Understanding the children’s book market in Germany

Romantasy and Slush Piles

By Jennifer Bode

Are you looking for the next bestseller? If so, where do you expect to find it? In a slush pile that takes up more space in your office than you would like it to, or in a submission that you requested from an agent?
One of the biggest surprises to the group of U.S. editors travelling through Germany this summer was the degree to which German editors still rely on slush piles. ‘A lot of publishers said they found new authors from unsolicited submissions,’ said Julie Matysik, editor at Skyhorse Publishing.
Matysik, along with six other American children’s editors, arrived in Hamburg on Sunday, 10 June for a whirlwind tour through the children’s book market in Germany. The group had a packed schedule arranged for them, including meetings with publishers and an agent, exploring bookshops, visiting the National Library, the Literature House in Hamburg, and a great deal more …
In just six days, the participants visited three German cities and had opportunities to talk to numerous publishing professionals. After the trip, Brian McMullen, Editor/Creative Director at McSweeney’s Publishing, praised the experience: ‘The ability to see and hold foreign-published books in person – and also to hear a bit about the books from the people who made them – is invaluable.’
For several years now, the editors’ trips have been made possible by the Frankfurt Book Fair and the German Foreign Office. ‘This is the twelfth group of editors that the German Book Office has taken to Germany. Over the years, we have focused on many different topics, such as non-fiction, crime or independent publishers,’ explained Riky Stock, Director of the German Book Office in New York.
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From left to right: Sarah Ketchersid, Emily Clement, Riky Stock, Julie Matysik, Aubrey Poole, David Gale Bottom: Sarah Barley, Brian McMullen.
Trends in fiction for young readers
The last time the trip focused on children’s books was in 2005, and since then a great deal has changed in German publishing. The trends that have influenced the English market in the last few years have been equally important to the German market. The mix of romance and fantasy – for which the German editors used the term ‘romantasy’ – is still attracting teenage readers in both Germany and the U.S., although a slight shift towards realistic romance novels is evident. ‘Everyone seemed to be looking for more realistic and middle-grade fiction, in Germany and in the U.S.,’ remarked Sarah Ketchersid, Executive Editor at Candlewick Press. Of course, the German trends seem to mirror American ones because German publishers are enthusiastic about acquiring foreign children’s books. In 2010, 22 percent of all children’s and Young Adult titles released in Germany were translations.
Digital publishing in Germany
While digital publishing was rarely discussed on the 2005 trip, it now dominated many conversations and presentations. American editors greatly appreciated the opportunity to visit several publishers in their own headquarters, where their German counterparts could introduce them, among other things, to newly launched digital initiatives.
The German public has not yet embraced e-books in the way that American readers have. In a new survey, conducted in May by the Boersenverein and Gfk Panel Services, German publishers reported that in 2011 e-books accounted for an average of 6.2 percent of their total sales, up from 5.4 percent in 2010. Although predictions place the share at 17 percent by 2015, today’s market is still shaped by the Germans’ love for the traditional book. Aubrey Poole, Associate Editor at Sourcebooks, noticed especially the ‘German cultural preference for hardcover books.’ Fixed prices for books, which make e-books only slightly less expensive than paperbacks, help to maintain the supremacy of traditional book forms.
With so much to talk about, the week passed quickly and both German and American editors felt that they gained a lot from the exchange. ‘Everywhere we went there was a real dialogue among the participants that will benefit the Germans and the Americans equally,’ observed David Gale, Vice President/Editorial Director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. For some of the editors, their time in Germany helped them to foster business relationships they had already begun via e-mail. Emily Clement, who had bought some German titles for Arthur A. Levine Books before the trip, was delighted by the opportunity: ‘Meeting these people that I’ve been e-mailing for years definitely makes a difference. It increases your enthusiasm.’
Benefitting from the trip
‘The picture that I got of the German publishing landscape was different from the American one, yes, but there were such similarities that I think it’s a real possibility that I could acquire a German book that would make sense and resonate with readers here. It always seemed like a more vague possibility before. I also really enjoyed and learned a lot from the other American editors on the trip,’ Sarah Ketchersid related. She already has her eye on a particular middle-grade book and is eagerly awaiting a copy in the mail. Just like her fellow travellers, she returned from Germany with a long list of titles that she is keen to investigate, and a set of new contacts that will bring her closer to the German market in the years to come.

American participants
Sarah Dotts Barley,
HarperCollins Children’s Books
Emily Clement,
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic
David Gale,
Readers Young for Books Schuster and Simon
Sarah Ketchersid,
Candlewick Press
Julie Matysik,
Skyhorse Publishing Inc.
Brian McMullen,
McSweeney’s Publishing
Aubrey Poole,
Sourcebooks Inc.
Participating publishers and institutions in Germany
  • Arena
  • Agentur ‘Auserlesen – Ausgezeichnet’
  • Beltz & Gelberg
  • Börsenverein
  • Carlsen Verlag
  • Coppenrath
  • Frankfurter Buchmesse
  • Gerstenberg
  • Jacoby & Stuart
  • Literaturhaus Hamburg
  • Loewe
  • National Library in Frankfurt
  • Oetinger Verlag
  • Random House
  • Ravensburger
  • Rowohlt Verlag
  • S. Fischer Verlag
  • Sauerländer/Bibliographisches Institut
  • Thalia Buchhandlung
  • Thienemann