Sabine Wespieser: “The violence of the market is such that an author who no longer works is thrown out”

Posted on April 22, 2022 at 10:44Updated on April 22, 2022 at 11:12 am

Since its creation in 2002, the independent publisher founded by Sabine Wespieser has had time to expand. She publishes 10 books a year and offers a panel of essential authors including Robert Seethaler and Michèle Lesbre, and for her, quality prevails over quantity.

With the same love of books as when she started and a family team of four, the morally strong publisher shares her desire to support her authors and their books wherever possible. On the occasion of this anniversary, Sabine Wespieser, present at the Paris Book Festival, talks about the uniqueness of her house, the importance of independence in the profession and her taste for a literature that shows the world of another way. .

Why did you leave Actes Sud to found your own publishing house?

After almost 15 years of happiness at Actes Sud where I learned my trade with the founder Hubert Nyssen, I wanted to rediscover myself with a more artisanal vision of daily work and especially with my first job, which is the text. . I had the feeling that I no longer had time to really take care of the books that I had chosen with the authors. I had a kind of frustration, like a scientist who loves to be on the sidelines and finds himself the leader of the team. I really wanted to put my energy into the direct defense of my books with the main prescribers rather than at the service of a hierarchy that inevitably became heavier in a house that, when I left, was already publishing a book a day.

What is the genesis of the house’s first success?

The house did not yet exist when I discovered Nuala O’Faolain, an Irish author. I published in 2002, at the beginning of the school year, this book that became “We have already met somewhere” which was a success of esteem, then “Chimères” in 2003 which sold more than 15,000 copies. Nuala’s success and her confidence have signaled our home to Irish authors who wanted to be there, not least Edna O’Brien, for example, Claire Keegan and the actor Gabriel Byrne whose memoirs I publish at the beginning of the school year. Following. They are there thanks to Nuala O’Faolain. This is exactly how I like to work, creating a biotope, trust and consistency.

You are very faithful to your authors…

This is a story that could argue against the merger. Nuala O’Faolain, when she was about to die in 2008, knew that her new book had not been taken from any English-speaking home. Why ? because she was no longer profitable. She died with this sadness of knowing that his book might not finally find readers in his language. I published it three months after his death. One of my great prides is that I was able to sell the rights, an absolute disgrace, to an American publisher, an Irish publisher and an English publisher. The violence of the market is such that they throw out an author who no longer works.

What has changed in the last 20 years in publishing?

For 15 years, I have the impression that we have faced an obstacle course, keeping a house like this has really become a combat sport, as Bourdieu said. It is a hyper-brutal market between Amazon and concentration gaining ground, with groups using all means to try to steal from my authors, promote theirs and take up as much space as possible on booksellers’ tables.

Do you care about social engagement through books?

And how ! The book is political. It is political in the sense of the role of men or women in the city, they are very strong statements. Louis-Philippe Dalembert, the author of “Milwaukee Blues”, which talks about racism in the context of Black Lives Matter, has just won the Goncourt prize from Spain and Belgium. Ultimately, this gives the opportunity for these questions to be heard across borders.

What moves you in literature, besides language work?

At the heart of literature is the text. There’s the form. I like that this form produces meaning. I will never publish a great story simply because the story is well told. I started my life teaching classics, so form is very important to me. There is also a way to stage the book object. It was a real thought when creating the house and it is very exciting, fun and interesting to fully think of a singular object.

Why is he so attached to foreign language authors?

Someone told me one day that it must be linked to the fact that I was born on a border. I am originally from Alsace, so the proximity of another culture is ingrained in me. As a reader, even before being an editor, it was always literature that taught me how to see the world. Much more than the social sciences.

And your love for French books outside of France?

I am very attached to these territories where the French language is spoken, written but also nourished by a double imaginary. This is how it was in my childhood with Alsatian, it is the case of Haitian Creole which is the everyday language of Yannick Lahens who writes in French or Dima Abdallah who grew up in Lebanon with the singing of the Arabic language around him. This gives authors who think of the world differently and who write the French language differently. There are many more singular voices on this “francophone” soil than in the biotope of Flore, Magots, Lipp cafés.

You have no collection. Is it a choice?

We weren’t going to subdivide something that was already quite small. At 10 pounds a year, we weren’t going to get by. For me, a text translated into French is a text written in French because a translator is a writer. Everything is put on the same plane.

How do you see the future of the house? 20 more years?

One thing I’m sure of is that I absolutely don’t want to sell the house to a group, I absolutely don’t want to meet my managing director who explains to me that if this year is bad, we should publish more next year and then maybe do a manga collection because it is more profitable, no thanks! Afterwards, men and women are mortal. Editorials are deadly… The only thing you can wish for me is that it continue.

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