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Gallimard, known for publishing Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus, wrote politely on its website and on Twitter: “Given the exceptional circumstances, we ask you to defer sending your manuscripts. Take care of yourselves and happy reading”.

Successive Covid-19 lockdowns in France have given budding writers the time to finally work on that idea for a novel or to polish up an old manuscript languishing in a drawer. As a result, publishers are overwhelmed. Before the pandemic, Gallimard received around 30 manuscripts a day; now they receive around 50.

Gallimard isn’t the only French publisher facing an uptick in submissions. Publisher Seuil normally receives around 3,500 manuscripts a year. In the first three months of 2021, it had already received 1,200.

In addition to the mountain of submissions to wade through, the publishing industry is already facing a backlog. Bookshops in France were ordered to close during the country’s first March-May lockdown, and were only open for click-and-collect in the second October-December lockdown. In February 2021 the government decided to class bookshops as “essential” services, authorising them to open amidst regional restrictions and during this month’s third nationwide lockdown.

Véronique Cardi, director of publishing house JC Lattès, said they’ve never been so prepared for the autumn period when publishing houses traditionally publish a wave of new releases. “Our authors have had the time to finish their manuscripts. And we’ve acquired a lot of new authors, people who took advantage of being in lockdown or under curfew to write”.

Many writers are also turning to self-publishing, bypassing the need for a publishing house. Librinova, an agency that helps authors self-publish their books, published 40% more books in 2020 compared to the year before – and 90% more in April 2020 alone. The self-publishing platform Books on Demand also saw similar growth in France.

While more than 80% of the French remain avid readers, there was an overall drop in reading last year, according to a report released by the Centre national du livre (National Centre for Publishing). This was due to the closure of reading spaces such as libraries, the loss of the valuable reading time that a commute affords many French workers, and the difficulty of separating work from leisure time when working from home.

Source: France 24