Home > About reading, Gallmeister, Personal Posts > Literary Escapade: an evening with Gallmeister at Au Bonheur des Ogres

Literary Escapade: an evening with Gallmeister at Au Bonheur des Ogres

I suppose that every usual reader of this blog knows that I’m huge fan of the publisher Gallmeister. Last month, the bookstore Au Bonheur des Ogres organized a meeting with one of Gallmeister’s representatives, Thibault. The aim was to talk about this publisher’s story and editorial line.

Before telling you all about this fascinating insight of a publisher’s workings, let’s talk a little bit about Au Bonheur des Ogres. (The Ogres’ Paradise, if I translate into English the French play-on-words on Zola’s novel The Ladies’ Paradise). It’d be a strange name for a bookshop if it weren’t the title of the first installment of the Malaussène series by Daniel Pennac. Read Guy’s review here and rush for this series if you’re in need of good entertainment. In Lyon, Au Bonheur des Ogres is a cozy bookstore operated by an enthusiastic libraire (*), Antony, who welcomed us after hours to discuss Gallmeister’s literature.

Thibault started the evening with a warm thank you to Au Bonheur des Ogres and a statement about the unique book ecosystem that we have in France. It survives under the shield of the Lang Law, something I’ve mentioned before and that is the fixed price for books. The price of a book is set by its publisher and only 5% discounts are allowed. You’re not tempted to browse through books in a bookstore, go out empty-handed and buy your book online. It won’t be cheaper. So, you buy it right away and this helps maintaining a dense network of independent bookstores in the country. This network is not always doing well, but they’re still there.

In France, ebook sales don’t take off and Amazon only represents 4% of Gallmeister’s turnover. We, readers have the power: we are the ones who decide through our buying habits where we’d rather purchase our books and we can keep the big bad American wolf at bay. Our libraires participate to the diversity of the French book ecosystem: they ensure that a large diversity of books reach their shelves and are available to meet their readers. They are a link between indie publishers and readers.

Therefore, Gallmeister’s policy has been to bet on independent bookstores and libraires.

Oliver Gallmeister founded his eponymous publishing house in 2005. Maybe I should say home instead of house, because it seems to be a good home for books, writers and literature. OG is an avid reader of Nature writing and stories featuring trappers, cowboys, and nature as an essential part of the narration and the plot. He’s able to read American literature in the original. Sadly, some of these marvelous books weren’t translated into French and that where the adventure began. A publishing house centered around American literature about nature, people living in the wilderness for a while, of people living in small towns and rural areas. Gallmeister publishes what OG loves to read and reflects his passions. He loves fly-fishing and Thibault told us with a kind humor that they publish a book per year that features fly-fishing. The employees call it “The Trout” and it comes out every November. Now you understand why I keep stumbling upon books about fly-fishing or where fly-fishing is involved! It’s even become a family inside joke.

The first Gallmeister books were The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, a story about fun and crazy eco-terrorists in Utah, and Indian Creek by Pete Fromm. I’ve never read Pete Fromm but Thibault told us that he writes about nature beautifully but truthfully. It’s not always a welcoming place for mankind and he doesn’t romanticize his experience of living in the woods. I now have his A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do on the shelf.

Gallmeister’s first bestseller was Sukkwan Island by David Vann, a novella included in Legend of a Suicide. Interesting fact, a bestseller means selling 80 000 copies of a novel. They sold 300 000 copies of Sukkwan Island. David Vann is better known in France than in his own country.

This novella was a turning point in Gallmeister’s young life. US agents started to contact OG directly to push new books. (Fun fact: in France, anyone can send a manuscript to publishers, there’s no need for an agent but in the US, you can’t.) And Gallmeister sometimes publishes books in French that haven’t even been published in America.

One of OG’s goal is that his writers are able to live of their writing. He also pushes their American agents to keep fighting and find them a US publisher when they argue that the book was already a success in France.

French people are HUGE readers of American literature and literature in translation in general. Gallmeister has found an editorial line that appeals to the French public. For example, Gabriel Tallent has sold more copies of My Absolute Darling in one year in France than in three years in the US. (Last time I saw it in a bookstore, it had a banner that said 400 000 copies) I wonder how it is in other European countries.

Thibault explained that right from the start, Gallmeister decided to rely on indie bookstores to promote their books and it made the difference, it’s part of the DNA of the house and a reason for their success. And of course, they need readers to keep buying books in these bookshops.

I think that they publish a kind of literature that fascinates the French readers and a type of books that has no French equivalent. It makes us travel, it’s far from our everyday life and doesn’t linger on first world problems of the upper classes. Their books tell stories about hardworking misfits, loners and blue-collar people. They question the American dream and show a lesser known side of America.

Thibault was here to talk about literature, share his passion for his job and tell us about the book industry and the innerworkings of Gallmeister. He failed to mention that part of Gallmeister’s success is also their innovative and killer marketing. It’s respectful of literature and readers. The books have original covers, all in the same style because there’s one illustrator. No pictures of faceless people. No aggressive colors. No cheesy or girlish stuff for female writers. The books are classy and distinctive. Here are bookmarks and a stylish catalogue of their paperback collection, Totem.

I have read or bought 34 of their 161 paperbacks, 21%. The catalogue gives a short bio of the authors and a blurb of their books. The last pages say all about the Gallmeister spirit. It’s a resume of the Totem collection with random facts like: which translation took the longest time, which one is the most beer-soaked book and the list of the most encountered animals. I loved the humor in the mention: “we didn’t list all the fish, for the lack of space”

They pay attention to the whole book chain: the printers, the illustrators, the authors and of course, the translators. The translations are impeccable, the American vibe is there and yet, it’s perfect French. New translations are crucial for Noir as their first translation was sometimes sketchy when they were published in Série Noire. This is why Gallmeister has started to re-translate all of Ross McDonald’s books.

The choice of books shows flawless literary tastes, whether the book speaks to you or not and their books are centered around five themes now: Wilderness, Cities through Noir fiction only, Intimate stories, the place of America in the world and a common theme: Noir is the Ariadne’s thread, different in each book but always present in the background.

The next big release is a new translation of Gone With the Wind, not a book I would have picked but I might after Thibault shared some passages. In 2021, they’ll expand to new countries, Italy, UK and Germany.

You know I lack of objectivity when it comes to this publisher but I truly had a lovely evening. It’s nice to hear about what’s behind the scene and how a small publishing house operates. Many thanks to Au Bonheur des Ogres for hosting this event. For me, it was a breath of fresh air after a day in the office, a wonderful way to leave my office-related worries behind and focus on reading and sharing the love for books with likeminded people. Of course, I brought two books home.

___

(*) A libraire is a booklover who recommends books to other readers in a bookstore and eventually sells them. In English: a bookseller.

  1. March 7, 2020 at 8:04 pm

    Ah, finally the fishing mystery is resolved! Have they really only been around for 15 years? They seem to be so well established!

    Like

    • March 7, 2020 at 8:07 pm

      Yes, the fishing mystery is solved. And yes, they’re quite young and quickly found a place in our literary landscape.
      I discovered them in bookstores and I think that the TV show La Grande Librairie promotes their books regularly too. They did a reportage in Montana with Pete Fromm recently, for example.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. March 8, 2020 at 1:32 am

    Ah, now we understand about the fishing!
    I am fascinated by publishers (small indie ones, that is). Where would we be without them? But you put your finger on it when you say that “the book shows flawless literary tastes”. I think this is so true, and why the small indie publisher is the source of so many of the books I read. The decision-maker who decides to publish this book and not that one, has the same taste as me. I don’t ever the same confidence in the products of the global conglomerates.

    Like

    • March 8, 2020 at 9:56 am

      I don’t think I’ll ever go fishing (I couldn’t stand still long enough) but I’d like to see how it’s done, observing someone from the shore.

      I am also fascinated by publishers and small ones too. That’s why the list of publishers on my blog are only indie ones, the others don’t need any exposure. (Not that I think that being listed on my blog has any moneraty value for them but it can’t hurt, right?)
      Indie publishers have a more distinctive editorial line than conglomerates, it goes with the size. Once you’ve found one that suits you, there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy their other books.

      Now, when I try a new writer, most of the time I’ve heard from him/her on someone’s blog or it’s published by a publisher I trust. I’m rarely disappointed.
      I would never have discovered Australian lit without you and I’ve already read two Australian books this year (out of ten)
      Guy’s blog has been a constant resource for good books too.
      I’ve seen on Twitter that Anthony quits blogging and I hope there will not be wave of other shut downs. I need to do better at reading other bloggers’ posts and commenting.

      And I know there’s a good chance I’ll like any book by Gallmeister, Rivages or Actes Sud.
      When looking for foreign books for blog challenges or our Book Club, I’ve discovered publishers specialised in Asian lit or East European lit.

      Like

  3. March 8, 2020 at 2:02 am

    A “dense network of independent bookstores”, that’s something to dream about. But the French have always fought to protect their culture and ours has always been for sale to any foreigner who wishes to buy and subsequently discard it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 8, 2020 at 10:10 am

      We still have the idea that culture is something to protect and foster.

      I remember that the French fought tooth and nails in Brussels to keep cultural “goods” out of some commercial treaties and have it recognized that cultural goods and services should be treated differently.
      We were also strong advocates of keeping a low VAT rate on books and extend it to ebooks.

      I’ve never heard of any politician saying they would change the Lang Law on the fixed price for books. Paperbacks cost between 5 euros (classics) to 10/12 euros max. It’s cheaper than in Australia but there’s a reason why books are so expensive in your country. But it’s also less expensive than in the US where the market is bigger. I guess that French publishers don’t take advantage of this law to increase prices.

      This law is the backbone of a collective support to indie bookstores and the reader wins on every aspect. Luckily, our current president is an avid reader, I don’t see him rocking that boat.

      Then you have some tax incentives to protect small bookshops and a global feeling that we need to protect this otherwise endangered species. For example, at the festival Quais du Polar, only indie bookshops are allowed to have a stand, welcome writers and sell books on the premises.

      Like

  4. March 8, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    This is so interesting Emma, thank you for sharing. I really like how Gallmeister has shown that focusing on your passions can be a good business model – you don’t have to go for bland general stuff to have appeal. I wish the UK had Lang Law too.

    Like

    • March 8, 2020 at 10:05 pm

      I think that Gallmeister had a clever approach of the market: focus on excellent books, have the bookstores on board and invest in a beautiful design. Readers are attracted to their books, they stand out.

      Yes, I think that the fixed price for books is a good law. I don’t know why other countries don’t apply it too. It doesn’t cost anything to the tax payers and it sustains small shops.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. March 9, 2020 at 2:14 am

    We used to have something like the Lang Law in the UK but it got abandoned many years ago. So now there is a lot f discounting going on which doesn’t help the bookshops because they are pressured into giving publishers more and more discounts in order to stock their titles and promote them, it doesn’t help the authors either….

    Like

    • March 9, 2020 at 9:54 am

      Why was it abandoned? Did it have negative side or was it just the lets-deregulate-everything wave?

      Like

  6. March 9, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Very interesting post Emma, thanks ! Publishing houses have always fascinated me, you were lucky to attend this event. I’ve read my Absolute Darling and I thought it was one of the greatest books of the decade, I’ll check other titles from their catalogue.

    Like

    • March 9, 2020 at 9:36 am

      Thanks.

      My Absolute Darling is stunning isn’t it? It stayed with me.
      Some passages are horrible and others are terrifying.
      I liked that his characters aren’t black and white.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. March 10, 2020 at 2:53 am

    This was great. A few things I knew and a lot I didn’t. I wish more publishers had events like this, so bloggers could write posts like this.

    The combination of mysteries / regional writing / nature writing that Gallmeister loves is so natural. It creates a unique, but true, idea of what American literature is. I wish they had an English-language side, with the same great covers.

    Like

    • March 11, 2020 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks Tom.
      Have you been to Au Bonheur des Ogres when you were in Lyon? It’s in Vaise.

      I like that Gallmeister shows another side of America than the one we usually see in films. In Europe, we tend to think that the whole country is like NY, LA or San Francisco.
      I’d love for them to publish their books in English or in English & with the French translation.

      Next time I’ll ask if they ever thought about doing it.

      Like

      • March 11, 2020 at 10:20 pm

        No, I never made it to to that librairie. Too far off my beaten path.

        Like

        • March 11, 2020 at 10:22 pm

          Same for me. Except that now I know it’s not that far from my office…

          Like

  8. Vishy
    March 12, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Loved your post, Emma! So nice to know that books in France can’t be sold at a deep discount and there is not much difference between buying a book in a bookshop and buying it online. This definitely helps real bookstores, especially indie bookstores. Loved reading about Gallmeister! They seem to be a wonderful publisher. Now we know where your love for fly-fishing books comes from 😁 The two books you got look very interesting! I am so happy that one of them is Glendon Swarthout’s Bless the Beasts and Children! I have that book, and I don’t know anyone who has read that 😁 So it was so wonderful to know that you got the French translation! Happy reading!

    Like

    • March 13, 2020 at 1:32 pm

      This law is a good and protective law.
      And yes, now everyone knows why I have read so many books involving fly-fishing.

      Did you enjoy Bless the Beasts and Children? You’ve read The Power of the Dog too. You seem to like the kind of books Gallmeister publishes. Their catalogue could be a good source of reading ideas for you.

      Like

      • Vishy
        March 16, 2020 at 3:20 pm

        It is wonderful that there is such a law in France, Emma. Independent bookstores need all the help they can get. I haven’t read Bless the Beasts and Children yet. If you are planning to read it anytime soon, and you don’t mind doing a readalong, I would love to read it with you. Yes, Gallmeister seems to have some wonderful titles! Will check their catalogue online.

        Like

        • March 16, 2020 at 10:36 pm

          I would love to do a readalong with you. Would April or May be OK with you?

          I’ve set up a Gallmeister category on my blog. Of course their catalogue is in French. I use Goodreads to find the original title of a translation.

          Like

          • Vishy
            March 17, 2020 at 10:47 am

            So wonderful, Emma! April sounds great! Will check out the Gallmeister category in your blog.

            Like

            • March 19, 2020 at 9:30 pm

              It’s official : It’s Bless the Beasts and the Children Readalong in April! Great! Readalongs, reading and blogging are one of those activities the coronavirus can’t cancel.

              Like

              • Vishy
                March 20, 2020 at 12:04 pm

                Wonderful Emma! Can’t wait for April! Looking forward to discussing Bless the Beasts and Children with you 🙂

                Like

              • March 22, 2020 at 8:27 am

                Perfect! 🙂 Will publish it on Twitter, in case other readers want to join us. The more, the merrier.

                Like

              • Vishy
                March 22, 2020 at 6:46 pm

                Wonderful! Looking forward to it!

                Like

  1. April 30, 2020 at 12:03 pm

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