So we had a grand old time in Leipzig at table number ten, discussing how a blog post became a book. I chirped away in what wasn’t necessarily German, it could indeed have been any language really, it could have been Hungarian. In fact, I think it was Hungarian? My genuinely bilingual (possibly tri, you know how this Europeans are) partner in crime, Evi from epubli, deftly untangled my garble and fielded questions about digital publishing, or indeed stepped in to translate when I tied myself up in knots trying to get the verb in the right form (I think most of the time I forget about the verb entirely and left it off – this is what happens, German, when you put the flipping verb at the end of a sentence, people forget to use it.) Anyway, a couple of photos are over on Facebook if you’d like to pop across and have a look.
Our table participants at the Autorenrunde were all writers, both published and emerging, budding memoirists and novelists, some had just sold an MS, some were looking to self publish. There were several bloggers and several more looking to start blogging. Essentially, we were all in one big, similar-looking boat, frantically rowing trying to find the sandy shore of writerly success.
The questions were quite varied. Many focused on the ins and outs of self and digital publishing, some were about blogging itself – how often, on what topics, indeed how do I set up a blog? Is it worth blogging if you want to write a book? But one question kept coming up time and time again and it involved the slim little book What I Know About Germans. How, the participants wanted to know, did a list of things about Germans go viral? How did it wind up with nearly 200,000 collective Facebook likes and shares, thousands of tweets and hundreds of comments. What made it worth turning into a book, a book that people are actually buying?
Tja, good question. We weren’t able to go into too much detail about how or why WIKAG did what it did, but it was such a pertinent question on the day, I thought I’d give my two cents today (and trust me, I’ve thought about this a lot).
The Theme + It’s So Positive + Germans Can Laugh at Themselves
Really, the theme. Germans. But who wants to read over 100 things about Germans? Well, Germans do, for one, and there are a lot of them, plus a couple of German speaking neighbouring countries keen to see what a foreigner thinks (and also keen to disagree on any of the too-positive points). Germans also have family and friends all over the world, or have married non-Germans who are seeking to understand their strange Germanic partner’s habits a little better. There are also large amounts of descendants from German immigrants, particularly in the states, who found reading about current German culture extremely interesting, and connected with several of the points.
Germans themselves are deeply interested in how they are perceived by outsiders because they are deeply certain it’s almost always going to be negative. One of the things I hear the most from readers is ‘this list is so positive,’ or ‘this list is too nice’. I have even been accused of brown-nosing once or twice, although there isn’t a brown nose to see when I lose my temper about wild queueing and the fact that wherever you go in Germany only one bloody Kasse is ever open. Post office, supermarket, H&bloodyM.
I think a lot of Germans approached this list thinking, oh yeah, bring it on, we’re boring and humourless and punctual (true). But what they actually read were generally positive things, specific to their daily lives, as seen by a foreigner. It was fun, well-intentioned, sympatisch. And perhaps for some, if comments and emails are to be believed, the first time they’d read something about their culture and their people, quite like this.
Germany is Pretty Cool Right Now
There has been a big interest in German culture for the past couple of years, and I can speak especially for English speaking countries. How does Germany do what it does economically? Why are they so good at football? Berlin, perennially cool even when it isn’t, is a magnet for creatives and jostles with bloggers and artists and musicians from English speaking countries, who are sending word out that Germany is the place to be. Media in the UK alternates between running WW2 stories and naming Germany 2013’s most popular country.
Books on Germanic adventures abound. My pick? Simon Winder’s Germania. It is hysterical.
As far as the internet goes, most people clicking around at work are looking for things that are easy and fun to read. Lists are easy to read. They speak to the average internet user’s short attention span, and can dole out large amounts of information without making the reader feel like they’re wading through words.
So, there you go. Enjoy your Monday.