Julie de Lestrange is a true KWL superstar in her native France. Her first independently published novel was such a success that she caught the attention of the traditional publishing world. She now works with traditional publishers on her print books, but retained all her digital rights and continues to publish her eBooks independently. She’s releasing her first English translation as a Kobo Original this month, so we took the opportunity to chat with her and hear her story.
KWL: Your novel, Hier encore, c’était l’été was the top most-read book by Kobo readers in 2017. Why do you think your titles resonate so much with readers?
It was such a surprise for me! I guess the novel resonates with readers because it deals with the life as we know it, made of little or great things that really matter, like friendship, love and death. This book is also about kindness and growing up. Everyone can recognize themselves through the pages.
What made you decide to translate La nouvelle arche, The New Ark, for the English market (your first translated title!)?
I decided to translate La nouvelle Arche because it seems to me that English and American readers love this genre more than anyone else in the world. My book has been selected for prizes in France, and has very good reviews, but I wanted to take on a bigger challenge and see how the English speakers will welcome it.
All of your books are standalone novels, which is very unusual with indie publishers. Do you think this strategy has been a factor in your success?
I wouldn’t say exactly that. The truth is that my first novel was a standalone, and because of its great success, a traditional publisher bought it from me. Then, for my next novels, I worked with traditional publishers. The difference is that I kept all my digital rights. As a result, when it comes to the ebook format, I am free to make my own choices and really enjoying this part of the work. I feel like I’m constantly learning.
Who designs your covers? Do you have a lot of input into the cover design?
The cover was designed by a professional. I’ve known him for a long time, from back when I was working in advertising. He’s very talented and I trust him. However, for this cover in particular, I told him what I wanted and he designed the exact image I’ve had in mind. It was really amazing. I owe him a lot, because cover is so important.
How important do you think it is to reach out to a global audience?
For a French writer like me, it is not only a big challenge, but also a dream. I hope that my book will please a global audience like it did with the French audience. Most YA novels come from the English-speaking market, so I really hope that people won’t be scared to try something different, and that they will like it!
How long have you been writing for? When did you first know that you wanted to write?
I have been writing for almost fifteen years, but I only put my first book online four years ago. It took me a long time to finish it (I had a full time job by this time). I have always wanted to write, but never imagined that it could work this way. I’m so glad that my life changed completely, thanks to the writing. Now I can write full time.
Why did you decide to publish independently?
Being published traditionally is very difficult. So I decided to publish independently to see what the audience would think of my book. I thought that if readers didn’t like it, it would help me to work on it, again and again. But they did like it. So I haven’t changed a thing, and several publishers contacted me few weeks later. It was like a bet with myself.
What are the advantages of self-publishing, in your experience?
There are a lot of advantages. The first is that you can be read – it’s as simple as that. Then, you learn a lot about audience’s expectations, and about being rigourous. Readers won’t be more forgiving, or indulgent because you’re independent. You have to work hard to deliver a great book, just like any professional would do. It’s a really great way to improve yourself.
Which authors and/or books have inspired you?
Well, obviously, Georges Orwell and Aldous Huxley inspired me for The New Ark. But also the classical French writers like Hugo, Balzac, Maupassant. I have so much admiration for these authors. When I read their novels, it’s like art to me. Brilliant sentence construction.
How else do you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes to me everywhere, and at any time. While I’m driving, sleeping, or just walking. Or, sometimes even talking to someone. It’s like I have two different conversations in my head. One with my characters and the other with my interlocutor who, fortunately, won’t notice it.
Are you working on any new projects right now?
I’m currently working on the second book of the New Ark series. Then the third and final book will follow. And then . . . we’ll see ! I have some different ideas in mind.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Keep working ! Keep believing ! I often think about Beethoven who said that talent is 5% of inspiration and 95% of work. It’s very true. I would add that success depends on how you believe in you, and on how people you love believe in you. It’s a key thing.
What has been the most successful way for you to market your books?
The first successful way to market my books was of course online publishing. And then, my books met success in bookstores. But I must say, all started with the electronic book.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I try not to. But it’s very hard. Not that I don’t want to know what people think of it, but in case of bad review, it hurts me so much that I’m tempted to stop everything. You see, these stories have a link with my life, my thoughts, etc . . . so if people don’t like it, it’s like they were telling me that they don’t like what I am. And that is the most difficult thing to hear. Everyone wants to be loved. And maybe artists even more than others.
What advice would you give to an author interested in self-publishing?
To put in a lot of work before releasing the book. Ask lots of different people to read it. Ask some professionals to help. Also, don’t neglect the marketing aspect. And most of it, never stop trying, and believing.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading several books in the same time. Currently Hugo (Les Misérables), Louise Hay, (whose books I have read over and over), some poetry and I also like to read science magazines.
JULIE DE LESTRANGE lives in the Alps, France with her husband and children. After a long time writing for television, her first novel shot to the top of bestseller lists in France.
In 2018, she wrote La nouvelle Arche, the first part of a SF trilogy for a young adult audience. The English translation, The New Ark is being published exclusively with Kobo and is available for pre-order now.