Should Other Countries Imitate France’s Rentrée Littéraire?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

During the fall, the French publish more than six hundred novels simultaneously, hopefully inciting a frenzy of book buying. Should others imitate the practice?

By Edward Nawotka

french flag

In France “la réntree littéraire” — the literary season — extends from August through the beginning of November. This year 654 French and foreign novels will be published (down somewhat from last year, when 701 books were published). It is a deliberately compressed period of time when book publishers release hundreds of new novels simultaneously. The tradition is said to be hundreds of years old and unmatched around the world, and it applies to all varieties of books — hardcover, paperback and, now, e-books (see today’s feature story) — and leads up to the awarding of France’s most prestigious literary prizes. The idea is, naturally, to inspire a media frenzy surrounding literature which, in turn, should incite an orgy of book buying. At the very least, it gives publishers a big push just prior to the holiday shopping season.

So, if the strategy works so well for the French, should other countries adopt a similar strategy? In the face of dwindling mass market coverage of books, having a compressed two month period in which books might be able to dominate the “arts” pages might not be such a bad idea. (In the US, for example, September and October are primarily big sports months with people focused on the start of football and the end of baseball). Of course, September and October are already big publishing months in the English-speaking world, Germany, and generally across Europe.

The question is whether the benefits of such a compressed publishing season outweigh the additional competition? You have to ask yourself, despite the increased media coverage, do so many “big books” appearing at once simply end up canceling each other out? Or does it, like at the launch of a new season of fashion, inspire you to pick up a few complementary pieces and overspend?

Let us know what you think in the comments. And for more on this year’s Réntree Littéraire, see this report from France24 — which declared the French translation of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom “the winner” of the season.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.