Interview with five ladies


Page 1

Find out what five leading ladies of the German romance industry have to say about the German market, book covers, romance authors and romance readers.

Should you have further questions about the German romance market contact Kris Alice at krisalice@aromancereview.com.


Biographies

Maria Dürig is an editor with Blanvalet and Limes Verlag (Verlagsgruppe Random House, München). Generally trying to be an editor-from-heaven for authors and books once they are "hers", she is unfortunately very much known to be an editor-from-hell to all the people who think they can swamp her with sloppily written unasked for manuscripts, idiotic reader requests or "ideas".

Isolde Wehr, 28 years old, has been a devoted romance reader for more than 13 years. Since 1996 she has run Germany's first romance website, "Die romantische Bücherecke"(http://www.die-buecherecke.de) and worked as a romance book editor for four years, advising to translate or pass on American releases. Since February 2001 she has been the publisher of Germany's first romance book club, "Moments" (http://www.momentsclub.de).

Born in 1973 Angela Weiss started reading romance books as a teenager. She has studied tourism, art and media science and worked as a personal assistant as well as an office manager for several companies.
She is also the founder of the erotic website "Mon Boudoir" (www.mon-boudoir.de), the editor of a German erotic romance book line, Plaisirs d'Amour (www.plaisirsdamour.com) and the director of the first romance book conference in Germany, the "Booklover Conference" (May 2 - 4, 2003).

Ute Christine Geiler is 38, studied history and German literature and graduated with a M.A. She has four children, all sons, 8, 11, 12 and 19 and has been happily married for already 20 years. She hates any housework and uses every excuse to sit in front of the computer to write. She loves her work as translator - from American into German - of historical romance novels and has been running the website Das Buecherregal, www.das-buecherregal.de since 1998.

Marte Cormann wrote her first bestseller "Der Club der grünen Witwen" in 1996. The story was turned into a successful German TV movie. Since then she's published six romantic comedies. She is also busy as a scriptwriter of romantic comedy movies.
In 2003 Marte Cormann and nine of her friends founded "DeLiA - die Vereinigung für deutschsprachige Liebesroman-Autoren und -Autorinnen", whose spokesperson she is. "DeLiA" Is an organization for German, Austrian and Swiss published romance writers.


How would you describe the German romance scene and your part in it? How does it differ from the US scene?
I have to mention it. German romance translations are infamous for their covers. What is your stand on it?
Can you tell me what there is to know about German romance authors and why there is so little said or written about them?
What is done to promote the romance genre in Germany? What more is needed and wanted?[Page 2]
I'm curious, what themes, sub genres and authors are popular with German readers? [Page 2]
Why should Germany's romance market be of interest to the rest of the world? [Page 2]



How would you describe the German romance scene and your part in it? How does it differ from the US scene?

[Maria Duerig] It's a generalization, but still: US readers are reading US novels only, German readers are reading international novels. The simple result is: expectations, wishes and tastes in Germany/Austria/Switzerland are unique.

So, being a US-success does not necessarily lead to a German success story. And vice versa: we have very successful authors who are far less known in the US. The different cultural tastes make romance a tiny, rather closed segment in German book publishing.

Mind, I am talking about "romance", not about "women's fiction"(with a much broader specter from crime, suspense to historical and contemporary novels)

[Isolde Wehr] The biggest difference between the German and the American romance market is the number of readers. America is a much bigger country and has therefore a larger number of readers. The Romance Writers of America organization and the Romantic Times Bookclub magazine have been available in America for years. Two, as I find, very important sources of information for romance readers. There it is also not unusual for romance authors and their books to appear on bestseller lists.

For over 13 years I've been a devoted romance reader. It all started with a Georgette Heyer novel, after that it was Caroline Courtney and there was no stopping me after I discovered Joanna Lindsey and Jude Deveraux. In 1996 I discovered the Internet. And even though there weren't that many romance sites up in America at that time, compared to Germany it was Paradise. Reason enough to start my own, www.die-buecherecke.de. Germany's first romance site. When I became the editor for "Moments," I was given free rein with the cover design, allowing me to introduce atypical romance covers, covers that can be read on the subway.

[Angela Weiss] The German romance scene is not as "structured" or "organized" as in the USA. Most romance readers don't have any internet-access and therefore the romance scene over here is more anonymous. We don't have romance book magazines like Romantic Times Magazine or Affaire de Coeur so most readers over here don't have any "inside scoop".

[Ute Christine Geiler] The German romance scene is slow to grow. Most of the romance readers believe themselves alone in their love of romance novels and are therefore reluctant to admit to it. A magazine like the Romantic Times BookClub Magazine doesn't exist in Germany, because the German market is also smaller than the US market - a lot less books are being published here than in the US, the birth-place of today's romance genre. What's more, most of them are translations with only a few written by German authors. There aren't that many German authors.

My part in the German romance scene? I'm the owner of the second (after Isolde's) German website that deals with romance novels. I translate US romance novels into German and write up editorial reports on buying or rejecting a book. In addition I'm the publisher for Weltbild-Sammleredition Romantica, a line of historical romance novels. Combined with it I also publish Germany's first romance magazine.


I have to mention it. German romance translations are infamous for their covers. What is your stand on it?

[MD] Says who? (Hmm, why, oh why, should anyone choose willing jackets designs that are infamous? Strange thinking!) German jackets - in romance and in women's fiction are well appreciated by their readers.

Certainly there is a very outspoken group who dislike our bodice-ripper-designs for our romance list. But experience shows: this small group is not representative for the silent majority of our readers, who enjoy the cover art (as for example I do), who like to see what they get (in case of Blanvalet: sensuous colorful love stories) and who appreciate their very distinctive function in our crowded bookstore (it does make it easy to find your favorite books in your favorite bookshop and to check out what's new, doesn't it?).

How I know that there is this silent majority?
1. Numbers!
2. We tried!

To be more precise: We are blamed often for not re-thinking our publishing concepts and for not experimenting. But at the same time reader seem not to notice (much the less praise us for) our new publishing concepts and our experimenting in regard to romances: It's a fact that so far almost all of our varied attempts to "wrap" writers (new or favorite ones) differently have failed miserably. But what's the use of new covers, if a wonderful writer has suddenly 50% less readers (much to the dismay of the author herself, her agents - and us)?

An author has the right to find as many readers as possible (which, let's face it, is the only way for her to earn as much as possible for her incredibly difficult work). And it's my job - and those of my colleagues - to find her those readers (have I mentioned that my regular paycheck is also depending on those sales?). In other word - and even if you don't believe me one single word, this will convince you -: IF IT WOULDN`T SELL, WE WOULDN´T DO IT!

(Please note the point on difference I made above: Just because something is working in the US market does not necessarily mean, it works in Germany as well)

And now, please, a message to the know-alls of the world: Go and console the writers we discontinued publishing because they've died in beauty - and let us do our job as best as we know. For all the others: if you have a good idea, tell me, but make sure before it's not an idea that has been tried, retried, failed or generally been know for years (maybe you would like to read now my biographical description).

[IW] Oh-oh, the notorious question! Until a few years back I found the bodice-ripper covers terrible, embarrassing, and discriminating for the readers. All romance books, no matter if they were contemporaries, paranormals or historicals were given a cover with a half-naked couple, who very often had nothing to do with the story. Nowadays, I know that there are reasons for it. A few years ago it would have been impossible for a bookseller to sell a romance novel if it didn't have the genre-typical cover. A few times, publishers did try to change the cover. When readers couldn't find their books and sales went down they went back to the bodice-ripper covers. These days I know enough of marketing to understand the move. A different approach is possible though. The secret just lies in knowing your target audience and catering to your customers' wishes. I personally prefer the neutral covers, but I also know that there are still many German romance readers out there, who wouldn't want to miss their bodice-ripper covers.

[AW] On the one hand I have to agree with you. Most covers are really awful and I feel stigmatized when buying them in public (i.e. in a bookstore) myself. On the other hand romance books sell much better with clinch covers. The reader sees and "recognizes" the cover and knows exactly what he or she is buying.

But I agree with you, there are so many beautiful clinch covers out there, which could be used.

[UCG] I find all clinch-covers horrific, only a few I consider tasteful. But sadly it is so that booksellers, buyers and decision makers (and most of them are men who of course wouldn't be seen reading a romance novel) believe that German readers actually like those covers. Because, as they argue, those covers sell. What they forget is that German readers have no chance to purchase a romance novel with a different cover. Adding to that the clinch covers work as a signal - see a book with a half-naked couple on it and you can be guaranteed that it will be a romance, especially if it sports red colored edges and a title set in gold letters. Because of that, hardly any publisher cares if the scene depict fits the story.

More important to me though is what is between the covers and not what is on it. And as long as the novel is any good, no awful cover or embarrassing title will keep me from buying it.


Can you tell me what there is to know about German romance authors and why there is so little said or written about them?

[MD] Oh that's easy: It's not much said or written about them, because generally it is not much written or said about well-readable, immensely entertaining novels and their authors (and this statement is twice valid where mass market paperback are concerned). It is a lot said and written about serious Literature (the one with the capital "L")

But maybe you are really questioning why not so many of them are published? There are actually more of them published than you would think, it's just that often they are not so successful.

But German romance writers have many problems. To name just a few:

  • Readers don't like them - as can easily be judged by the sales.
    Tricks (as e.g. faked English author names etc.) do not work. And I don't like tricks: there is nothing to hide when writing or reading romance, is there?
  • German writers often try to copy American authors, e.g. choosing a typical romance setting in historical England or certain time and parts of the USA. Too often they don't realize how much thorough research is needed to depict a country truthfully that's not your own (just think of all the American novels who depict Germany or Europe wrongly, it hurts!) I'm swamped with manuscripts and I'm terribly bored by all these "bad copies" (i.e. manuscripts where you get the feeling you've read them before), if I'm bored, then my readers will be bored too.
  • Sloppy plotting and writing (after all it's just a romance, isn't it? I can put anything in it just the way I want it, can't I? (No you can't! - be logical))
  • German authors are scared of happy little endings - so often I get a funny, charming novel, just to discover in the end some serious, serious dark message is being introduced. I don't know if this is because we Germans are serious, serious, dark people or because every writer in Germany tends to consider him-/herself as a genius - advancing world literature by her work.

PLEASE NOTE: German writers can be incredibly successful (the best selling author in 2001 of all imprints of the Verlagsgruppe Random House actually was a German writer and I love her novels!), they just have to be good: spirited, original, creative, well-informed and stylistically brilliant and precise.

[IW] That has much to do with the German mentality. Here when you talk about literature it has to be serious. Romance novels are seen as trivial, just one of many prejudices, which we all know and don't have to talk about. There are only a few German authors brave enough to write a love story with a happy ending, not caring what the relatives might say. Besides it is just as difficult in Germany as it is in other countries, for young writers to get published. There are only a few German publishers who do release romance novels. And for those, it is easier to buy the rights to an American release. The risk is smaller. Very often those books were already big successes in America. Why should it be any different in Germany? To publish a German author and to build up her reputation is not without its risks.

[AW] Because there aren't many German authors of traditional romance books and those few authors have problems finding a publisher over here. And also because publishing unknown German authors, is a higher risk than translating a book that sells well in the USA (in my opinion). The German versions of romance books are romantic comedies, which sell very well. Gaby Hauptmann, Marte Cormann, Friederike Costa and Eva Völler are very successful authors of German romantic comedies and some of their books have been turned into movies. As these authors are not considered as "romance book authors", they have a better reputation than German authors of e.g. historical romances.

[UCG] That is easy to answer - there are hardly any. For the major publishers it seems easier and less expensive to buy the German rights to US releases and have those translated, than to develop homegrown talents. The genre's bad reputation doesn't help and consequently changes are slow to happen.

[Marte Cormann] Many of the German authors like I, write books about love and great emotions, but most of them are afraid to be labeled a "Romance Writer". For most German book critics, love stories with a happy ending, are not serious works of literature. So German novelists, who want to read their names in the newspapers or watch their faces on TV, will publish thrillers or historical novels instead. And they will never write a romance novel.

On the other hand, German readers love romance novels. You will find a lot of American authors like Susan E. Phillips or Sandra Brown at the top of German bestseller lists. For German authors, who write about love, it is hard to be published and hard to sell.

It's being said, "Readers want to read American authors. Take an American name and you will sell your books." So, many German romance authors use pseudonyms in order to get published and sell. There are book lines like "For the Lady" and others, where you can find their names. Brave German ladies, who buy these books in the supermarket, have to hide them embarrassed under their vegetables for their typical and obvious covers.



Submitted by Kris Alice, February 2003



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