duncanstein's picture
duncanstein January 27, 2013 - 11:08pm

Hi! Sorry about the lengthy post! :D

The title of this thread pretty much sums it all up, but let me expand. I'm a first-time fiction writer, just finished my book in the last two months. After spending a year writing the thing, I am now realising I have no clue where to start with getting it published.

The narrative's set in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, and a lot of real locations are mentioned. It's got a sci fi twist to it, with a heavy dose of pop philosophy, and I'm actually really proud of how it turned out. Thing is, I feel like I should approach a literary agent to help me through this process, as I'm sure I'll forget something, or not be able to apply to enough publishing houses with my unsolicited material to really make a difference. I'm currently working in Korea, so self publishing and distributing back home seems a little unrealistic, and I've considered ePublishing - I'm ok with it, and I'll go that way if I can't work traditional, but I'd like to get it done this way.

So! Advice? Criticisms? If anyone has a decent recommendation for agents in South Africa, I've also had a lot of trouble trying to figure out who exactly to work through - a lot of them seem to be single mothers working from home or guys who used to be in publishing and are trying to do it part time or whatever. And while I appreciate that, I'd prefer to find someone with great references and good standing with the publishers.

Awesome! Thanks, in advance, for whatever help you can offer.

Dave's picture
Dave from a city near you is reading constantly January 28, 2013 - 12:15am



the founder, Amanda Patterson, is based in South Africa. Might be a good place to start. 

Carly Berg's picture
Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon January 28, 2013 - 5:20am

Warning, long response ahead~

The first thing that jumped out at me is you do not mention having had your work critiqued by others. If it is your first novel, I would not send it out without first getting those other eyes on it. Post each chapter for critiques, get some beta readers. Imo, chances are slim that it is ready to be published otherwise. That is the problem most of the self-published novels I've seen. They are put out there before the process is finished.

One thing you learn from participating in the critique process is how very much one pair of eyes misses. Our mind fills in those gaps and we don't see what needs work like an outsider would. As a story editor, I find work that has only been seen by the author shows itself as that right away and tends to not be very good. The author usually believes it is, having not been given that reality check of critiques by other writers. Especially helpful is if you can also get someone to read the whole thing to you out loud while you listen, stopping to make corrections as you go. The ear picks up what the eyes miss as well.

Unless you happen to hit on a low-pay/high demand hot genre, you can't expect legitimate agents or publishers to do the work in the above paragraphs with you or for you. They don't need to, competition is fierce. Manuscripts that aren't already polished to top form are simply turned down. The custom is (in the US anyway) you can only approach an agent or publisher once with your book. If you have already approached a publisher, you can't later have an agent approach the same one. Also, at many agencies, once you send it to one agent, you are not allowed to send it to any others there. Sending it around before it's polished to top form can significantly decrease your chance of having it traditionally published at all. That is such a long shot anyway that you would want to do everything you can to give it the best chance for acceptance.

Beyond that, it sounds like you face the same deal as in the U.S. No credentials are required to declare oneself an agent, and sharks are everywhere, waiting to prey on the unsuspecting. Or, best case scenario, they just waste your time because they don't know anything more about the publishing process or have any more connections than you do, as you have mentioned.

I would, first, slow down and get those other eyes on it.

Second, the best way to keep from getting ripped off is do not pay an agent or publisher. Money flows to the writer, not the other way around. An agent should get a percentage of the proceeds if he sells it. A publisher should send royalty checks, and possibly an advance, to you. The deal should be like that- money flowing to the author and not the other way around- and easy to understand. Beware of convoluted "partnerships" and such, they often use tricky language and flattery to disguise the fact that they are vanity presses. If someone advertises to help edit or format your book as a service that you pay for, that's fine as long as you are fully aware that that's what it is. But hustlers like to confuse the issue.

Third, you can hear of opinions on agents by networking with other published writers, and from books like Writer's Digest Guide to literary agents as a starting point or an equivalent for publishing houses. Then, be sure to google the name and see what comes up, check out sources like Predators and Editors and the Writer Beware thread on the Absolute Write site for complaints. Also, see what they have out there, that they have already successfully represented. Another way is to start with books of the type you've written and see who published them and etcetera.


I don't know anything about the publishing industry in South Africa, or even if there is much of one. If you find it hard to find, it could be there's just not as much there and you might do better to broaden your search to include other countries (as I said, I have NO idea on that...) But many agents handle international rights and such and your book may appeal to people in many other countries anyway. Everyone loves an "exotic" locale. 

Good luck with it and big fat congrats on completing a novel!

duncanstein's picture
duncanstein January 29, 2013 - 10:16pm

Thanks Carly! That's a huge help, I appreciate the time you put into it. I forgot to mention the book's been looked over and critiqued once, and I've actually got it in the hands of two more people as we speak. As a former newspaper writer, I have unfailing love and respect for the editing / critiquing process, and yes, the first person to read it sent back a list of revisions as long as my arm. I actually had the best time implementing everything she suggested, too. Really helped me crack open the novel. Looking equally forward to the next two reviews I get back :)

Carly Berg's picture
Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon January 30, 2013 - 3:01am

Oh, that's great, Duncanstein. And newspaper writers definitely know how to "write tight," too. Sorry about that. I have heard so many posts from newbies that without more to go on, that's what I assumed. You're probably way ahead of me on your question. I would be interested to know how it goes for you. Good luck with it.