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Getting published

July 3, 2012

Each year, thousands of manuscripts are sent to German publishers, but only a handful are published. Becoming a published author can be a long and trying endeavor.

Buchregal im Buchladen mit Buch "Mama Cool". Copyright: DW/Janine Albreht 26.6.2012, Hamburg
Debutautoren und Verlage Wiebke BuschImage: DW

It took a year to write the 320-page novel. Wiebke Busch recorded many of her own experiences as a "hip mom" in every one of the 19 chapters. The book is a dream come true for the copywriter and novelist.

"Every copywriter wants to write a book at some point," said Wiebke, smiling and clutching her recently published novel, "Mama Cool."

By getting her book published, Wiebke Busch has achieved what many of her colleagues only dream about. Each year, German publishers reject an estimated 98 percent of the manuscripts sent to them.

"We do not keep exact statistics, but there are certainly several hundred books, manuscripts and exposés that arrive in each of our departments every month," explained Markus Naegele, program director at Heyne Taschenbücher, a subsidiary of the Random House publishing group.

He said electronic submissions had substantially increased the total number. In the fiction department of the Hamburg publisher Rowohlt, about 3,000 manuscripts by first-time authors arrive each year. Over the past 15 years, only one of these has been published.

Lost in the masses

Wiebke Busch sent an exposé and extract from her book to both of these publishers and was rejected. The 36-year-old is sitting at the kitchen table in her Hamburg home, where she lives with her husband and two children. As she sips her coffee, it's clear that she still cannot believe that it is her book lying on the table in front to her.

Wiebke Busch at her laptop
Busch took advantage of every spare minute to write her bookImage: DW

Busch spent every spare minute of her day writing this novel - late nights and free moments snatched while her daughter napped. "Mama Cool" was inspired by her own life. But despite all the effort, she was initially confronted with only rejections from publishers.

"Often at major publishing houses there are so many manuscripts that it is possible a good text may get overlooked," said Imre Török, chairman of the Association of German Writers. He believes that smaller publishers can be more experimental and offer debut authors the chance to be published.

But Mark's Naegele from Random House disagrees. "Those publishers look for authors and book titles where they see a literary or commercial potential," he said.

Colleagues from other publishers tend to agree with Naegele. "We try to create a good mixture of established authors and exciting new discoveries," said Andrea Müller, program director at the publishing group Droemer Knaur.

Potential with some risk

However, Andrea Müller went on to point out the big decline in bookstore sales. "Even keeping up sales for established authors is challenging. To turn new authors into best-selling authors is even more difficult," she added.

Taking on a new author is a big risk for a publisher. "Publishers tend to plan their programs as early as two years in advance," explained Török. It is particularly difficult for large publishers to change their programs. This leads to more authors publishing their books on their own, either as e-books or via other digital platforms.

Wiebke Busch in a bookstore
Seeing your book on the shelves is a dream many authors don't get to experienceImage: DW

That was an option Busch had considered. Books on Demand, for example, is a German website where authors can sell books that are only printed when they are ordered. A friend of Busch's had offered to act as her editor and proofreader.

Success at last

But when the young author decided to give it one more try and approached the Berlin publishing house Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, she got lucky. "We were planning a series where Wiebke Busch's book fit perfectly," said editor Annika Kühn. "It obviously makes a writer more credible when they write about things they themselves experience," she added. 

When Busch walks through a small bookstore in her neighborhood, she hunts around between the educational guides and books about pregnancy and finally finds her novel. A proud smile spreads across the young mother's face. Now she'll just have to wait and see whether "Mama Cool" becomes a bestseller. 

Author: Janine Albrecht / bos
Editor: Kate Bowen

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