German Publisher Accused of Erasing a Black Writer Will Properly Credit Him in the Future

German publisher Heyne-Verlag, after being accused in social media of having erased the Black co-author of a popular fantasy novel, today announced a new agreement in which both authors’ names will appear on the cover.

Die Elfen (The Elves) co-written by Bernhard Hennen, an established German author, and Black author James A. Sullivan, first appeared in 2004. For reasons of marketability, only Bernhard Hennen was named on the cover, a decision Sullivan agreed to at the time, with Sullivan’s name printed only on the inner title and imprint pages. Otherwise, according to Hennen, both authors had equal rights, and both received royalties in the same amount.

Since then, Hennen, as sole author, has produced numerous sequels and prequels, while Sullivan – also as sole author – has produced one sequel (Nuramon, in 2013).

The publication of a magnificent edition of Die Elfen in December 2021, again showing only Hennen’s name on the cover, provoked an open letter to the publisher Heyne-Verlag from writers and other people engaged in the German-speaking fantasy scene — “Offener Brief an den Heyne-Verlag anlässlich der Prachtausgabe von ‘Die Elfen’” (“Open letter to Heyne-Verlag on the occasion of the luxury edition of ‘The Elves'”) posted at Phantastik Bestenliste.

The text of the protest letter follows, rendered in English by Google Translate:

Dear phantasts, from the very beginning, the Phantastik-Bestenliste was committed to diversity and the visualization of authors. We would like to counteract the invisibility of an author who has been placed several times on the monthly leaderboard (February 2022 at number 1).

That’s why we are happy to share an open letter to Heyne-Verlag with you today.

The open letter in the wording (scroll down for the version in easy language):

Dear Mr. Mamczak, Dear Marketing Responsible,

the novel »The Elves« was written by Bernhard Hennen and James Sullivan together and in equal proportions. On the cover, however, only Hennen’s name can be read to this day, which makes Sullivan invisible as a co-author.

This oblivion of James Sullivan’s proportional authorship, which has persisted since 2004, still controls the perception and reception of »The Elves«, and equally, if not more strongly, that of Sullivan’s novel »Nuramon«.

The fact that Sullivan’s unmistakable effect on »The Elves« is reflected not only for outsiders, but also within the publishing house, is proven by the ignorance of Heyne SF/F’s social media team about his co-authorship. Sullivan is consistently “forgotten” in marketing. Even on the publisher’s website and retailers, he was only added as the author of the »Elves« magnificent edition, when it was repeatedly pointed out by external persons. If there is so little internal awareness of Sullivan’s co-authorship, how are readers supposed to link both authors correctly to »The Elves«?

James Sullivan, a black author, is pushed out of his own canon, and the publisher fails to promote his novel »Nuramon« (in contrast to Bernhard Hennen’s canon extensions) as an official extension of the »Elves«. The signal effect is clear: for readers, but also for black writers and writers of color.

After almost 20 years of »The Elves«, it is only appropriate that James Sullivan be given the credit he deserves: his name on the cover of all »Elfen« editions. The reasoning that led to Sullivan not being named on the cover in 2004 must be reconsidered today and, if necessary, renegotiated with the author. A decision on the cover naming must be adapted to the new facts (Sullivan is an established author with his own fanbase).

We, the writers, are Kolleg_innen who appreciate him, Leser_innen who love his books, and people who are committed to ensuring that James Sullivan is given due recognition for his great enrichment of German-speaking fantasy.

We therefore ask you to take appropriate measures.

      1. February 2022

Alex Rump, Germany
Anna Zabini, Austria
E. V. Ring, Austria
Eleanor Bardilac, Austria
Iva Moor, Germany
Julia Winterthal, Germany
Leslie Rubow, Germany
Nora Bendzko, Austria
skalabyrinth, Germany
Tala Jacob, Germany
Tanya Hartgers, Germany
Teresa Teske, Germany
Thea Suh, Germany

There has also been a Twitter hashtag called #SichtbarkeitFuerSullivan (visibility for Sullivan): https://twitter.com/hashtag/SichtbarkeitFuerSullivan?src=hashtag_click

Cora Buhlert supplies a bit of background about the German publishing scene at the time Die Elven was marketed as the work of a single author: “Until the early 2000s, it was very difficult for a German author to get a science fiction or fantasy novel published in Germany, because the big German SFF publishers would rather translate a proven success from the US or UK than take a chance on a German unknown.

“In the early 2000s, there was something of an opening for German fantasy authors, when English language fantasy moved away from the Tolkien clone big fat fantasy into grimdark fantasy on the one hand and urban fantasy on the other. German fantasy readers, however, liked traditional epic fantasy and since the English language market no longer delivered sufficient quantities thereof, the publishers started looking for local talent. Die Elfen is one of the books which came out in the wake of this and it was a big success. And since German SFF publishers are risk averse and Bernhard Hennen was something of a known quantity as a writer of RPG tie-ins, whereas Sullivan was unpublished at the time, only Hennen’s name was put on the cover.”

An English-language report on the controversy appeared in Reddit’s r/Fantasy group two days ago: “The Elves – How one German publisher erased a Black writer”, which describes the injustice of the situation in these terms:

…Both Sullivan and Hennen wrote sequels to “The Elven”. But with one big difference: The publisher marketed Hennen’s sequels as such, while Sullivan’s sequel “Nuramon” was not marketed as a sequel to the well known and beloved book. Even though it was written by one of the authors and featured what amounts to the main character of the first book. So when a new reprint of “The Elven” is released it will have several pages of advertisements in the back. Mostly for other Elves-books. So basically all the books Hennen has written in the universe. “Nuramon” is not mentioned.

Because of this, most people do not know, that “The Elven” was written by two writers. Even though by now Sullivan is quite a prolific SFF-writer himself. Considering “The Elven” has been rereleased in special editions several times now, he has asked to be named on the cover and for “Nuramon” to be marketed as the official sequel it is. But so far nothing happened….

By then, Sullivan hinted on Twitter that everyone was working on a resolution: “My dear people, I just had a long and good conversation on the phone with Bernhard Hennen. Just this much: Things are moving!”

And today, Heyne Fantasy & SF tweeted a “Joint statement by Bernhard Hennen, James A. Sullivan and Heyne Verlag” (translated to English by Twitter):

We would like to announce that the publisher has made a new arrangement with the two authors: James A. Sullivan will be [listed] as equal author together with Bernhard Hennen are on the cover. As soon as these new editions come off the press, we will also update the covers online. We are happy to take this long overdue step with all ELFEN fans.

Bernhard Hennen posted a statement of his own on Facebook which says (translated from German):

There has been a public discussion for a few days about why James Sullivan is not on the cover of “The Elves”. I would like to contribute some facts here that only those who were involved in the proceedings can know. (Whoever is interested in answering the question regarding the name on the cover will find the answer to it in the last paragraph. )

2003, at the time of the contract negotiations on “Die Elfen”, I had been working as an author for ten years and had first written achievements, James had not published anything at that time. From the publisher, it was put into the room that it was unfavorable to have two names on the cover. So, the argument back then, with books carrying two car names, I have made bad sales experiences in the past years.

James Sullivan himself says in an interview with Teilzeithelden: “The fact that my name isn’t on the cover was a publishing decision that I agreed with. Bernhard was already known in 2003; but I was a blank page. Internally, however, we have always worked as equal authors and are also equally involved in this novel. I wasn’t sure at the time, despite everything, how visible I wanted to be, and so it suits me that I was only mentioned on the cover and not on the cover. “

When in a cooperation, one author enters the business brand new, but the other one has been writing for a long time and has succeeded, it is common in the publishing world that royalties are not equally distributed. Since James Sullivan was forced by circumstances not to stand on the cover, it was my wish that we both get equally high shares to clarify our equal rights as authors in this way. Except for the cover, we would be treated equally in everyone’s aspect of the book.

The book “Die Elfen” became a surprisingly great success for all participants. James and I ended up being bestselling authors.

I’m absolutely in favor of all involved to come together, the contract is being changed and James is on the cover of all the [editions] of “Die Elfen”.

As of this writing, James A. Sullivan has not made a statement of his own but has retweeted many other people’s announcement of the resolution. His Twitter is here: https://twitter.com/fantasyautor, and his website is here: http://www.jamessullivan.de/home/ 

13 thoughts on “German Publisher Accused of Erasing a Black Writer Will Properly Credit Him in the Future

  1. The 2015 English translation (by Edwin Miles) also shows only Hennen’s name on the cover, though both authors have equal credit on the title page.

    I rather liked The Elven – a review of it is here on my old LiveJournal; it’s well worth a look, if you want a big chunky fantasy that has absolutely everything, including a kitchen sink.

  2. Seems vary strange to me. They didn’t just leave his name off the cover; they also failed to promote his sequel as part of the series. I’m glad it appears things are starting to be fixed.

  3. The horrid clunkiness of some of these translations, though, painfully displays the weakness of machine translation algorithms, even for a language as closely related to English as German.

  4. @Michael J. Lowrey: What? You mean you don’t refer to yourself as an indescribable paper when being interviewed by part-time heroes?

  5. PhilRM: I’ve gone back to look at the German source material.

    Teilzeithelden is the name of a publication, and perhaps works better untranslated and italicized, although it does mean “part-time heroes.”

    Another translation tool renders “unbeschriebenes Blatt” as “blank page” which makes sense of the previous nonsense phrase “indescribable paper”.

  6. The problem here is that machine translation is really bad at metaphorical language. It’s perfectly fine to get the gist of a text, but gaffes like indescribable paper do happen.

  7. Also, Google Translate seems to have massive issues with the new German gender-neutral forms like Kolleg_innen or Leser_innen, which just means colleagues and readers.

  8. Fascinating. Not covered at all by the many publishing news sources I read. I’ve sent the article to various people at Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, and others.

  9. Tom Becker on February 12, 2022 at 12:55 pm said:

    “Indescribable Paper” would be a fantastic story title.

    The last page of my bank statement should have the words “This Page Intentionally Left Indescribable” on it.

    (“This Pixel Intentionally Left Indescrollable”)

  10. So, the argument back then, with books carrying two car names, I have made bad sales experiences in the past years.

    I guess this would explain why Mercedes Lackey didn’t write a novel with John M. Ford.

  11. This is Google Translate making a preventable mistake by miving up different, if similar compound words.

    “car names” = Autonamen
    “author names” = Autorennamen
    “car race names” = Autorennnamen

    And yes, there is a prejudice in Germany against co-authored works. I tend to avoid co-authored works myself, unless it’s an established writing team like Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

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