Interview with a Foreign Rights Reader

An online friend recently mentioned that she’s a reader for a French Publisher and I was fascinated, so I thought I’d interview her here. Introducing Jennifer Chevais.

So who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jennifer Chevais and I’m a Foreign Rights Reader for Hachette Jeunesse’s young adult imprint Black Moon in France. I read not-yet-published English language books that come to Black Moon either from English language publishers or via literary agents wanting to sell the Foreign Rights on the author they’re representing’s book. I read the book and then I write a report on what I’ve read.

I read so that the editors don’t have to mush through all of the slush themselves.

I’ve also done translations for Hachette when they’ve had a French language novel that they’re particularly excited about and want to sell to the English-reading market.

How did you get the job?

As with a lot of things in the publishing business, finding this job was an off the wall, never to be repeated, bit of luck.

I found the job because I knit.

I have a close friend who has a tea/local yarn shop (L’OisiveThé) in the Butte aux Cailles area (found in the 13th arrondissement of Paris) and every Wednesday evening she holds a knitting night (a TricoThé – cute, right?). I hadn’t been in ages but I decided to go one particular evening and was sitting with a bunch of people I didn’t know.

I can’t remember how the conversation veered to “what we do” but it turned out that the girl across from me worked as a Reader/Translator. My “Spidey Senses” actually tingled and I, as casually as I could, mentioned that I’d love to do something like that. I might have gushed. She hooked me up with Black Moon that evening for a test read and away I went!

What’s the best part of your job? And the worst part?

Being paid to read is a dream come true! I admit it! I have read some absolutely brilliant manuscripts and I have to admit that I’m really excited that in a small way I’m helping to bring some absolutely amazing literature to young adults in France.

That said, that doesn’t mean that everything I’ve read is amazing. To be honest, some of it is downright nasty.

Case in point: while I won’t name any names, there was one book that took me ages to read because… it kept putting me to sleep. Pinky swear. I kept trying and I kept nodding off. In fact, in order to write my synopsis of the storyline, I had to keep the word document open and scroll through it to make sure I didn’t leave anything out. I honestly couldn’t even remember the climax of the story!

This was a real eye-opener for me. I hadn’t realised beforehand that a lot of really terrible books get published.

My job as a Reader is to be ruthless. If a story doesn’t work, if there are loose ends, if it flies into the realm of cliché, if the writing is hilariously ludicrous, this is no time to be positive. The reputation of the publisher is at stake for one thing and editors are too busy to be bothered with having to read a text that doesn’t work for another.

Do you have any tools of the trade?

I use an electronic reader. Either the publisher or the literary scout they work with sends me a manuscript via email that I then transfer to my reader. The work is sporadic as I can get a number of manuscripts at once or nothing (I still depend on a day job).

On average, I read and report on 2 books a week.

Have you discovered any books you think we should know about?

After reading How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, I actually felt compelled to write an email to the author and tell her, in my most polite, unstalkerish way, that her book blew me away. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt tore my heart out a little and The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen made my throat ache for days after reading it. The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchison made me laugh out loud though I wish they wouldn’t market it as being “Pratchett meets Python” because it’s charming on its own merit. The premise behind The Archived by Victoria Schwab is drop-dead fascinating and I hope it does well. Another one I really enjoyed was Devine Intervention by Martha Brockenbrough. I have to admit that I’m still not sure as to why she intentionally misspelled Devine but the story is a lot of fun.

To date, of all the books that I’ve read for Black Moon, I’m only aware of one book whose rights have been acquired for France.

I assume you need to take cultural differences into consideration – are there books you’ve turned down just because they wouldn’t work in France?

As it happens, I don’t have the role of turning anything down. My job consists of giving my opinion on the story but ultimately, even if a story is terrible, it could still be acquired and translated.

There are more factors involved in book choosing than Readers have access to. These factors include the current catalogue and the one that’s being put together, ensuring that books don’t have the same themes and compete with one another. There may be pressure from one market to publish popular authors in another market even if the books/series aren’t very well written.

However, that said and to answer your question, I have come across books that, though United Kingdom publishers may dare them, knowing the kids I know here and knowing their parents (ie, the people buying the books), those books simply wouldn’t work here in France.

Honestly, my biggest fear is that I’ll detest the next Twilight (I know the Reader who read Twilight for Black Moon and I’m reassured that though she wasn’t keen on the book, Black Moon still bought the rights).

What’s your desert island book?

I suppose that saying my e-reader stuffed to the gills with “books” is the wrong answer.

If you could live in a book – but still be yourself – which book would you choose?

I have always had a soft spot for fantasy novels. I wish I had it in me to go all medieval, but honestly I don’t think I’d last a day in their hard world. What are the chances that I’d be the aristocrat?

Finally… David Mitchell or Russell Brand?

Who? Just give me a minute to Google…

Wow, I obviously live in a vacuum. Or my nose is stuck too close to my e-reader. Who are those dudes? And which David Mitchell?

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