Today, I’d like to kick off this series of blog posts with an article that will help you understand what happens in French bookshops each year.
Rentrée littéraire d’automne: the traditional publishing boom
Like every other country, France has its own characteristics when it comes to publishing. One of these is the rentrée littéraire, a term which likely comes from its connection with the rentrée scolaire (‘back-to-school season’). In France September means a return to both school and to bookstores.
Since the end of World War II or so, just as the summer holidays are ending and right up until the end of October, French bookshops are filled with newly released novels, mainly adult literary fiction from new and established authors.1
Why does this intense period of publishing occur in this particular season, giving it the nickname the rentrée littéraire d’automne (automne meaning, as you may have guessed, ‘autumn’)?
Perhaps it is to celebrate the return of people to the city after summers often spent in the countryside and to mark a return to reading after the summer holidays. It brings more people into the bookstores and the books benefit from the general excitement as well as the increased media attention surrounding literature at that time. There’s some strategy at play too, as novels published in this period can also be listed for prestigious literary prizes such as the Prix Goncourt, Prix Renaudot, Prix Femina, Prix de l’Académie française, etc.
The number of books released in France in these three short months is astounding: in 2019, 524 new titles were published over this period, and the figure was the lowest in twenty years!2 However, the reality is that only about fifty of these will make it to the front of bookstores.3 Even though publishers and authors try to make the most of an increased media exposure in autumn,1 getting attention remains a struggle …
Super Thursday: an English-speaking rentrée littéraire d’automne?
This is somehow reminiscent of what is known as Super Thursday in Ireland and in the UK: a Thursday in October when the highest number of hardbacks is published on a single day. Once again, the figures are impressive: 426 fiction and non-fiction hardcovers were released on the 3rd of October 2019 in the run-up to Christmas, the industry’s major sales season.4
Is it the English-speaking version of a rentrée littéraire? Maybe in terms of numbers, but while French new publications focus on literary fiction (hence the name rentrée littéraire), Super Thursday is also the release date of many celebrity memoirs or cookbooks for example.
Moreover, both events do not generate the same public awareness. Super Thursday is more of an insider term, used for over ten years now, rather than a celebration of books among the population and in the media.5
Nevertheless, combining this exciting day for publishers with initiatives such as Books Are My Bag with its iconic tote bag, Books Are My Bag Readers Award and Bookshop Day might raise awareness on a broader scale and draw more people to bookshops in the future.
A new rentrée littéraire for the cold months
Publishing in France is not restricted to one point in the year. In fact, over the last twenty years, another rentrée littéraire has emerged in France with a massive wave of publications in January and February: the rentrée littéraire d’hiver (hiver meaning ‘winter’). It revitalises an otherwise quiet time in publishing, starting the new year with fresh titles before the lighter reads of the summer months or the gift books typical at the end of the year – just like in Ireland.3
At the beginning of 2020 for instance, 481 new novels were published in France. However, despite the vast number to choose from, newspapers and online reviewers mainly focused on only a few major publications such as Pierre Lemaître’s historical novel Miroir de nos peines or Vanessa Springora’s autobiographical book about consent and child abuse, Consentement.6
In spite of this book flood, Marion Mazauric, from the publishing house Au diable vauvert, believes that this other rentrée littéraire leaves novels more time to prove their worth in bookshops once the run-up to Christmas is over.
All of them won’t be successful, of course, but we live in hope … And, more importantly, Marion Mazauric stresses the importance of taking your time as a publisher: why would you release a book before it is ready? To each its own pace.1
1 Botticelli, M. (2019) Une deuxième rentrée littéraire : pour quoi faire ? France Info [online], 3 January. Available on: https://www.francetvinfo.fr/culture/livres/une-deuxieme-rentree-litteraire-pour-quoi-faire_3389061.html [Accessed 14 February 2020].
2 Leduc, P. (2019) 524 romans pour la rentrée littéraire 2019. Livres Hebdo [online], 4 August. Available on: https://www.livreshebdo.fr/article/524-romans-pour-la-rentree-litteraire-2019 [Accessed 14 February 2020].
3 Combis, H. (2018) “Rentrée littéraire” : d’où vient ce phénomène typiquement français ? France Culture [online], 24 August. Available on: https://www.franceculture.fr/litterature/rentree-litteraire-dou-vient-ce-phenomene-typiquement-francais [Accessed 14 February 2020].
4 Cowdrey, K. (2019) Booksellers gear up for Super Thursday ahead of Bookshop Day 2019. The Bookseller [online], 3 October. Available on: https://www.thebookseller.com/news/booksellers-gear-super-thursday-ahead-bookshop-day-2019-1092721 [Accessed 7 April 2020].
5 Khomami, N. (2014) Can Super Thursday save the UK’s bookshops? Vice. 10 October. Available on: https://www.vice.com/da/article/pp4y7z/can-super-thursday-save-the-uks-bookshops-328 [Accessed 7 April 2020].
6 Jannière, V. (2020) Rentrée littéraire 2020 : les 10 romans les plus attendus de la rentrée d’hiver. CNews [online], 2 January. Available on: https://www.cnews.fr/culture/2020-01-02/rentree-litteraire-2020-les-10-romans-les-plus-attendus-de-la-rentree-dhiver [Accessed 14 February 2020].