A workshop to get a glimpse into daily lives of creative professionals. Hosted by MEPs Pervenche Berès (S & D, FR) and Christian Ehler (EPP, DE) at the Eurpean Parliament on 12th of May 2015.
Bonjour Messieurs Dames, Guten Tag meine Damen und Herren, my name is Nina George, I am 41 now and it took me about 22 years of work to get famous overnight.
I’ve been an author, journalist and writer for the past 22 years and have been self-employed since 1999. I’m one of the 53,000 freelance full-time writers in Germany. I’m one of 487,083 rightholders registered with collecting society VG Wort and I’m one hundred: this is the percentage of bestselling authors writing in German.
I published around 26 book under five pen-names in publishing houses and also two selfpublishing titles; I wrote columns for daily newspapers as the Hamburger Abendblatt, but also worked as a copreporter, as an essayist and writing teacher. I am the founder of the Initiative „Fairer Buchmarkt“, which means „Authors for Fair Book Business“. Since three days I am elected to the Board of German PEN.
Today I will present you a very short Top Ten List, what you need to know about a Book.
So, let’s right rush in – and, by the way: excuse my jolly English. You have to take it, because my french is even worse.
About a book
Ten things you should know about the book in your hand – or your tablet.
1) The book in your hands has enterd one of the rare lists of the publishing house bookprogamme. In Germany we have 96.000 new titles every year, in there about 25.000 novels. Only half of them, around 12.000, are written by german speaking authors, for the rest the publishing houses did their shopping tour mainly in the United Staes, in Great Britain, in Scandinavia and France.
The five big publishing houses publish around 2500 titles, the rest are small houses. Germany is a good shopper when it comes to foreign literature, and it is the second best market in the world. It is the healthiest bookmarket and everybody is lucky when he or she gets a german translation. For the approximately fortythousand german authors the work is tough to get one of the 2500 titles in the annual programme of the bigger publishing houses – and so we jump directly to the next point: Money.
2) The Book in your hand or your tablet is totally unaffordable. Well, although a paperback book in Germany costs around eight to ten Euros in average , this is not the prize is is worth. In every book there are: several years of writing, experience, rewriting, planning, masochism. And: Every book is made by nearly ten people – eight active, two passive. The active ones are the agent with his or her advices and trials to get this thing into the market, the lector, who is the most important partner of each author. We hate them, we love them. We hate them because the criticize us, they put their fingers directly in the wound, they say: „Go ahed, kill your darlings! Nobody wants to read about preparing coffee for a half page!
Every book is made by nearly ten people – eight active, two passive.
And this figure, gosh, he is lovely, but is it really HIS Story? No? Throw him out“. There is the proof-reader who is wiping out all these fails and smattering of knowledge. There will be the graphic artist, the pinter, the marketing people which work on covers, the presslady, and the sales representatives. At least there is your loving partner and your mother. A lot of writers works against the mother in their mind: „What? You want to be a writer? Darling, this is no good way to catch a husband“.
So, next time you think: Hm, is this book a worth ten bucks – well: If you should pay the author in full, his research, his knowledge, his profession and his hour-fee, you need to pay him half of your life. So this is a kind of crowdfunding, just upside down: You pay a little contribution after the work is done.
3) Let’s go on with some of the trivialities: While writing a book the averarge author ist ten times drunk, needs a lot of painkillers to heal his back pain and rewrites every single sentence about seven times. So each book you hold in your hand or your tablet is full of tears, pain, joy and hard work. Writing means: Rewriting. I wrote my novel „Das Lavendelzimmer“– in UK and US calling „The Little Paris Bookshop“ – about three times. I wrote about eighthundred pages. Writing is not the problem – but keeping only the right words.
4) Back to the money thing: The average author in Germany gets an advance of 4000 to 8000 Euros. The new authors around 3000 – but only at the big publishing houses. In smaller ones around 1500. The royalty fees are graded by the number of sold copies, it starts at 5 or 6 percent for paperbacks, up to nine percent from the retail price, what means around sixty to ninety Cents each copy. Better with Hardcover: There it starts from ten up to 13 percent per retail price. With ebooks you go in publishing houses from 25 Percent up to fifty Percents from the so called net proceeds.
If your are an E-only-Author or an digital first author, you get no advance at all.
If you do selfpublishing you are free to set the retail price and calculate on your own – but invest in the costs for lector, proof readers or covers on your own.
The average novel is selling around 3000 copies in two years. The first six weeks are crucial: That is the time when your book gets wings and attention – or is still creeping. In the digital world it is even faster: Together with over 200.000 selfpublishing titles every new novel has to struggle to be seen. On every sold copy there are six illegal copies, when it comes to bestsellers, every third eBook is stolen.
5) So, how do I get famous with a book? Hey, why dont you play Lotto or Betting instead? In all likelihood you go better with Lotto on Wednesdays or Horsebetting than rather writing to be famous. The one who wants to be famous by writing needs a good doctor or a good friend, who will tell her: Darling: You can make it to a solid daily work job in freelance writing, when you go on the next five, no, better TEN Years. This is the term a averagy but professional writers needs to establish his or her name, his „label“. Or if you are a fast writer: You need about three up to four really good books with good reviews, to keep your readers interested in you.
Because although the book is meant for readers – all the work is done by the authors. Respect the book, because that is the best way to motivate an author.
6) But how can you manage to write three or four good books, when even the first one is like climbing the damn Himalaya? Well: sit down and do it. Do not wait until you have time. Time never comes. And you have to write full power or leave it. You cant write a professional book which is enjoyable for readers just as a hobby. You have to work with structure, discipline and eben giving up hobbys, to write.
90 percents of all publishing authors are not full time authors. All of them have a second job or do some translations, teaching or writing for magazines. Most of them working in Muggel-Jobs – Muggel means: not so called creative jobs. In the evenings, weekends, holidays they work on their books.
7) The book in your hand is made by a person who is not only a writer. She or he is also a lawyer for his authors rights, a marketing-, PR- and Social Media-prof who is working at least one hour daily to promote his book in different ways. He is an entertainer when it comes to reading events, he is a professional in reasearch and scientific. And, most of all: He knows, that talent does not do the job.
8) Talent or creativity wont write a book. Maybe there is a book waiting in yourself waiting to be written. Even in the person sitting next to you or the catering guy or the pilote. I believe everyone has talent for storytelling – because nearly everyone is able to lie or tell a story from his childhood. But: Talent is just the start to sit down and start. You need other skills to get this 300 pages or so done. You need a sort of toughness, a sort of masochism too.
The book in your hand is sold because of the readers.
You need to be egoistic but also humbly, very humbly. Because writing is not a thing to bring YOU to the stars. Writing is to create a book, to work on a book, until it is the best story a reader would love to enjoy. Writing is not for you. It is for readers. When I wrote the „Little Paris Bookshop“, I healed myself because of my fathers death. So the story is about losing someone who was your life. But I wrote a novel for readers, not for my healing – and so I had to.
9) The book in your hand is sold because of the readers. Not because of marketing, twitter-followers or the nice author's picture. When it comes to the decision to buy a book, readers choose books because their best friends has told them, the bookseller or a local newspaper. Some genres as fantasy, erotica or mystery and polar are sold because they often are serials. But the last step on the decision of buying a book is because of: I had seen the author in a magazine, at YouTube or at Twitter: These are nice tools, good to have, building up an image and communication for web-affine readers.
10) At last, Number Ten, what you should know about a Book: It is like it is because the authors has to decide every step in his own responsibility. The freedom of speach means also: responsibility for what you are writing. Every book is build on authors rights. Every author is selling usage rights and he and she depends on the wide range of licences to sell in their own way. Because although the book is meant for readers – all the work is done by the authors. Respect the book, because that is the best way to motivate an author. Or, and buy the book.