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Michael Meisheit: “In my mind, I’m still on Lindenstrasse”

Michael Meisheit: “In my mind, I’m still on   Lindenstrasse”
Foto: © Steven Mahner

An increasing number of authors are now deciding against publishing and publishing themselves – by the end of 2017, 1⁄3 of first editions had already been published by the authors themselves. Michael Meisheit is one of those, a self­ publisher. But not just any old self­publisher. He was a scriptwriter for the “Linden­strasse” series for 20 years. He himself wrote 400 screenplays and contributed to more than 1,000. We visited the author in the Bergmannkiez in Kreuzberg and looked behind the scenes of his success: How does somebody become a self­ publisher, and at what price? Why not just go to a renowned publishing house?

 

Interview BORIS MESSING 

 

CCB Magazine: Hello Michael. You have been working as a self­publisher since 2012. You’ve already sold more than 100,000 e­books. Your novel series “Im falschen Film” sold 60,000 copies on the Internet alone. Since 2013 you have also been writing entertainment novels under the synonym Vanessa Mansini. Do you feel more like a woman inside? 

Michael: (laughs) No, that’s a bit of a story. I started writing a fic­tional blog to try out a new narrative form …

CCB Magazine:… from which the blog novel “Nicht von dieser Welt” was cre­
ated. 

Michael:Exactly. And the blog is written from the point of view of a woman, Vanessa Mansini. I kept this synonym once I realised that if I wanted to write a romance novel, I would need a suitable cover and a suitable title. And a match­ing author’s name. For romance novels, women’s names are better. 

CCB Magazine:In 2012, you decided to take everything into your own hands and do without a publisher – you became a self­publisher. Why didn’t you go to a publisher? 

Michael:I thought it was really exciting to be my own boss and to take care of everything. Cover, title, blurb – in a typical publishing house, the publisher decides that, not the au­thor. I wanted to decide everything myself and also ex­periment a bit. I didn’t have a plan B. I wanted to concen­trate completely on my work as a novelist. And it went pretty well then. 

“I thought it was really exciting to be my own boss and to take care of everything. Cover, title, blurb – in a typical pub­lishing house, the publisher decides that, not the author

CCB Magazine:That isn’t possible for everyone. According to surveys by journalist Matthias Matting on the subject of self­publish­ing, the average income of a self­publisher in Germany has increased over the years – in 2018 it was 1,048 euros per month. Still, a good third of writers earn nothing at all. Isn’t self­publishing an expression of a deep crisis because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a publisher, let alone earn money from writing? 

Michael:On the one hand yes. Yet I would rather look at it as an opportunity. Authors hardly earn anything from book pub lications – except for the big names. And given the large number of submitted manuscripts, it’s also difficult to be included in a publisher’s list. And for every copy sold, an author today earns on average only ten per cent of the proceeds of his book; even many bestselling au­thors don’t earn very well at all. It makes sense to try it for yourself. 

CCB Magazine:A standard publisher assumes control over everything: de­sign, cover, blurb, editing and marketing. For a publisher to­day, publishing a book costs – for no­name authors – a lot of money, on average around 4,000 euros in advance. At the same time, the publisher assumes all the work. What does the production of a book cost? And what do you earn from it? 

Michael:Basically, I have to say that by selling e­books as a self­ publisher, I earn even more than an average author at a publishing house. And I also offer the e­book itself cheap­er than the publishers. The take for an e­book is basically usually one to two euros less than for the paperback edi­tion. I only charge three or four euros for it – and earn two euros. That’s twice what an author gets from a conven­tional publisher. I also have a professional  cover designer and a good editor, and also someone to  write for the few print versions of my books. For this, I may spend a total of 1,000 to 2,000 euros. It keeps everything within lim­its. The only downside is that I have to pay 19 per cent VAT on e­books, compared to just 7 per cent for print­ed books. This is an advantage for publishers who sell more print. And, you have to develop your own brand as a self­publisher. 

Has a desire to write and also writes quite a lot: Michael Meisheit looks into the distance with a bright future. Photo: Steven Mahner

CCB Magazine:According to the European self­publishing study 2016 of Books on Demand (BoD), the self­publishing market is be­coming increasingly professional: Even though half of self­ publishers are still hobby authors. Meanwhile, for 35 per cent of all German­language authors, earning income through book sales or writing as their main occupation plays an im­portant role – in 2013 the figure was 20 per cent. If you were to offer some suggestions, what does it take to be a self­pub­lisher? 

Michael:You have to be able to create interesting plots. You need really well defined contrasting characters, and you need to know who you’re writing for – it takes a lot of experi­ence. I’ve learned all this over the years as a screenwrit­er. And you also have to be able to advertise for yourself. Years ago, I set up a mailing list, and I have a Facebook group that keeps my readers up to date. I think many self­publishers are just too inexperienced in writing. But sometimes even I have no idea how to go on. Then I go for a swim, and I usually come up with some new ideas. 

CCB Magazine:Self­publishing is putting the publishing industry to a com­pletely new test. On the one hand, they say that self­publish­ers are those who failed to succeed in making it through the publishing houses and who are also not taken serious­ly by the publishing houses. On the other hand, publishers are now even advertising the most successful self­publish­ers. Mental game: If Suhrkamp Verlag offered to publish your next book – but for less money than you otherwise earn – would you accept? 

Michael:For less money? No! Self­publishing is a great solution for me. And in the meantime many other very successful self­publishers have emerged who have decided against a publisher. The majority of readers are no longer inter­ested in the publisher of a book. Which doesn’t mean that publishers are uninteresting: By the end of the year, Heyne will be publishing one of my thrillers. It’s a new genre, a “new” way of publishing, at least for me. Inci­dentally, self­publishers are organising themselves bet­ter and better. I myself am a member of the Self­Publisher Association, we attend book fairs together. We are some­thing of a literary social club, sometimes we meet up for a beer, or talk about our writing problems. A few years ago, a 20­strong group of self­publishers joined forces, selling more than 10 million e­books. That’s a third of the total e­book market. And that also means that we self­publish­ers are now form an economic block. 

As a self­publisher, you have to be able to produce interesting plots. You need really well defined contrasting characters, and you need to know whom you’re writing for – it takes a lot of experience

CCB Magazine:You publish mainly on Amazon. There are also numerous other providers such as epubli, neobooks, the self­publish­ing platform Bookrix or even triboox. Amazon has been criti­cised for years for providing dumping prices that cause real problems for the publishing industry. Amazon literally de­stroys brick­and­mortar retail. Why did you choose Amazon? 

Michael:Amazon offers me the greatest purchasing power. Of course I have to get the algorithm started somehow. And that means: being higher on the Amazon list. No one knows exactly how this algorithm works, but it makes rec­ommendations that ultimately affect the author’s ranking. A little luck is part of it too. But when I finally manage to sell the same number of copies on the day I release my new book, the algorithm pays more attention and pushes me up. In the best case, this becomes a self­running phe­nomenon and the wave rolls on. This, for example, was completely crazy: With my blog novel “Nicht von dieser Welt”, I overtook Dan Brown and landed in first place on Amazon! 

CCB Magazine:Michael, last question: You were recruited at a young age during your studies at the Film Academy in Ludwigsburg and wrote 20 years for the “Lindenstrasse” series. After three decades, this cult series will be discontinued. Are you sad? 

Michael:Sure, of course! Although I left “Lindenstrasse” as a scriptwriter two years ago, that really had more to do with fatigue than anything else; I wanted something differ­ent, something new. But I think it’s terrible that “Linden­strasse” is being discontinued. The number of viewers was declining a bit, true, but I think that the public broad­casters shouldn’t only look at the ratings; Lindenstrasse is a cultural asset. In my thoughts, I will always remain true to “Lindenstrasse”. 

CCB Magazine:Vanessa, thank you for the interview. 


Profile of Michael Meisheit on Creative City Berlin

Rubrik: Im Profil

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