What are some similarities between bestselling authors

Bestselling author with 845 euros net: Starving Poets

Starting next Thursday, the Leipzig Book Fair will honor writers. In the profession, few earn well and many poorly. Is it still worth it?

Another cliché that readers might like: The scribe is picking on his typewriter. Image: imago / Blickwinkel

BERLIN taz | On Thursday the splendor of the German book industry unfolds again in Leipzig. New publications are presented, the daily newspapers appear with special literary editions, prizes are awarded, and the authors are the focus of interest, at least temporarily.

After a few days the whole circus is over and most of the writers disappear again in the land of the misunderstood novelists and poets.

But is that really the case - is the cliché of the poor poet and literature as a breadless art correct? According to data from the Artists' Social Insurance Fund from 2010, with 3,165 authors being insured, the average annual income of writers and poets in Germany is 13,588 euros.

This corresponds to a monthly wage of 1,132 euros, gross mind you. Just for comparison: a specialist earns an average of 5,100 euros and a butcher 2,209 euros.

If you are a woman, it looks even worse for you. According to the artists' social security fund, women earn an average of 2,833 euros less than their male colleagues per year. In literature, too, equality between women and men is obviously just an ornament of book fair addresses.

But watch out, because these numbers reflect total income and do not say anything about how much an author earns with his novels. "In Germany, perhaps 100 to 200 writers can make a living from writing alone," says Heinrich Bleicher-Nagelsmann, spokesman for the Association of German Writers.

Appointment: The Leipzig Book Fair takes place from March 17th to 20th. 2,150 exhibitors from 36 countries fill five halls. The Leipzig Book Fair Prize, endowed with a total of 45,000 euros, will be awarded on Thursday. The reading festival "Leipzig reads" with over 2,000 events takes place parallel to the trade fair.

Book fair feed: Tip for low-income authors: At 5 p.m. you can at least get biscuits and a glass of sparkling wine for free at many of the publishers' stands in the exhibition halls. This is how you get to the evening in a way that is easy on your wallet. The Book Fair Club in the Alte Nikolaischule opens at 10 p.m. with a late night soup. Danger! Find a friend in good time who has a personal invitation!


ALEM GRABOVAC, 37, published the novel "The 53rd Letter" in 2009. Unfortunately, it stayed under 1,000 copies, the author is still hoping for the literary lottery six

That is a very small percentage. "Most of them need a job as a teacher, journalist or lecturer to make ends meet."

Certainly there are the stars of the literary scene like Günter Grass, Martin Suter or Elfriede Jelinek, who can live quite well on the royalties on their novels.

There is also a surprise success in almost every season, such as Daniel Kehlmann's 2005 "Die Vermessung der Welt". The novel has sold around 1.5 million times. This is, so to speak, the sixth prize in the lottery that every author hopes for.

The reality is different. Jörg Sundermeier, publisher of the small Verbrecher Verlag, says that a sophisticated fiction book is already a success when it has sold 5,000 times. And from a circulation of 15,000, the industry is already talking about a bestseller.

What that means is easy to work out. The hardcover book in the bookstore costs around 20 euros on average. If the author is lucky, he will get 10 percent of the sales price. For a bestseller with 15,000 copies sold, that's around 30,000 euros.

A few thousand euros are deducted from this in taxes - and social security. It takes a writer about two years to write a novel. A bestselling author who earned, say, 20,500 euros from the sale of his novel has a net monthly income of 854 euros.

Well, now there are readings, secondary exploitations, translations, grants or prizes, and then the bestselling author - provided he does not lose the audience's favor in the following years - can actually live off his books.

"The problem, however," says Jörg Sundermeier, "is that you first have to write this bestseller and, secondly, the middle position disappears more and more." There are few high earners and many low earners. When asked, the big publishers Hanser, Fischer and Suhrkamp preferred not to say how much their authors earn.

Publishers used to support authors when they were in crisis. "In the meantime, there is an efficiency mindset that leaves little room for formal experiments, poetry, the avant-garde or the development of one's own style of language," says Sundermeier.

"Today an author should look good, not write too bulky and sell well - otherwise he will be out of the window in no time."

And what do all the writers who are out of the window or not looking good or who have not yet written a bestseller? They still have a good job, marry a wealthy partner or work as taxi drivers.

Anyway: the story from dishwasher to millionaire is best sold. Karen Duve drove a taxi in Hamburg for 16 years before she made her breakthrough in 1999 with her "Regenroman". Judith Hermann was a waitress in Prenzlauer Berg in front of "Sommerhaus, later", and Clemens Meyer lived in Leipzig from Hartz IV.

These are success stories that the audience wants to hear. It loves the poor poet, who has hardly anything to eat, does not know how to pay the rent, and yet writes brilliantly. All the others who cannot live from their books have just had bad luck.

"In financial terms," ​​the writer Eva Demski once explained, "writing is such an indescribably humiliating profession that most colleagues have to make a big fuss about their income. It's such a mendacious topic, nobody will tell you the truth say."

And what is the truth? The truth is that as a writer you sleep too little because of your job, you never have vacation - you have to write - you can't support a family and in old age - you have hardly paid any pension contributions - you slip below the poverty line.

But all of this is the price to pay to make a dream come true. Some made it and don't worry, the next novel will be a bestseller, and one can still speculate on post-mortem fame. So: Cheer up, don't let yourself get down, wipe your mouth and keep writing, because we need your poems and novels!