Today I am delighted to welcome Jimena from Gallic Books / Aardvark Bureau to my blog. I discovered this small press last month when they kindly sent me a review copy of The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. This turned out to be just the sort of book that I love to read and I will be reviewing another title from their list, The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert, in the coming weeks.
Without further ado, let us find out more about a small press which aims to excite, inspire and entertain.
1. Why did you decide to set up Gallic and then Aardvark?
Jane Aitken and Pilar Webb set up Gallic in 2006, to fill what they saw as a gap – although most UK authors were translated into French, very few French authors made it into English. As a result, many wonderful French novels were not available to a UK readership.
Now that Gallic is well established, with a catalogue of more than 60 books in the UK, we thought it was the right time to expand beyond French. Compared to 2006, many publishers large and small now publish French fiction in translation. French literature is less in need of our support, although it will always be a focal point for us.
So we asked Scott Pack, with whom we had worked in the past, to curate a small list of fiction from around the world. And that is how the Aardvark Bureau was born in 2015. Our catalogue so far ranges from a Japanese forgotten classic, to the best of Australian and New Zealand contemporary literature, plus British authors worth discovering. And this is only the start.
2. What sort of books do you want to publish?
Gallic and Aardvark aim to publish books that engage with subjects or settings not found in other novels. Many of the Gallic titles explore French history. Our ‘noir’ author Pascal Garnier delighted in depicting France at its bleakest – not glamorous, it’s the France of anonymous villages and sullen small towns with bad restaurants, tacky hotels, cheapo carnivals. Jean Teulé’s books explore the nineteenth-century Breton poisoner Hélène Jégado and the mob murder at Hautefaye in 1870. We also look for intriguing characters like Muriel Barbery’s concierge in The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
At Aardvark Bureau we are looking for wonderful writing with a strong sense of place. But most importantly, we publish books that we love.
3. How do you go about finding and signing authors?
To launch Gallic, we immersed ourselves in the French market and read as much as we could. We were looking for books that French readers love, but that would also resonate with English-speaking readers. But now we tend to rely on our contacts among French publishers – they know what we like and are good at selecting from their lists for us.
Scott found the original Aardvark titles in a variety of ways. He found The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, for example, by listening to Radio New Zealand in the middle of the night! I think that led to other Australian and New Zealand titles – we now have four Antipodean authors.
4. Is your experience of marketing what you expected when you started out?
The publishing industry has changed a lot since we started in 2006. The main change has been the rapid development of the digital book. And, more recently, the role that social media and book bloggers play in spreading the word about books. Authors and publishers now have an open channel of communication with readers through social media; Facebook, Goodreads,Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are all effective tools for marketing a book. It is a big change, but one worth celebrating.
And it means that you can have an effective marketing campaign without using costly Tube posters or expensive advertising. In our early years we did spend money on these things and we don’t miss that!
5. There are a good number of small, independent publishers out there publishing some great works. Do you consider yourself different and, if so, how?
Gallic is part of the family of publishers of translated literature. With them we share the challenges and excitement of bringing unknown authors to the English-speaking audience. But we are different because we also have a bookshop, Belgravia Books.
We stock a curated selection of fiction, history, biography, children’s and cookery to suit our local market, but also to reflect our support for other independent publishers publishing translated fiction.
6. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?
Good stories always sell, and as publishers we must use the best tools we have to reach audiences. A very important element is knowing who your readers are, and what they like. If you have this knowledge, you are very likely to have loyal people who will be looking forward to your upcoming publications.
We don’t tend to go with the latest trend, preferring to try to choose books that take our readers into worlds they haven’t been to before.
Our bestselling title, Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, of which we have sold nearly 400,000 copies, would definitely count as original, rather than as part of a trend.
7. Ebook or hard copy – what do your buyers want?
Buyers want to have the option, so all our titles are available in print and eBook. Our eBook sales are usually 25% – 30% of our total sales. And we find that books that are popular in print are also popular in e-format. We haven’t yet had a book where we’ve had digital success that has not been reflected in our print sales.
8. Do you consider yourself niche or mainstream?
Gallic is indeed a bit niche in terms of its strategy, as we only publish French literature in translation. However, we aim to appeal not only to Francophiles but to all lovers of good books. We believe readers are up for discovering something new.
Aardvark Bureau gives us the freedom to look for wonderful writing worldwide. At the moment we are focusing on great books written in English but not published in the UK. These are very exciting times as there is so much out there worth publishing.
9. Collaborative or dictatorial?
We are a small company which means the team works very closely and the decision-making is quick, efficient and fun. So, definitely collaborative.
10. Plans for the future?
We will continue to bring the best of French writing to English language readers. This year is a very exciting one because in February, Gallic will publish its first graphic novel – a beautiful adaptation of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way by artist Stéphane Heuet. We hope this book will give readers who have not yet savoured Proust the chance to enjoy this important classic in an accessible way. And we hope that lovers of Proust will enjoy the intricate visualisations of Combray and Paris.
Also, we are thrilled to be publishing the long-awaited new novel by Muriel Barbery, The Life of Elves. After the great global success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, we cannot wait to share this new story with our readers in May. Plus, fans of the great Pascal Garnier will enjoy another of his fine noir novels with Too Close to the Edge.
On the Aardvark Bureau front, we have a strong year ahead introducing some wonderful Australian and New Zealand authors. We have Tracy Farr’s The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (the story of octogenarian theremin virtuoso Dame Lena Gaunt), Fiona Kidman’s The Infinite Air (the fictionalised account of the life of New Zealand aviator Jean Batten) and Damien Wilkins’ Max Gate (the story of Thomas Hardy’s death told by his housemaid, Nellie). And we have a unique novel by British author Charles Lambert. The Children’s Home has been described as ‘a distorted fairy tale, raising unsettling questions that stay with the reader long after the final page.’
In general, the future for both Gallic and Aardvark Bureau is to continue to publish literature that is exciting and unique, and will give readers an unforgettable experience.
Thank you Jimena for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about this small press, including details of their books, on their website by clicking here: Gallic Books – The best of French in English
If you are an independent publisher and would like to be included in this series please check out my introductory post: Shout Out to Independent Publishers