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German Book Prize

Richard Stoiber: 'The book prize cranks up attention'

What impact does winning the German Book Prize have on sales? Richard Stoiber, from publisher Matthes & Seitz, explains. In 2015, its author Frank Witzel was awarded the prize.

DW: Mr. Stoiber, how important is the German Book Prize for license sales abroad?

Richard Stoiber: The German Book Prize is taken very seriously abroad. It already starts with the longlist. When it's announced, foreign publishers start to consider the novels and make enquiries. When it gets down to the shortlist, then there are the first offers from abroad.

Can you give us some numbers?

The license enquiries that come from abroad after publication of the shortlist are usually in the triple digits. With Frank Witzel, the 2015 Book Prize winner, we had the added luck that his novel had already been published in February, so we could already send copies to foreign publishers and editors. They already knew the book. Then he won the award, and suddenly, there was twice as much attention. From a marketing perspective, the novel was then even more attractive abroad, despite it having more than 800 pages.

Frank Witzel, Copyright: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Frank Witzel - from unknown author to Book Prize Winner

Did it also make the book more noticeable at the Frankfurt Book Fair?

Of course. There was a huge crowd at our stand. Almost every well-known foreign publisher wanted to meet Frank Witzel and talk to him about his book. Some publishers even called me on my cell phone and made me an offer.

In which countries did you sell the license?

In lots of different countries - China and Denmark, among others. And there were license sales in two very big publishers in France and in the Netherlands. There, there were already editors who knew Frank Witzel's book from the annual program. They'd had his book on their desks for half a year and only just picked it up when the novel was awarded the prize.

How long does the effect of such success last?

A really long time, particularly in Germany, where the attention is still enormous. Frank Witzel has had more than 200 readings in Germany. The book has also been adapted for the theater. In May, there was the premiere at the Berlin Schaubühne theater and in October, it will play at the Schauspielhaus in Stuttgart. That will also generate further attention.

That means the German Book Prize award is really valuable?

Definitely. For me, it was interesting to see how the impact, in terms of visibility in different languages, was similar to that of the Man Booker Prize or the Prix Goncourt.

Performance of play Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion at the Schaubühne Theater in Berlin, Copyright: Schaubühne Berlin/Thomas Aurin

Frank Witzel's novel has been adapted for stage at the Schaubühne theater in Berlin

Really?

Of course, the Man Booker Prize has an incredible reputation, which translates to sales and attention. It has an extremely long tradition. The German Book Prize has only existed for 12 years. And, added to that, there are many publishers with editors that can read English, but barely any who understand German. That's a major difference.

Often the selection of books that appear in the shortlist is criticized. There are calls for books with a wider appeal and those that are more accessible. What do you think about that?

I actually find the choice of books is well balanced. Often novels are presented that have a high literary significance, but that, without the shortlist or the prize, would not find their way to the greater public.

Richard Stoiber is head of the licensing department at Matthes & Seitz. The independent Berlin-based company publishes lesser known, but literary challenging books. Authors from Matthes & Seitz make it onto the longlist almost every year. In 2015, its author Frank Witzel won the German Book Prize with his novel, "Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969."