimes, Madagascar. You’ll need a good proof reader and you may have to translate entire paragraphs more than once. I have experienced it first-hand and that’s not something I would do again.
Choosing your translator: having someone who can read good French is essential to be able to choose the best translator. In my experience, you can find good or great translators for the same price. A test on a two-page extract is a great way to make a choice. I experienced it with a friend for the translation of her best-seller novel to English: she asked me my advice between two translators, and one of them was definitely much better, using idiomatic expressions and improving the translation from good to great.
For proof-reading, there are a few people I list here, but just a few. And no, unfortunately, I have no translators to recommend yet: the ones I know are usually fully booked by traditional publishers.
In France, as the market is still smaller than English-speaking countries, you will not find a whole lot bonanza of promotion tools. No such thing as Instafreebie, Bookbub or Bargainbooksy. So to make a dent, you need someone with a platform and ready to spend a lot of time on outreach.
I have a free service of daily deals in ebooks, ebookgang.fr, but don’t expect the numbers you could find on comparable services in the US or UK. Visibility through bestsellers, merchandising, bloggers is still the best way to outreach and find new readers, create your fan base.
Comparable to Goodreads, which despite its best efforts, is still an English-speaking service (or perceived as such), you have Babelio, and Booknode. The first one dwarfs the second one, with over 4 million page views per month, compared to 1.3 million PV for Booknode.
Advertising on Babelio has unfortunately been too expensive for me to test. First package is at 1500€. Something only trad publishers have used so far.
So a self-published author will try Facebook ads (with bad results), or little experiments, such as box-sets, seasonal promotions, etc. Initiatives that come from individuals, and not established, pay-for-traffic companies. Amazon Marketing Services doesn’t work in France (I wish it did).
If you’re a romance author, you can reach out to several festivals and one fanzine (which also has its festival) Les Romantiques. This year, they invited 11 international authors (mostly English-speaking), and 23 French authors.
Finding a partner with a platform, knowledge of the market etc is therefore essential. If you speak French well enough, you can also find other self-published authors with experience, mostly in Facebook groups such as Auteurs indépendants sur Kindle or Les auteurs auto-édités.
Don’t forget to have your author page on Amazon translated to French. It helps. Authorcentral is localized, so you need to go to authorcentral.amazon.fr to edit it.
If you’re on Amazon KDP Select and want to do a Countdown deal, don’t make the same error as French authors: this tool only works for Amazon.com, not amazon.fr. You need to change your prices manually, and wait for Amazon to approve the changes.
Interested in print?
You’ve probably understood that I consider most French readers too conservative. And that they still read a lot on paper. Ebook is much easier than paper, and French paper habits and rules probably require you to find a good partner to take care of the layout of your paper books. Or at least to buy a few paperbacks in French at your local bookstore to make sure you don’t transgress important rules.
To distribute through Amazon, you can use Createspace as well as KDP Paper which is available for France. But it’s not the only solution.
For distribution to other channels, forget about IngramSpark which has absolutely no partners in France yet.
If you want to get into bookstores, you’ll need to do it yourself. And it can be a pain. That’s where Bookelis and Iggybook become interesting. They work with Lightning Source and Hachette Distribution (one of the biggest distributors in France), so that your paper book will be available at request in most physical bookstores. Their business model requires a modest fee to create your paper version, but they also distribute to Amazon, which is still the first channel for self-published paper books, so you might be interested in working only with them, and not with Createspace. Unfortunately, they only do paperbacks, not hardcovers.
Independent bookstores in France still represent 2500 stores and 40% of the sales. And there are new bookstores opening (despite a net 100 stores closing every year).
This vivid channel in our small country is probably one of the reasons why ebooks progression is tepid. The other reason being that major publishers don’t want ebook sales to increase.
Having a paper book doesn’t mean any bookstore will buy your books. You need to become a household name in France too before they are even aware that you exist… But when paper books still represent 93% of book sales, you want to have a paper version.
Working with the providers I mentioned above (or other who have the same distributor) will allow you to have your book available for order in most bookstores, and with an easy delivery and administration from the bookstore owner. You could do it alone, but that would mean many hours of paperwork for you, for probably little sales.
Tips, tricks and quirks
There are very few categories for books on Amazon’s books or Kindle store. Really not as deep categories as on Amazon.com etc. And you know how a category in KDP back-office doesn’t translate to a category on the store front? Well in France, it’s the same thing.
Kobo Writing Life has categories that reflect their store.
If you want to reach out to bloggers, you will probably need a paper book. Alan Spade updates a list of bloggers who accept to do book reviews from paper or ebook books. Get in contact with them responsibly.
In France, we don’t use Copyright, we have Intellectual Property. If you have a lawyer friend, ask for comments on the difference between the two.
The first indie author was… Balzac, who happened to have print press and had to write novels to make up for his game debts.
We have a VAT on books, but it’s only 5.5%, and valid for ebooks or audiobooks too. The EU Commission does not agree with us, and they might make up their mind on that matter by the end of the century. In the meantime, all stores will ask you to put your prices with VAT (because that’s how we set prices). And they’ll be happy to handle the administrative issues for you.
We have shark publishers too. Be very careful about them.
Progress and growth are definitely next on the list. And audiobooks (buzz-word of 2017)!
When the storytelling from the press will stop talking about authors that first succeeded through self-pub then became traditionally published, things might improve. One example is used over and over. Here's a good example, for the author whose name is used by almost every article.
In 2012, Agnès Martin-Lugand got some success as a self-published author before being published by publisher Michel Lafon. Since then, she’s only a traditionally published author. Five years later she’s still used as the figure of the self-published author that succeeded, although she’s not self-published anymore.
A few French authors have become what you would expect from successful self-published authors: publishing as many as four books a year, often reaching the top 100 or event the top 10, expanding slowly into audio. But nobody will talk about them in the press because it’s all about traditional publishing, even if they sell thousands of their ebooks.
Audiobooks are on the rise, in France as well as on other markets. After years and years of slow growth, the market is becoming more aware of that product, and it looks like people love audiobooks.
But it’s still a traditional market, and we don’t have anything like ACX, neither for production nor distribution. You have to sign paper agreements with Audible to distribute through them. You, as a US or UK citizen, are much luckier than most of us as you could publish on ACX a French novel.
With a new Minister for Culture coming from a trad publisher (Actes Sud), we may see traditional publishing increasing their attacks on Amazon, to protect their walled garden of print books. In the meantime, self-published authors will continue to find new readers to entertain them and provide them with great content. And readers will probably answer by reading more…
Are you a French indie author? Or have you thought about publishing in French or in France? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Cyril Godefroy is an author, publisher of self-help, marketing and self-publishing books. You can find all his articles on self-publishing in France on http://autoediteur.com. He also has the promo site http://ebookgang.fr, and has been organizing genre boxsets with http://ebooksy.fr.
He also publishes audiobooks, with over 20 titles on Audible and his website http://livreaud.io.
His most recent ebooks on self-publishing include 50 strategies to sell more ebooks and books by Joanna that he translated, published and narrated in French.
Cyril lives in Lyon, France.
Sukhi Jutla says
Fascinating insights into the french market. Makes me feel very lucky to be based in london and writing books in english!! Thanks for a great update Cyril. Always good to keep an eye on what is happening in other markets.
Chris Simon says
Very nice and accurate insights of the French self-publishing market, Cyril. As I’ve been self-publishing for 6 years on the French market, I unfortunately agree with what you know. One can only hope that the market will jump from 6% to 15%, as it becomes difficult to grow as an indie in a market that doesn’t grow as fast as the self-publishing industry.
Thanks for this excellent interview.
focant raymond says
CYRIL, first I’ll thank you for your tips, tricks and quirks, great stuff, great spirit!
My language is French, but …, man, you did convince me I have to turn to the biggest hill.
I have written a travel book , kind of auto-bio, and dealing mainly with real adventures of 1980-90’s in Kenya, Tanzania , countries not quite familiar to the French readers.
This is why I ‘d rather publish an English Ebook first ( 120.000 words) on suitbl platform.
But I d like to retain the right to improve it in a second stage and include more of what the public (the buyers) want , be it love, blood, wildlife. Or possibly get an editor. It would mean stop the distribution of the short version as soon as I .. feeel the market and have found my niche(s). With what E-editors could I withdraw my short version in order to place an improved version ( possibly with another title), after a year or so ? Or do they go for lifetime commitment? Thanks
Alan Spade says
Thank you, Cyril, for the link to my blog! I recently added to that article a link toward the blog L’evasion littéraire, which links more than 200 blogs with the logo: “I read self-published authors”! A very nice evolution in France.
Regarding Joanna, her french Amazon page doesn’t display either her photo or her french bio. I’ll send a message to Cyril in case he doesn’t read this comment.
Hi I am American but live in France for more than a decade. it was always my heart’s desire to publish some books, I already finished writing and illustrating 2 books by hand, one in english+ french… the other, a different language. They are still hiding in my closet because I have no Idea how to actually get it in the format I would like. So when I hear they only do paperback… Well, I want them hardback, and the children’s stories with gold edges on the pages… My partner published a book in France but the french quality of paper is so cheap from what I am used to, this is all very discouraging. As an artist I would like acid free paper bit how can I get a guarantee for that? Anyway thanks for your insight.