Book Thief Says He Stole 1,000 Unpublished Manuscripts Out of a Love of Reading

A manuscript thief who stole unpublished works from authors like Sally Rooney, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan claims he wanted to cherish the books before anyone else.

Copies of Testaments by Margaret Atwood laid out on a table, black and green cover showing a woman in a hood
Margaret Atwood was among the authors targeted by Filippo Bernardini. TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

The man behind a years-long scheme involving more than 1,000 stolen unpublished manuscripts claims his theft was motivated by a love for reading and desire to read books before anyone else.

Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen, apologized for stealing works by authors such as Sally Rooney, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan in court papers published Jan. 10 in Manhattan federal court, as reported by The Bookseller. He was first arrested in 2022 and pled guilty to one count of wire fraud in January.

“I have always loved books,” said Bernardini in a letter to U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon. “I remember that when I started reading as a child, it was to create my own world, have my own space and even make new friends.”

Bernardini, who worked as a rights coordinator at Simon & Schuster U.K. from 2019 until his arrest, allegedly solicited unpublished manuscripts through more than 160 fraudulent email addresses impersonating individuals in the publishing industry.

The prepublication release of a manuscript can damage an author’s reputation and interfere with the economics of selling exclusive rights to a work, according to an indictment filed in July 2021. However, Bernardini, 30, is not accused of having sold or shared any of the unpublished manuscripts he acquired. 

Creating fake publisher emails

He became involved with unpublished manuscripts in 2012, after signing up for websites which offered advance book copies in exchange for leaving a review, said Bernardini in court documents. After he first began soliciting manuscripts, “this behavior became an obsession, a compulsive behavior.”

His attorney Jennifer Brown claimed her client’s offense is a form of “extreme collecting,” adding that books were an escape for Bernardini, who was lonely and bullied as a child, according to court documents. Brown did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

“I never wanted to and I never leaked those manuscripts,” said Bernardini in his letter to Judge McMahon. “I wanted to keep them closely to my chest and be one of the fewest to cherish them before anyone else, before they ended up in bookshops.”

Bernardini, who agreed to pay $88,000 of restitution and will be sentenced on April 5, claimed he was unable to read for several months after being arrested. “The cruel irony is that every time I open a book, it reminds me of my wrongdoings and what they led me to.”

Book Thief Says He Stole 1,000 Unpublished Manuscripts Out of a Love of Reading