Photography: Olivier Dion

Q&A France’s agents association Agents of change

A publishing ecosystem disinclined to change drove French literary agents to coalesce and establish l’Alliance des Agents Litéraires Français (AALF) in order to voice their concerns and promote their worth. Tom Tivnan reports

tom tivnan

Could you briefly explain the current role of the literary agent in France? aalf

The French book market is a rather conserv- ative model. Publishers traditionally use a boilerplate contract established by the French publisher’s association (SNE), acquiring all rights from authors for the duration of the intellectual propert. In the case of successful books, this guarantees the publishing house a large spectrum of reve- nues, normally split 50/50 with the author (once the advance is earned out), and the publisher makes all decisions concerning any sub-licence agreements, such as foreign rights and film rights. Publishing contracts are more and more complex and authors don’t necessarily understand what they are signing, or what kind of rights they are giving away. AALF defends authors’ interests contractually and guides them through the publishing process. But an agent’s role is to find a publisher for an author. There are authors who don’t have connections to editors and who won’t necessarily get their manuscript beyond the slush-pile. An agent can help an author get read by certain publishing companies.

Can you give us some background on why you started AALF? The association started 18 months ago. We oſten heard people in the international publishing communit say there were no agents in France; some French publishers would say that they didn’t want agents. It seemed necessary to create more visibilit for ourselves.

There were negotiations in France between publishers’ and authors’ unions about five years ago, and some of us took part in the discussions. We were pleased to see some of our suggestions were well received, and thought it was the perfect time to start speaking with one voice. It also seemed that the actors involved with French publishing did not take sufficient

notice of the French-language market on a worldwide level, which was on the rise. One of our goals is to have more literary agents so that all French-language authors can be represented by agents. We wanted to create a unified voice to gain respect and recogni- tion from the various players and institu- tions within the French book market. We would like our peers to understand that agenting is a natural component of the publishing industry, and that we are not here to create conflict between authors and publishers.

AALF has been positively received by institutions who need to look at the “chaine du livre” in a new light, and by a new generation of publishers and editors. When French authors atend international literary festivals and book fairs and meet authors from other countries, they start to under- stand that it’s common to have an agent.

What has AALF accomplished to date? While most [members] are obviously all competitors day to day, there was an immediate sense of camaraderie between the association’s agents. We all believed in our cause. We began by opening up a dialogue with publishing institutions and associations (publishers’ unions, authors’ unions, etc). Then we joined a larger association of artists’ agents (Syndicat Français des Agents Artistiques et Litéraires) which, in addition to giving us access to a larger, more established association of agents from the entertainment industry, opened up the possibilit of atending training sessions to learn about more complex legal and taxation issues specific to our industry. We meet every two months in order to discuss specific issues, to organise events— such as the French Agents Cocktail Part [Thursday 12th October, 5.30 p.m., just outside the LitAg], or to work on specific projects—for example, in the first year our goal was to create a booklet presenting AALF and its members; it is now printed and available.

Pictured from top French agents and AALF members Laure Pécher, Marie Lannurien and Gregory Messina

Are any issues particularly important to French authors and agents? It is important that authors become more involved in the profession—that they under- stand their contracts and royalt statements, and how publishing works in general and what is expected of them, what’s at stake. It’s important for agents to show their authors a complete picture of their role in the publishing process: what they are and what they can, and should, do.


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