Tiktok format “Sent unsolicited”: Funny literary business

A person sends a text to a publisher for publication – and they then expose it publicly. Humor is always a thing.

Book shelves library

Who can write a book? Shelves in the Central and State Library in Berlin Photo: dpa

Everyone has to make content. Even with German literary publishers, whose brands tend to be generated from their own tradition, it has arrived: If you want to reach new target groups, you have to use social media. And not just with a sober application of your own program, but with raffles, behind-the-scene material and funny videos.

Of course humor is always a thing. In this country it seems to work best when you step down. Consequently, the Cologne-based publishing house Kiepenheuer & Witsch (KiWi) came up with the Tiktok format “Unrequested sent in”, in which short videos make fun of manuscript submissions. So a person writes a text for years, takes heart at some point, sends it to a publisher and then just looks in to generate pseudo-funny content from it.

The self-assured tone of the cover letters in Unsolicited Submission, as well as the formal errors and demands of the unknown authors, are intended to make people laugh. In one submission, for example, the author asked for an advance of 10,000 euros for the enclosed manuscript and stated that the text was also available from four other publishers. But what is unspokenly sold to the viewer as a ridiculous, because brazen demand is in fact a very realistic offer for a corporate publisher like KiWi. And for the person writing anyway: Assuming twelve months of work go into a novel manuscript, then that’s ten grand divided by twelve gross – what’s bold and funny about that?

It’s hardly surprising that we don’t learn anything about the text quality of the manuscripts in this format, only about the cover letters. Because the involuntarily funny thing about “unsolicited” is that it suggests that some major publisher will still be looking at the unsolicited manuscripts in 2023. Literary agencies have long since made the preselection, pre-edit manuscripts and offer them to publishers. The publisher no longer needs to rummage through texts that are created outside of these structures, he simply bids with other publishers for those texts and authors that somehow seem “sellable” to him, measured against a chronically belated understanding of trends. And then complains that the agencies are destroying the market. In short: It’s actually the same as everywhere else.

Industry Standard Codes

Except that in another industry there might be greater reluctance to make fun of job applications in public. Because nothing else is a manuscript submission: an application. And being an author is nothing else: a job. The capitalist view of authors who are not (yet) commercially successful and artists in general is pitiful to contemptuous: “Haha, look, the weirdo thinks he’s something better. Go work.”

The KiWi format seems to want to build on this thinking. The lack of knowledge of codes customary in the industry is not taken as an indication of a lack of social capital, but as an indicator of literary talent. It’s just fun, the authors will now talk their way out of it. But one would have wished for a bit more originality in terms of humor from a literary publisher of all things, it‘s giving Stefan Raab, folks.

Fortunately, the joke doesn’t really work anyway, and the publisher mainly gets a lack of understanding from their own clientele, as the comments show. But maybe that also helps in the attention economy, such a small shitstorm has never harmed a company. The only question is what that does to young authors, on whom KiWi is just as dependent as the entire industry.

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