Vs. When a Publisher Talks about Books

It’s only available online in German at a cost of .50 Euro, but Der Spiegel recently interviewed Diogenes publisher Daniel Keel about his life’s work, the state of literary publishing, etc.

Diogenes just sent me a fully-translated version, which is absolutely fascinating. I can’t find a copy of this English-version online anywhere, but if I can get permission to post it here, I will. In the meantime, here’s some of my favorite highlights.

In terms of how publishers evaluate slush-pile manuscripts:

Spiegel: How does it work? Just open the book at any page?

Keel: I usually read the first sentence. That can be deadly.

Spiegel: And then there is no need to dig any further?

Keel: That’s right. Every day we receive a pile of unsolicited manuscripts, around 3000 a year.

Spiegel: How often do you include any of them in your catalogue?

Keel: On average, about one title every three years. So ultimately only one in 9000 gets printed. [. . .]

Spiegel: But surely you can’t just publish books that you like?

Keel: Why not? Should I publish books I don’t like? As Chekhov said, “I have only one criterion, either I like a book or I don’t.” So I’m in good company. There is no exact formula – thank God!

And on why we should read:

Spiegel: It is astounding that so many books continue to be sold – in this era of the internet, television and cinema. Why should we read?

Keel: For pleasure.

Spiegel: One can have a hot bath for pleasure too.

Keel: One can also take a book into the bathtub, which doubles the pleasure.

And on being independent and not-profitable:

Spiegel: You are one of the last independent publishers.

Keel: Major publishing houses such as S. Fischer and Rowohlt were taken over by large corporations. But who now has the final say – the corporation’s chief executive or the boss of the publishing house? I believe in curiosity, in enthusiasm. Managers want only one thing – to make sure that you don’t make a loss. We don’t mind making a loss: three-quarters of the works we publish are in the red . . .

Spiegel: It’s still like that?

Keel: Yes, it’s still like that. This faint-hearted obsession with profitability comes from America. Over there, or so I hear, they want to do away with editors, to print the manuscripts in the form in which the authors deliver them. Is that the way to save money? Every author needs an editor, a kind and critical first reader.

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