Photo by Michal Andrysiak
Whether expat or native, German or English, e-publisher or champion of paper, this series of six Berliners represents the many facets of publishing. Each at the forefront of their field, they all contribute to make the Berlin literature scene what it is – forward-thinking, versatile... and above all, exciting!
With Mikrotext, Nikola Richter caters to the way we read now.
Nikola Richter’s phone keeps ringing as she indicates a small couch to wait on. “I’m sorry, I’m organising this conference and everything is quite busy right...” She trails off as her phone starts up again.
At 37, Richter is a mother, writer, journalist, editor, consultant and curator extraordinaire of myriad cultural and literary projects, especially the kind preceded with the prefix “e-”. Her work intimately involves the internet, from providing blogging consultancy to co-organising the discussion series “Netzkultur, Freunde des Internets” at the Berliner Festspiele. She was the one responsible for bringing Berghain DJs to the Festpiele in November, and for five years, she was the busy bee behind the Theatertreffen blog, bringing Germany’s biggest theatre meet-up to a younger generation. Now she’s busy with a new baby: the e-publishing company Mikrotext. Just eight months old, it was recently nominated for the Berlin Innovation Consensus.
”Reading today is more fragmented, faster, interactive,” Richter says. “We just don’t have that much time anymore. It’s in those short moments, while waiting for the bus or on a coffee break, that we cram in our reading.” Her e-publishing house takes these changes into consideration. “Our texts are shorter... And I like the idea that one can carry around her complete selection, but that it’s still completely weightless.”
Mikrotext started off publishing two pieces every three months, thematically related. Gradually, the company has expanded to publish English titles as well. Richter doesn’t see e-publishing as a competitive medium, but rather as a complementary one. She describes the texts she publishes as “those which may have otherwise never been published in print, either because they are too short, or don’t adapt well to the format” – like Thomas Palzers’ Spam Poetry, a collection of poems composed entirely of spam emails.
The diversity of Mikrotext’s themes reflects the fast pace of the internet, from surveillance to post-feminism and food. Richter usually approaches the writers herself. “E-publishing is pretty easy,” she says. “The most difficult thing is to find the right texts and to build one’s own proper programme and style.” The publishing process is eclectic, spontaneous and creative. “As the themes are discussed the texts take on different forms, after which we edit and polish. I don’t want them to be purely ‘dadaist’!”
She continues, “I see e-publishing as a possibility to try new things, with less money, less stress. That’s why I can do things the other way around. If an e-book works – print it on paper.”
As an example, Richter points to Aboud Saeed, a Syrian writer who created a web of stories about everyday life in his war-torn country through his Facebook status updates. Richter found out about Saeed through a translator and immediately contacted him. His updates were translated into German from Arabic, edited and chronologically organised. The resulting e-book The Smartest Guy on Facebook was published in March and received instant attention from TV and the press.
An English translation soon followed, and in October of this year, The Smartest Guy was published as a regular book. The first edition of 100 copies sold out within a week. “We’re currently working on the second edition, 200 copies this time!” Richter says enthusiastically.
When Saeed came to Berlin for a series of readings in October, she organised his entire stay from visa to accommodation – at her own home. “We have some spare space!” Now Saeed wants to apply for asylum and she’s helping out with a network of lawyers and supporters. She’s also thinking about his next book, and is already planning to crowdfund the translation.
“First thing he said just off of the plane was ‘Do I look better in real life or on my Facebook profile?’” Richter laughs. “Next it was, ‘I brought a new book, we’ve got work to do.’ We’re on it!”
Recent favourite book: Once Sur by Cecilia Pavón (an e-book!).
Favourite Berlin literary place: Cafe Kotti. “It’s a poor, international hub of writers, artists and students.”
Originally published in issue #122, December 2013.