Praxis-Workshop "Publishing Books" (2-5 July 2018): A Success Story


Publishing turns creative texts into marketable products – but what exactly does a publisher do? Or an editor, for that matter? In July, a group of 20+ students at the University of Vienna's Department of English and American Studies seized the opportunity to find out more about this arcane process.

Dr. Cordelia Borchardt, their teacher for this one-week course, is editor-in-chief for general fiction at the prestigious S. Fischer Verlag in Frankfurt am Main (Germany). She also has a PhD in English Literature, is used to teaching at University level, and has decades of hands-on experience in the publishing world. The course's goal was to enable students, whose degrees do not predestine them for a teacher's career, to learn anything and everything to do with publishing: from the acquisition of new manuscripts to editing; from marketing and publicity to distribution: "Publishing Books: Myths, Markets and Manuscripts"

"Publishing Books: Myths, Markets and Manuscripts" was organised by the recently appointed Professor for British Literature, Sylvia Mieszkowski, and financed with money the University of Vienna granted her as Berufungszusage. Some of this type of financial support has been earmarked for events that, like this workshop, complement curricular education with a view to providing practical advice and training. In this case in a field, which certainly qualifies as a viable career option for graduates of study programmes with a language/literary focus.

As an informal survey showed, some of the participants (most of them in Bachelor, Master or Doctoral programmes) had already set their eyes on publishing houses as a possible place of employment; others were thinking about earning their living with creative writing and eager to know what publishing their work would entail; a third group, close to completing their doctoral studies, felt that they had reached the point where a glance beyond the possibilities of a University career could be beneficial.

Dr. Borchardt, according to her students, proved to be the ideal choice for this enterprise. The workshop participants unanimously found her amiable and forthcoming, highly motivated and extremely well prepared, always helpful, ready to answer their many questions and provide inside knowledge about her daily work.

Choosing to focus on the German-language, non-academic literary world, Dr. Borchardt guided her Viennese students through the many steps between manuscript and printed book, e.g. the editorial involvement of the publishing house, the evaluation of exposés, the writing of blurbs and sales pitches and the interaction with readers. Participants were provided with real manuscripts to work on (part of which will eventually be published); they held a mock-editorial meeting, where merits and deficits of the texts and their potential markets were discussed; and they learned how to pitch "their" manuscript to their colleagues. While introducing the students into all these authentic publishing-related tasks, Dr. Borchardt did not forget to present the business at a larger scale, explain about publishers' profiles and programmes and describe the acquisition process and how to find new authors.

Here are a few sound bites offered by the participants:

"delightfully interactive"

"Dr. Borchardt did a lovely job"

"what happens 'behind the scenes' when publishing a novel, was eye-opening, intriguing and extremely helpful to me"

"an amazing opportunity to gather practice-oriented information and to find out more about possible career options"

"if this course was turned into a bachelor degree, I definitely would study it"

"It has been one of the best courses I took so far at university!"

"I would recommend this workshop to anybody who would like an insight into what a publisher or editor does for a living"

This year's participants greatly appreciated the workshop’s practical approach and the authentic exercises it offered. When asked for their evaluation, they described the four-day course as a great addition to regular curricular activities. While some enquired about a sequel that would take them deeper into the subject matter, all participants expressed their conviction that even this course, if offered again, would find many of their peers equally enthusiastic.

Ulli Zillinger