“Das Buchorchester” – Women in Publishing and the Making of Books

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you need more than an author in order to create a book.

While translators are at least sometimes mentioned on the cover or imprint, other people and their tasks are even less visible: editors, graphic designers, editors, typesetters and many more. On top of the general visibility problem, female professionals are additionally underrepresented in their area of expertise: books by female authors in school and university curricula, reviews on books written by women or reviews written by female critics, female authors on prize lists, women on selection committees, to name just a few. And don’t get me started on people of colour or working class authors etc.

Making Books is Teamwork…

So the Women in Publishing (BücherFrauen) created the “Book Orchestra”, as editor and journalist Meiken Endruweit explains:

“Without an author there is no book – but there are a lot more people working on it before you hold it in your hand (printed or not) ready to read. In Germany the people working in the book industry are mostly women. In order to show them and present their various fields of work we invented the “Book Orchestra”. Each ‘instrument’ represents one working field – together they create something wonderful.”

The “Book Orchestra” was created by Katja Czwerwinski, Meiken Endruweit (illustrations), Nina George, Saskia von Hoegen, Brigitte Krämer (webdesign and programming), Juliane Krüger, Ursula Tanneberger (editing) und Susanne Zeyse (editing). The project wants to showcase the people involved in the actual making of the books as well as people involved in the “making” of the book e.g. festival organisers, librarians, interest group officials etc. And I believe that the project was fuelled by the hope that the visibility will ultimately increase the appreciation for the work and the books. The short texts on the website www.buchorchester.de are written by those who perform the respective tasks. In addition, the site displays short portraits of a number of women in the field, among them publishers, translators, agents, editors, typesetters, etc.

book shelf

… But Not Everyone Can Play

The selection criteria of the portrayed people and authors is not disclosed. I don’t think that the selection reflects the lack of diversity (ethnic as well as class) within the women in publishing in particular but rather the German publishing landscape in general. One of the reasons might be: If you can’t afford (unpaid) internships and (badly paid) “Volontariate” (supposedly a training period, in reality often regular work) or if you need to find another first job to earn money to afford working in publishing, chances are high that you don’t get in at all. There are exceptions, of course, and in particular among indie presses and freelancers, but overall, there is lot of potential to make the book industry more inclusive – in terms of workers as well as representations.

(In)Visibility, Credit, and Value

The “Book Orchestra” was launched on 23 April 2018, World Book Day (as celebrated everywhere except the UK…). In a highly recommended blog (in German, link to the blog), Nina George, author, activist and one of the initiators of the “Book Orchestra”, enthusiastically points out how many people are involved in the making of a book – and how many people profit from the creative works that are published. In numbers: The German book market is said to have created profits as high as 9.19 Billion Euro (in 2017), while employing approximately 50,000 employees in addition to countless freelancers. And this does not even include the movies, toy manufacturers or cosplay tailors the author also mentions.

Nina George points out that the invisibility of the work of all those in the background is a sign of their success. While I think I know what she means, I don’t think that this should be accepted or go unchallenged. On several occasions I talked to editors (the German Lektorinnen and Lektoren) and asked them why they are not mentioned in the imprints and whether they would actually enjoy being mentioned at all. Their answers surprised me very much. The majority of the answers were along the lines of Nina George’s statement: the “text workers” wanted to remain in the background and saw it as a sign of their successful work if the text was only attributed to the author (e.g. by critics and on the cover or imprint). My personal observation is that in Germany, the idea of the author as genius is still very much alive and writing is not so much seen as a craft and collaborative effort. However, to get back to my little survey, some editors actually thought that credit similar to the mentioning of the translator would be appropriate. Not a coincidence that the former were mostly employed by publishing houses and the latter freelance editors.

book shelf

My questions is, though, how can you expect people to value your work and pay the price – we still have fixed book prices in Germany, as of now; but apparently the Monopolies and Mergers Commission attempted to challenge it recently (link to a statement of the German equivalent of the Booksellers Association) – if they don’t know how much work has gone into the book at hand? If they don’t understand that electronically published text also need editors, agents, typesetters, graphic designers, etc.

And Saskia von Hoegen, literary agent and one of the Orchestra’s ‘artistic directors’, points out that one of their aims was to “visualise how much invisible work is put into each book and emphasize the value of books, not least because of the spreading noting that everything should be available for free.”

Shermaine Lovegrove stated during the “Writing in Migration” Festival in Berlin that her imprint Dialogue Books credits all people involved in the making of the respective book. I think it’s high time that others follow her example.

For the time being, I believe that projects such as the “Book Orchestra” are very laudable, albeit just a first step. Have a look at the website www.buchorchester.de and the very personal accounts of the participating female “text workers” about their work and the part they play. Read for example about Selma Wels, co-founder of the Turkish-German indie publisher binooki, Saskia van Hoegen and her work as an agent or literary scout Anne Vial. Discover the many hands, heads and hearts that turn the authors’ stories into books, marvel at their work, and encourage others to acknowledge what’s often left unseen.


Link to the “Book Orchestra”: www.buchorchester.de (all texts in German).

Picture: open book (CC0)