By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije
“A brake that kept everyone on their toes”
AAfter 30 years with the French publisher , rights director Anne-Solange Noble, is go into retirement in the style. Annie Ernaux – a Gallimard author since 1974—won that on October 6thwill the publisher’s third French Author to win the honor in the past 15 years.
As Andrew Franklinfounding director orf profile books formulated: “Tthere can be no agent or rights director in the world who has had the privilege of selling three Nobel Prize winners. Gallimard has the most demanding literary standards and Anne-Solange was the person who upheld them internationally and ensured that the authors are known worldwide in several different languages.”
“It was fantastic,” says Noble. “Before the Nobel Prize, Annie Ernaux was already translated into 42 languages. Abroad all reprint their backlist titles. The Nobel will bring other languages like South Asia, allowing for translations in up to 50 languages.”
“I was adamant that I would convince them that there was richness in opening up to another culture.”Anne-Solange Noble
Gallimard is a good example of what many call the “French exception”. In an industry where literary agents typically sell foreign rights, in France – with the exception of very small independent publishers – most companies have an in-house rights team or person to do the work. Gallimard’s rights group consists of seven people, including a director and four rights managers, divided by language area. Noble says she actually considers herself an international agent.
Raised bilingually in Montréal, after graduating in Hispanic studies, she spent two years in Mexico studying Latin American literature before moving to France to study international relations. She then traveled the African continent for four months and was hired by Flammarion as rights director.
“Not knowing anything about rights,” she says, which she quickly learned on the job.
Reading their books and evaluating where best to travel to and which publisher, big or small, has worked well for Noble as a business model.
“Money has never been her motivation,” says Franklin. “Publishing is a business and we have to make it successful. Anne-Solange knows this, but she has always been much more committed to finding the best possible publisher in the world for every book and author than to selling for the biggest advance.
“She has never deviated from this principle throughout her career. It argues with her wildly and refreshingly. That also makes them an absolute original.”
Annie Ernaux, for example, prefers small independent literary publishers, says Noble: Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press “has been publishing Ernaux for more than 30 years.”
Fitzcarraldo Editions recently became the publisher of Ernaux in the UK and the two publishers complement each other perfectly, she says. Antoine Gallimard has invited all Ernaux publishers present in Frankfurt this year to a private party.
Noble’s dedication to Gallimard’s authors earned her a place at two previous Nobel Prizes, the first in 2008 for Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio and the second in 2014 for Patrick Modiano.
Noble says she doesn’t yet know if she’ll be at the ceremony for Ernaux in December. She traveled with the author to London in 2019 when Ernaux and translator Alison L. Strayer were shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, and traveled to Spain a few months later when Ernaux received the Premio Formentor. In 2021 there should be another trip with the author, a trip to Naples.
But Noble wasn’t the only member of her team who travelled, as recalled by Judith Oriol, currently director of the book office at the French Institute in China.
Oriol was hired by Noble and worked with her for eight years. “In January 2018, Anne-Solange was invited by the book attaché to travel to India,” where Oriol had previously worked.
“She answered skillfully that there was someone on her team who would clearly be a better fit. Instead she sent me. That says something about her generosity towards her team and the fact that she had no problem putting her trusted colleagues first.”
“An enormous amount and nothing has changed”
During her years as director of rights, Noble says: “On the one hand, a lot has changed, on the other hand, nothing at all. When I arrived there were no computers. They had to send a book in the mail. You have received offers by letter. Email changed everything. The immediacy of messages accelerated exchanges; we could send a pdf of a book.”
Then, in 1989, four years after she began her publishing career, the Berlin Wall fell. “The whole Soviet bloc exploded and suddenly we could sell books to all these countries.”
Three years later, Beijing joined the Universal Copyright Convention, which meant rights could also be sold to China. Today, China is the largest market for book sales in France.
In January 2020, Noble asked to step down from her full-time job to attend to a single language area that she finds the most challenging: English. Judith Rosenzweig, formerly of Editions Denoël, became Gallimard’s rights director.
Noble says her biggest challenge over the years has been precisely this English-speaking territory. “When I arrived [in publishing] Little did I know that the English-language publishing world was not interested in translation. I discovered this and insisted that I would convince her that opening to another culture was rich. It was a lifelong struggle to convince her.”
However, one of her greatest joys in the job was “having managed to sell rights to a certain number of English language publishers.
“Of course, that was with the help of the whole team,” she says.
“One of our breakthroughs was that of Muriel Barbery the elegance of the hedgehog, translated by Alison Anderson. Fifteen publishers in the United States rejected it. When I finally sold it to Europa Editions in 2006 – it had only just come out in 2005 – they had tremendous success with it. They sold 900,000 copies and it did The New York Times’ bestseller list for almost a year.”
Rebecca Byers, Éditions Perrin’s former rights director, says: “If there is one person who embodies French publishing abroad, it is Anne-Solange Noble – and has done so for many years.
“She has tirelessly defended, promoted and recognized French authors and their books around the world.
“During my time as President of the Committee on International Affairs at the National syndicate of the edition (SNE) There was never a dull moment as Anne-Solange took the floor and gave her irrefutable advice on the issue at hand.
“She will be sorely missed in the profession,” says Byers, “a brake who kept everyone on their toes but was always willing to help those entering the profession.”
“Anne-Solange is exceptional,” says Andrew Franklin.
You can find more news on Anne-Solange Noble’s career here, more about the French book publishing industry here, rights and international trade here and more about the Frankfurt Book Fair here.
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