This vast French-speaking territory located north of New England that receives, year in, year out, some 500,000 American tourists—some of whom visit its capital, Québec City; others, its metropolis, Montréal—has produced an impressive list of stars and international cultural successes. Children all over the world know Caillou, the star of the eponymous book series. Teenagers on all seven continents sing and dance to the music of Simple Plan; and the whole world can appreciate the success of Céline Dion, the Cirque du Soleil, Robert Lepage… not to mention the triumphs of the province’s movie industry, including the Oscar-winning Les invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions).
It’s all the more impressive when considering that Québec, the producer of such cultural successes, has a population of approximately eight million people and evolves in French within the world’s largest concentration of English-speaking people. Going against the current of all great cultural-exportation theories, Québec, despite its small population, its linguistic situation, and its history of French and British colonization, innovates, stands out, distinguishes itself, and shines on the international scene because of these successes.
The Québec book industry is no exception to this tradition: international literary successes are abundant, and many Québec publishers have a significant presence on the international scene. Whether it be with children’s literature, literary publishing, general publishing, scientific and technical publishing, or even derivative rights, Québec publishing has been able to penetrate the world market.
Children’s literature is probably the genre that enabled Québec to obtain its first successes in the international market. This sector was built upon the foundation of such publishers as Éditions Dominique et Cie, Éditions Chouette, Tormont Publications, Éditions de la Courte Échelle, and Éditions Phidal.
The list of successes published by Dominique et Cie, which produces novels and illustrated books for children up to 12 years old, is notable. The book Le Gros Monstre qui aimait trop lire (Taming Horrible Harry) by Lili Chartrand, illustrated by Rogé, is available in French, English, Spanish, Danish, Japanese, and Korean. Pétunia, princesse des pets (Petunia, the Fart Princess) by Dominique Demers, illustrated by Catherine Lepage, is a big bestseller in France. Likewise, the collection Passepoil (Doggie) by Elaine Arsenault created an international craze, while Le Vieux Thomas et la petite fée (Old Thomas and the Little Fairy) by Dominique Demers, illustrated by Stéphane Poulin, remains Dominique et Cie’s greatest international success. Barbara Creary, who is in charge of international rights, believes that the success of Québec’s children’s literature industry “is due to its unique illustration style”—a style that merges both the European and North American cultures at the heart of Québec’s history.
Éditions Chouette, the publisher of Caillou, a character known internationally, publishes a wide range of books, from board books to novelty books and illustrated books. Three age groups are targeted: up to 2-year-olds, 2–4-year-olds, and 3–6-year-olds. With a longtime presence on public television (the educational program Caillou began in 1997), as well as considerable visibility in more than 20 countries and more than 20 languages, Éditions Chouette and its favorite four-year-old character have made their mark, according to Simon Payette, license and business development manager. Two factors explain the success, Payette says. First, “the content in our books really and truly addresses kids and not their parents. Furthermore, they try to help kids develop, kids all over the world.” It’s not an easy thing to do, but clearly it has been a proven recipe for Éditions Chouette.
The Literary Side
Literary publishing has also received its share of accolades. Pierre Szalowski’s novel Le froid modifie la trajectoire des poissons (Cold Changes the Fish’s Path), published by Éditions Hurtubise, was translated into Spanish, Catalan, Italian, German, and several other languages; likewise, Gil Courtemanche’s Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali (A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali), published by Éditions du Boréal, is an international literary success in more than 23 countries. Kim Thuy’s Ru, first published by Éditions Libre Expression, is now published in more than 20 countries, including France, where it sold more than 50,000 copies. Bloomsbury USA will publish it in November 2012. Finally, the picture wouldn’t be complete without the international visibility of the graphic novels published by Drawn & Quarterly. According to Johanne Guay, v-p at Groupe Librex, and her colleague from the International Rights department, Carole Boutin, “the success of Québec’s literary publishing is probably due to a certain American je ne sais quoi on a European historical background.” As well as a certain fearlessness—the fearlessness of a young industry that only wants to grow more and more.
Québec’s literary publishing industry, for children or adults, can boast incredible successes, but general publishing is not left behind. One example is QA International and its Dictionnaire Visuel (Visual Dictionary), with more than eight million copies sold in more than 35 languages. [See “Case Study,” p. 25.] Groupe Librex has triumphed with Richard Béliveau’s Les aliments contre le cancer (Foods to Fight Cancer) in more than 30 countries and Serge Gauthier and Judes Poirier’s La maladie d’Alzheimer: Le guide.
Academic presses are no exception: their visibility is also worldwide and their publications are of an impressive variety. There is, for example, the internationally renowned catalogue of McGill–Queen’s University Press, whose successes are exported as well as copublished (most noticeably, David Wilson’s Ireland, a Bicycle and a Tin Whistle), and the important international presence of the Presses de l’Université du Québec.
There are several factors behind the international success of Québec publishing, including book production, which in Québec is diverse and dynamic, combining high-quality standards and fresh, innovative content. Québec’s geographical position as well as its European origins also enable it to be an essential platform for international publishing and a meeting point for diverse cultures. But if Québec shines on the world stage thanks to the visibility of its translated work, it remains a dynamic exporter, publishing under the name of its own publishers throughout French-speaking countries, especially France. Moreover, its English publishers sell directly in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world.
Québec publishers also have success with imports. For instance, La Cuccina delle Nonne, purchased from Rusconi Libri in Italy and published in French by Éditions Caractère, has sold more than 40,000 copies in Québec and France. Steven Raichlen’s How to Grill, purchased from Workman by Les Éditions de l’Homme, performed very well in Canada. And Diana Gabaldon’s historical series, published in Québec by Libre Expression, became very popular.
It would be impossible to talk about Québec’s presence on the international stage without mentioning public funding granted to Québec publishers, which helps defray costs for book fair presence and also in translation costs.
The digital future is as much a part of Québec’s present as in any country. Print on demand, social marketing, and crowdsourcing, to name a few important trends, will be energetically discussed by expert panelists during the Salon du livre de Montréal (November 14–19, 2012) and at the Salon International du livre de Québec (April 10–14, 2013). Québec is also one of the leaders in e-book technologies [see “Québec’s Digital Warehouse,” p. 16.]
For more information on Québec publishers, refer to the online list of publishers available at www.Quebecedition.qc.ca/directory.
Stéphane Labbé, a former publisher, is a researcher at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique and an occasional publishing consultant.
Richard Prieur, director of the ANEL (the association of Québec’s French-language publishers), and Robin Philpot, publisher and a member of the AELAQ (association of English-Language publishers), both agreed that it is time for the Québec publishing scene to speak directly to its American audience. It is a story they are proud to convey to the Publishers Weekly readership.
“The aim of the ANEL and the AELAQ is to spotlight Québec for its excellence in publishing and for the ingenuity of its unique book industry. The ANEL is also celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012, so I believe the timing was right to have a North-South exchange,” says Prieur. Along with its international committee, Québec Édition, the ANEL gives publishers the tools they need to develop and reach their markets internationally. “With our partners, the SODEC and the
Canada Book Fund, we make our trade expertise available to all so that they may benefit from the practical experience we acquired all over the world,” he says. —Luca Palladino