In times of crisis, appeasement pills are the order of the day. Never before were so many fairy tales published and so much soothing literature as during the thirteen years of the Thousand Year Reich. The ostrich, they say, likes to bury its head in the sand in the face of impending disaster, but this is much more true of man. So why did I have to send a book with the title “The Predictable Collapse of Techno-Civilization” to two dozen publishers? I had to do so because I am absolutely sure that thinking people will be convinced by my thesis.
Incidentally, the question is wrongly posed. Unlike ostriches, ants or cats, humans are characterized by an interest in knowledge that even leads some of them to act against their own interests by doing the completely useless, considering beauty as an end in itself or striving for knowledge, even if it is painful and clearly against the spirit of the times.
In this sense, I had drafted my letter to the publishers as follows:
Dear Sir/ Madam,
I have published a total of two paperbacks and three hardcover editions with German publishers (S. Fischer, Propyläen and Signum). The title of the manuscript attached below – The Predictable Collapse of Techno-Civilization – sums up the contents of the book. The explanatory cover text might go something like this:
Many a historian only smiles with amusement when confronted with apocalyptic visions. These always existed, but we humans are still there. But this objection leaves the crucial difference out of sight. Back then, doom was attributed to an avenging God or the moral depravity of his creatures. Today we are dealing not with fictions but with facts. The modern world has unleashed an avalanche of exponential growth: exponential growth in resource consumption, waste, man-made, non-biodegradable materials, specialization, complexity, traffic, etc. Physicists know that exponential processes, if not stopped in time, are inevitably heading for collapse. Techno-civilization is about to do just that.
I assume Ernst-Ulrich v. Weizsäcker won’t take offense if I quote his first impression: “This is (at least at first glance) a major wholesale attack on the conventional ideology of progress.”
By the way, Herman Daly, alternative Nobel laureate and economist, had particularly praised an earlier book on this subject (Yes, we can – no we must), which I unfortunately published prematurely on Amazon (where no one reads it) (Prof. Daly’s statement is quoted on the first page).
Prof. Karl Acham (Professor of Sociology in Graz, Austria) allows me to preface my book with the following assessment:
“Jenner’s discussions of fundamental political, ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural questions, oriented to but never solely fixated on the realities of the time, are among the most stimulating to be found at present in clearly formulated historical sociology in the German-speaking world” (Karl Acham).
The work is now completed, so I am not sending you an excerpt, but the complete text. The photo on the cover might be copyrighted: that would have to be checked. Please let me know if you are interested.
Dr. Gero Jenner
I have always found it highly unpleasant to curry favor with publishers. It is and remains a depressingly embarrassing thing, especially when the author is only too clearly aware that such a fundamentally critical title must arouse the suspicion of crankery in nine out of ten editors, so that one has to boast of merits or recommendations in order to even get him to take a look at the manuscript. Certainly, I would rather praise Messrs. v. Weizsäcker, Herman Daly and Karl Acham myself than adorn myself with their praise, but without this self-praise one gets nowhere.
If I had written a fiction book or a novel, then fundamental doubts about technology would be quite permissible – in fiction it was and is invoked again and again. No industrialist, no politician, no technician, or engineer would think of protesting against a novel because they don’t take art and fiction seriously to begin with. It is completely different with a non-fiction book presenting itself with the challenging title “The Predictable Collapse of Techno-Civilization”.
Isn’t this title alone an impertinence, an imposition, a completely absurd falsification of facts, a deliberate unsettling of citizens already afflicted with all kinds of doubts? Scientific publishers with small, secure print runs aimed exclusively at specialists may accept such a title if the author belongs to a scientific institution that vouches for his seriousness and the publication is subsidized. In contrast, the editors of a trade publisher spontaneously flinch when they get their hands on a manuscript that is sure to provoke protest. That’s because editors find themselves in a kind of ejector seat; they are paid to seek out bestsellers, not to spark protest. Books with provocative titles like the above may be well-researched, persuasively argued, and well-written, but an editor only feels secure if the author is a recognized public authority or if a respected institution stands behind him or her. What this pressure for profit means should be clear: It favors books that put the alert mind and criticism to sleep.
The reaction to my campaign was therefore predictable. Of 28 publishers contacted, three rejected the book after just one up to four days, i.e. without reading it – on the basis of the title alone. 23 publishers did not even bother to send a rejection letter. Of the following five rejections, only one is honest and can be taken seriously:
Wilke-Primavesi, Campus, after one day: Dear Dr. Jenner, Thank you very much for sending us your new manuscript. Unfortunately, publication by Campus is out of the question for programmatic and economic reasons. With thanks for your interest and best regards, Judith Wilke-Primavesi.
GJ: Campus is a university science publisher. Criticism of science and technology – no matter how scientific it may be – is not on the agenda.
Schuller, Rowohlt, after three days: Dear Mr. Jenner, thank you very much for your mail and the offer. Unfortunately, your manuscript does not fit into our program. However, I am glad that you thought of us. Best regards Moritz Schuller
GJ. If, without having read the book, you already know after three days that it doesn’t fit into the program, there must be tightness somewhere – either in Mr. Schuller’s head or in the program itself.
Hoffmann, Metropolis, after one week: Sorry, not interested. Hubert Hoffmann.
GJ: I am myself not entirely without blame for this uncouth, unfriendly reaction on the part of Mr. Hoffmann. After he had published three works of mine, the poorly reasoned and aggressive reaction to another one made me doubt Mr. Hoffmann’s economic competence. On the other hand, I must reproach myself for a certain lack of character. Why did I still contact him in the first place?
Janik, Piper after three weeks: Dear Mr. Jenner, thank you very much for your mail, and please excuse the delay (caused by agent meeting and London Book Fair). I agree with you completely as to the theses of your book – your first example of space garbage is already very striking, and one asks oneself, how humans can still continue in all seriousness with such a clear factual situation. And matters are quite similar in other areas. My impression is only that we cannot sell such a book in a quantity that would make you and us happy. And so, unfortunately, I cannot include it within our program (as is the case with many good books for which something similar applies), but I thank you for your trust and wish you every success in finding another publication opportunity. With best regards Martin Janik
GJ: The only understanding and decent rejection I received. That in a time marked by fear not many will reach for a particularly critical book, that would possibly further raise their fear, is certainly true – as noted in the introduction. On the other hand, such a challenging thesis mobilizes a larger audience – but, of course, the loudest protests as well. And so fear of the expected protests could well be the real reason for the rejection.
Heyl, Hanser, after four weeks: Dear Mr. Jenner, thank you for your manuscript offer. I have now read it and unfortunately have to decline your offer, because we are already working on other books dealing with similar issues – and we don’t want to compete in our own house. All the best for your future work and kind regards. Tobias Heyl
GJ: Yes, a great many non-fiction books deal with the pressing problems of our time, but it depends on how they do it. If Mr. v. Weizsäcker is right in his statement that my book contains probably the “grandest major attack on conventional progress ideology”, then competition is hardly to be feared.
The following publishers did not even bother to respond (date of contact in brackets):
Peter Sillem, S. Fischer, 1.3.
Tim Jung, Hoffmann & Campe, 7.3.
Christian Koth, Aufbau, 29.2.
Heinrich Geiselberger, Suhrkam, 7.3.
Stephanie Kratz, Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 7.3.
Jens. Dehning, Siedler, 7.3.
Dorothee Fetzer, Springer, 7.3.
Matthias Hansl und Sebastian Ullrich, C.H. Beck, 7.3.
Rosemarie Mailänder, dtv, 7.3.
Thomas Rathnow, Randomhouse, 7.3.
Andreas Rötzer, Matthes & Seitz, 7.3. (Matthes & Seitz)
Katarzyna Lutecka, Amalthea, 7.3.
Heike Bräutigam, Kunstmann, 7.3.
Julia Hoffmann, DVA, 7.3.
Markus Karsten, Westendverlag, 7.3.
Promedia Verlag, 7.3.
Hannah Wustinger, Czernin, 7.3.
Julian Herrmann, Klett-Cotta, 7.3
Christoph Steskal, Propyläen, 7.3.
Philipp Werner, Reclam, 7.3.
I know that until twenty years ago it was considered unacceptable to write to several publishers at once. That has changed in the meantime. If an author waited up to two months for a response from each publisher, most books would not be published until the end of his or her life.
As it is, I will only be able to publish this book on Amazon. As a Kindle edition it is since yesterday available in both German and English (without ISBN, so it can still be offered to publishers).
To be sure, I am very grateful to the American company for this opportunity. The disadvantages, however, are evident too. Since everyone is allowed to print any nonsense imaginable in this forum, one inevitably finds oneself in very mixed company. The book is ignored by libraries, as well as by paying word exploitation companies – and above all: the readership can usually be counted on a few hands, which means that the author normally disappears within a black hole. While even mediocre authors find their audience when published by a well-known publisher, you have to be at least a genius – preferably not a critical one – to even get noticed on Amazon.