Best-selling Swiss author Joël Dicker tries his hand at self-publishing

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Joël Dicker has just released his sixth novel, “The Alaska Sanders Affair”, which he published himself. © Keystone / Martial Trezzini

Joël Dicker, who had enormous international success, decided to create his own publishing house in Geneva. Other writers have turned to online self-publishing, an inexpensive option that is growing in popularity.

This content was published on April 24, 2022 – 10:30

Ghana Adamo

Joel DickerExternal link is often dismissed as a popular fiction writer not to be counted among the literary greats of his day. On the other hand, almost everyone recognizes his business acumen. The Genevois is one of the ten most appreciated authors of the French-speaking world. His popularity with readers outside Europe brings him significant financial rewards, thanks to the translation of his books into 40 languages.

Dicker has sold 12 million books worldwide. Since royalties represent around 10% of the price of the book and its best-selling The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair) sells for more than 20€ (CHF20.70) in France, it’s quite easy to do the math.

The 36-year-old is certainly a wealthy man. His fortune allowed him to create his own publishing house, Rosie & WolfeExternal link, which was launched in Geneva last February. Her sixth novel The Alaska Sanders Affair (The Alaska Sanders case) was released by its own publishing company on March 10 (no date has been set for the release of the English edition).

Outliers

At Rosie & Wolfe, Dicker is republishing his first five novels, previously sold under the imprint of Bernard de Fallois. The Parisian publisher, who died in 2018, contributed a lot to the international success of Joël Dicker.

Dicker has now decided to bring his books back to his hometown of Geneva. From now on, he will collect all royalties. But he is not content with self-publishing. He also intends to publish other writers, he announced online.

He is preoccupied with the business side of things, both in real life and in fiction. In The Alaska Sanders case it sticks to the winning formula its readers have become accustomed to by now – murder, police investigation, case closed, new twists and so on. – this was the case with The truth about the Harry Quebert affairthe first volume of a trilogy which ends with The Alaska Sanders case.

Joël Dicker is the first Swiss literary star to create his own publishing house.

“It’s actually unique in this country,” says Tanja Messerli of the Swiss Booksellers and Publishers Association. “In the past, there have been attempts at self-publishing that haven’t really been successful.”

For example, 30 years ago the then unknown Swiss writer Milena Moser tried to set up her own publishing house Krösus with the help of friends. At the time, she could not find a publisher for her first manuscript. However, her work is now published by the Zurich publishing house Kein & Aber and she is a well-known figure on the Swiss literary scene.

©olivier Dion/lh/opale.photo

To self-publish or not to self-publish?

Starting your own publishing operation is not easy.

“The initial investment is huge. You have to pay for an editorial board, rent offices, then find sales people, distributors, etc. », explains Messerli.

Thus, some authors put their books directly online, avoiding intermediaries and the associated costs. But that doesn’t mean a publisher will pick them up.

“In French-speaking Switzerland, a lot of people self-publish on the internet, but they are not very visible and fail to capture attention,” explains Caroline Coutau, head of the Geneva publishing house Zoé Editions.

There have been some outstanding successes overseas. Messerli mentions EL James, the British author of Fifty shades of Grey.

At first it was published as an episode directly online, then on its own website and later as an e-book by online publisher The Writers’ Coffee Shop. Eventually an American publisher, Vintage Books, noticed it, revised it, and put it to press in 2012. Hollywood quickly beckoned.

Agnès Martin-Lugand, a French novelist, although less famous than EL James, had the same kind of luck. She published her first novel on Amazon’s Kindle platform before it was picked up by Parisian publisher Michel Lafon.

Books as a business

“All publishing houses have a business model that involves large sales volumes. There is no reason for self-publishing to be an exception, especially if the investor has sufficient resources – and if he is ‘calls Joël Dicker”, specifies Olivier Babel, of the professional union LIVRESUISSE.

So, is writing books becoming a business?

“It depends on the culture, which varies from one country to another”, explains Olivier Bessard-Banquy, professor at the University of Bordeaux, who studies the book trades. “In the French-speaking world, the book has maintained a close link with intellectual, even affective life, whereas in the Anglo-Saxon world, it is a business, run by literary agents.

A number of current stars write with sales in mind, not so much for literary immortality. Guillaume Musso, a successful French writer like Joël Dicker, is one of them. These writers bring in millions of dollars. Are they likely to bankrupt their publisher if they jump ship and self-publish?

“If a star writer leaves, a publisher can really take a hit, financially first, and symbolically too, because it hurts when someone like that abandons you,” Bessard-Banquy says. It should be noted that Bernard de Fallois’ publishing house has ceased its activities since the departure of his protege, Joël Dicker.

Does traditional publishing still have a future? Bessard-Banquy has a clear answer.

“There will always be self-publishing as an improvised effort. It didn’t start yesterday either. Restif de La Bretonne (1734-1806) and Balzac (1799-1850) did it in France in their time. But the development of the digital sphere will not mean that traditional publishers will disappear.

Translated from French by Terence MacNamee

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