The Salon du Livre de Montréal took place in Canada last week, running from November 20-25 in Place Bonaventure in Montreal. The event is one of the highlights of the literary calendar in Quebéc, bringing in more than 100,000 people — including thousands of school children —who stock up on books for the forthcoming holiday season and get them signed by the hundreds of authors present. “We sell more than C$60,000 of books here each year,” said Carolyn Fortin, director general of Éditions Québec Amérique, a leading publisher in the province. “I really enjoy it, because it is unique opportunity for both my authors and my staff to to interact with readers," she said, adding that it gives her house a chance to display and sell its entire backlist. "This is one of the great things about the Salon, as it helps readers to discover new books by their favorite authors, since bookstores don’t typically stock a publisher's entire backlist.” Fortin, who is also leading Canada’s preparations for Frankfurt 2020, the country’s guest of honor program at the Frankfurt Book Fair, added that the sales are amazing, considering “people pay to get in and then buy books at full price." Discounting at the Salon is strictly forbidden.
Coinciding with the first day of the Salon is a translation fair sponsored by the Canada Council which facilitates matchmaking sessions between French-speaking Quebéc publishers and their counterparts from English-speaking Canada (which some Quebéquers sometimes refer to as ROC – “rest of Canada, or more often, simply 'Canada'). “The translation fair has been going for 10 years and each year becomes a bigger success," said Richard Prieur, executive director of Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (ANELE). More than 50 tables were occupied for much of day, with publishers haggling over possible deals, something made easier by generous translation support grants made available through the government. "Quebéc publishers already do a lot of translation from Canada, so we would like to see a lot more books go the other direction," said Prieur.
The variety of titles on offer was broad. Lisanne Rhealt-Leblanc, director of communications for Éditions L'Interligne, one of two French-language publishers from Ottawa, was busy trying to secure a deal for J’irai danser sur la tombe de Senghor by Blaise Ndala, a novel by a Congolese immigrant about Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s “Rumble in the Jungle" boxing match Kinshasa in 1974. “The novel over 400 pages long, which can be daunting to some publishers, as the cost of translation is high, but for literature you can often get 100% of the cost covered by grants, so we are hoping to find good partner."
Interest grows in Ontario and U.S.
France is, naturally, a key overseas market for Quebéc publishers, but many were heartened by the recent success of several titles English-speaking Canada and, by extension, in the United States. One book in particular, La Fiancée américaine by Eric Dupont (Marchand de Feuilles), stands out: it sold 60,000 in Quebéc and a further 6,000 copies in an English translation published by QC Books. It was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and U.S. rights were sold to HarperVia, which is publishing a translation of book in February as The American Fiancée.
“We’re having something of a moment here in Quebéc for translations, with authors like Dupont, as well as writers like Daniel Grenier and Catherine Leroux, gaining attention," said Peter McCambridge, the translator of La Fiancée américaine and editor-in-chief of QC Books, who was attending the translation fair looking to sell rights to his titles, possibly to some of the several foreign publishers attending the Salon as part of a fellowship program. “Translations from Quebéc have doubled in recent years and there is a good reason for that: the books are as good as any being produced anywhere." McCambridge runs a blog called Quebec Reads where you can read about the books published in Quebéc, many of which are not yet translated.
Overseas publishers attending the Salon came from Brazil, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain and elsewhere. Among them was Sonia Draga, director of the Sonia Draga Publishing Group, from Poland. “The selection of books they publisher here in Quebéc is quite impressive,” she said. "It is a bit overwhelming. There are so many writers and publishers for a place that is relatively small compared to the rest of Canada."
This year, Ukraine served as guest of honor at the fair and was present with a modest booth of Ukrainian books, as well as representatives from Ukraine’s recently revived book translation program and the well-regarded Ranok publishing house. Asked why feature the Ukraine in Quebéc, the representatives pointed out that, with 1.4 million Ukrainians resident in Canada, the country has the third largest population of Ukrainians in the world — trailing only the country itself and Russia.
Changes are coming
Next year the fair will move out of Bonaventure Place to a more airy and light-filled venue across town. Olivier Gougeon, who has been director of the Salon du Livre for two years, having previously worked as publisher of Guides Ulysses, said that the move will give the organizers the opportunity to add more events for professionals. “We want to expand the program even further for publishers,” he said. “There are many issues that we can discuss and learn from each other when we get together like this, from copyright issues to audiobooks. There’s so much potential to make this event bigger and better.”
English-speaking Canada has no book fair or professional event of equivalent scale to the Salon du Livre — BookExpo Canada was disbanded in 2009 — and envy was widespread among the publishers from the rest of Canada. Scott Fraser, president and publisher of Toronto's Dundurn Press, who was attending for the first time, was impressed. “The number of authors and publishers and people buying books is really something great,” said Fraser. “ We have nothing like it in Ontario or anywhere else in Canada. We’re all jealous.”
Read more about publishing in Quebéc in our special report from 2018.