In the past five years, Gauthier Auzou has transformed his parents’ relatively stolid Parisian book publishing house, Éditions Auzou, from a reference book publisher for the door-to-door market into a trade house with a strong children’s list. Founded in the 1960s, the press continues to publish some books for adults, primarily illustrated cookbooks, medical books, dictionaries, and general interest titles. But after joining the company in 2006, Gauthier launched a line of children’s books and in the process raised the press’s profile. Last year Éditions Auzou ranked as one of the eight fastest-growing publishing houses in France, according to Livres Hebdo. Now the press is seeking greater growth by entering the North American market next year with a full line of children’s books.

Before making its debut on these shores, Éditions Auzou tested the market for its children’s titles through coproductions with Barnes & Noble and Langenscheidt’s U.S. division (now closed) of seven translated books, including Armelle Renoult’s Whiskers and Hector, illustrated by Melanie Grandgirard; Juliette Saumande’s In Search of Happiness, illustrated by Eric Puybaret; and Roxanne Marie Galliez’s Give Me the Moon, illustrated by Cathy Delanssay. In the past two years Costco and Chapters Indigo have picked up several Éditions Auzou titles, including Elen Lescoat’s Marvel Mummy. And Golden Books purchased the rights for Selma Mandine’s Kiss Kiss. Many of these deals occurred over the past four years at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

“Following this generally good experience and a kind of request from buyers, we thought it was time to take the step and to publish books under our name,” says Aurelia Hardy, head of the international rights department. For its inaugural U.S. list, the press, which typically publishes 100 children’s titles a year, plans to translate and adapt 20 books for the North American market. Many of the selected titles are picture books, as well as My Little Box of Animal Books, a boxed set of four board books illustrated by Christophe Boncens, one of several titles that have appeared on the top 20 bestsellers list for Livres Hebdo in France.

To avoid the problem that many French presses face from U.S. critics (that their books are too “French”—often beautifully illustrated but somewhat esoteric), Éditions Auzou hired former Langenscheidt editor Nelson Yomtov, who was also an editor at Marvel Comics and has written books on baseball and UFOs, to Americanize them. His role is to make sure that everything from the words a character uses to the dances in Hardy’s own Dancers of the World, illustrated by Sybile, makes sense for people in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, Hardy culled the books that American publishers have expressed the most interest in when she was selling rights and coproductions.

Discovering a New Style

“We really want to fit the American market, and not impose our way of publishing books. At the same time, we don’t want to ignore our French style either,” says Hardy, adding, “We hope American readers discover another style. And we will also learn from the American market.” For future lists Hardy says that she plans to rely heavily on the feedback from Continental Sales Inc., which is distributing the Éditions Auzou list; fulfillment will be handled by Innovative Logistics.

CSI represents a number of European art book publishers, and president Terry Wybel had worked with Hardy when she was with Parkstone Press in the U.K. He met with her earlier this year at BEA in her new position at Éditions Auzou and was eager to add its books to his bag. That the company had worked successfully with partners in the U.S. convinced him that the press’s colorful books would appeal to a U.S. audience. “In addition to being impressed with their books,” he says, “I was impressed with the marketing plan that they had developed for the U.S. Although aggressive, it showed a very realistic overview of the marketplace.”

Hardy plans to keep the U.S. and Canadian prices relatively low, which has been one of the company’s strengths in France. But she is aware that price alone is not enough and plans to use marketing and publicity to raise the company’s profile in North America. “With Gauthier Auzou, we have decided for an important marketing budget,” says Hardy, who declined to name a figure. “I will take the time to contact all the important book reviewers in the U.S. We won’t hesitate to buy advertising and to put money in co-op.” Even so, Hardy plans to launch the first list in March 2012 with conservative print runs; most will start with 3,000 to 5,000 copies.

For its fall 2012 list, Hardy says that the press plans to introduce a few books written specifically for the American market, ones on North American animals and legends. If all goes well, Éditions Auzou could open a U.S. office within a year.