- One year after the "Blackwater" phenomenon, whose saga has sold more than 800,000 copies, the editions Monsieur Toussaint Louverture publish the two volumes of "Swan Song", the bestselling novel by the American author Robert McCammon.
- This post-apocalyptic bestseller published in 1987 in the United States appears for the first time in French.
- "Many of his works have been translated but they have always remained in the horrific/fantasy niche. But Robert McCammon also has a great storyteller's approach, his books can touch many different people, "explained to "20 Minutes" Dominique Bordes, head of this independent publishing house.
Several million sales worldwide, three Bram Stocker Awards (a renowned literary prize in the field of horror) and yet, Robert McCammon's name remains quite confidential in France. But for how much longer? This Friday, Swan Song, one of the bestsellers of the American author released in 1987 and since translated into fifteen languages, appears in two volumes for the first time in French.
One year after the masterstroke of Mickael McDowell's Blackwater saga, which sold more than 800,000 copies for all episodes, Monsieur Toussaint Louverture is tackling McCammon's blockbuster. On the agenda? A dystopia with contemporary resonances where it is a question of survival in a devastated America after the apocalypse. The future summer cardboard? Dominique Bordes, head of the independent publishing house, answered questions from "20 Minutes".
Just like "Blackwater" last year, this new novel comes out just before the summer. Would you like to install this appointment permanently?
Much of the so-called "popular" literature operated by regular appointments, at different paces, whether in newspapers or with what was called popular publishing, black series, etc. I would like to set up appointments but we must also consider the fact that we are a very small publishing house. Even if we've had success, especially with Blackwater, we can't go that far. But I find this period interesting because it is often underestimated or set aside by many publishers. Compared to Swan Song, it was a very good time because in the United States it was released at the same time. There is also this idea, all things considered, of the literary blockbuster, of extremely entertaining books that come out at the beginning of summer. Temporality is something very interesting: how quickly should we release an author's novelties? In France we are on annualization, we have Amélie Nothomb like Beaujolais Nouveau, but there are other schools. Romance is much more rhythmic, as is popular literature.
You are once again highlighting a little-known work in France, as well as its author. A niche literary genre, less visible here?
We see the desire of readers to flirt with fantasy and horror through the success of Stephen King who has established himself as a phenomenon, like other French or Anglo-Saxon authors. But that was never the case for McCammon in France. Many of his works have been translated but they have always remained in the horrific/fantasy niche. But he also has a great storyteller's approach, his books can touch a lot of different people. There is indeed a niche problem in France, the genre is quite underestimated, except when it comes to superstars or when the book is positioned elsewhere by publishers, in collections of foreign literature for example. These are very good strategies too, everything is good to try to make people read. For Swan Song, on the contrary, I wanted to support the line and make those who had in mind this culture of the 1980s react. It's a blockbuster, with its clichés and flaws. But it stands the test of time, it is extremely solid and is always read and reread in the United States.
The story includes stories of contaminated water, nuclear accidents and radioactive rain. Very contemporary issues, rooted in our time?
The authors make use of these great and very modern fears, which emerged after the Second World War and which are constantly working on us. In Stephen King's The Scourge, it was a kind of flu that contaminated the earth. In Swan Song, there is also a very strong belief, in man but also in a higher force. Little by little it echoes hope, the search for humanity and that spark that can make us live together again. It is very topical. I always work on books that I feel can have a form of timelessness.
This novel is also reminiscent of one of the huge successes that was the series "The Last Of Us" at the beginning of the year. A happy coincidence?
What's interesting is this appetite of people for these doomsday stories, which perhaps speak even better about ourselves. Looking at bestsellers, all these stories have a real life when they are well positioned, with a good price etc. Sometimes there are no articles in the press but they manage to sell 60,000, 80,000 copies. Perhaps people, including myself, are fascinated by the fall of civilization. This is a legitimate concern and it even seems to me that the "Doomsday Clock" [a concept devised in 1947 to measure the state of the planet] is getting closer and closer to midnight. It's midnight minus two minutes from the Apocalypse! The end of the world is something that we do not rub shoulders with on a daily basis but that weighs without us realizing it. All these series about the end of humanity are quite fascinating, and so are the books. But there aren't that many.
One of the signatures of your publishing house is the care taken in the covers of the books. For "Swan Song", you call it "pulpesque". What you mean?
I could have used the term "nostalgic" but there wasn't this idea of a slap, colorful, Grind House. So I used this term "pulpesque" which refers to pulp culture [a popular literature very popular in the first half of the twentieth century in the United States]. The idea is to always make the book a remarkable object. It is always said that books "are not like yogurt". But it is still a product manufactured industrially, on the assembly line. You buy a story but also an object with which you will live for a little while. We create everyday objects and we must intensify this aesthetic relationship. Many brands do this, such as Apple which has proposed a replay of the mobile phone. It is normal that the publishing world also works on this subject.
Is the marketing aspect crucial to stand out from the crowd?
For me this is decisive. Editing a book is also publishing it in terms of marketing. These are advertising investments, partnerships with Fnac, Cultura, promotion on social networks... It is a whole. There are all kinds of levers, that is part of it.
"Blackwater" had benefited from a notable relay on social networks. This literary influence has become significant for the publishing world?
I don't work much with influencers and in France we are not yet at the same level as in the United States where when there is a runaway on Tik Tok for example, it makes the whole book chain get excited. I try to put in place the necessary elements for the influence of social networks to be positive, or exist at all. On Swan Song, a few weeks ago I sent thousands of people who were in our database, a letter with a letter from Colonel Macklin [a character in the book], a booklet, a sticker... This is direct marketing. People get that and take pictures of it for social media. The idea is to convince both the potential reader that this book may interest him, but also that he produces content around it. Even before the book comes out. We must not skimp on the means and inventiveness to arouse in the reader the desire and desire to go and buy it in bookstores.
The "Blackwater" saga has sold more than 805,000 copies in all volumes. Have you set yourself a similar goal?
With Blackwater I had set myself several levels, I had started with a goal of 50,000. In the commercial mechanics set up I already reached them before the release. Then I had another level of 90,000/100,000 copies and after that escaped me. The book had its own impact, it made its way.
"Swan Song" is already out of stock on your site.
It is because booksellers have pre-ordered too much. They were very enthusiastic, maybe too much! They want to make a kind of Blackwater bis. Sometimes the market overreacts. In any case, this is not what I planned, even if I have set myself a rather important goal. But maybe I'm wrong and booksellers also suspect that post-apocalyptic stories have real potential with their readers. They may have a better vision than I have and that's normal because I don't work the same way at all.
Last April you received the Livres Hebdo prize for "La petite maison d'édition de l'année". What has changed for you in the last year?
Nothing! It's not going to lead to any noticeable changes, it just convinced me that if you do the work a certain way with certain books, it works. I have to keep the same line, the same intuitions, the same working models. The price is very interesting for professional recognition, there is still a note of confidence and legitimation. I know that the fight is difficult but also that for now, I am not fighting too badly. But I must not rest on my laurels, I must be inventive. It's also Swan Song's idea to go somewhere else. We can see that people are receptive to going in other directions, towards books where they would not necessarily go. It's interesting to think that in a reader's career, we managed to take him where he would not have gone naturally.