Lauren Beukes on getting a literary agent in South Africa

Yesterday I managed to get to ask Lauren Beukes, South African author of The Shining Girls (The BFS August Derleth Best Horror, The Strand Magazine Critics Choice Award, and the University of Johannesburg Prize), Zoo City (won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2011) and her latest, Broken Monsters, a question which I’ve been meaning to ask someone like her for ages: How do you get a good literary agent in South Africa?

Especially as an author of speculative fiction / supernatural thrillers etc. This is because these aren’t genres local publishers care about. The market is too small for them, apparently. Even Beukes’ local publisher doesn’t accept manuscripts in these genres.

Her answer? Pretty much what I expected:

“Phew, that’s a big question. You need an overseas agent who is based in London or New York where publishing lives. You need a finished book that you’ve polished and polished and polished to send out to agents. There are lots of online resources on how to get an agent and how to query an agent. If this is something you really want, keep at it. Make it happen. Going to international cons is amazing for networking and I’d highly recommend it (that’s how I got my first comics gig from a chance encounter with Bill Willingham and he only came to my reading cos he felt sorry for me cos I was so nervous) and it’s possible to do on a severe budget by sharing accommodation, nicking muffins from the hotel breakfast buffet for later (bad etiquette, I know, but I was crazy super broke) or eating instant noodles, but getting an agent is about amazing writing and a great story, well told. In the end, that’s what really matters.

In other words: you don’t. I don’t know if that’s anyone’s fault, but what I do know is that it’s always made me feel very frustrated. But at any rate, one thing’s for sure, she’s right about polishing and polishing your book. Self-publishing is great, but in my opinion, you can’t do this alone forever.

Beukes also answered several other questions on her work at a Reddit AMA.

12 thoughts on “Lauren Beukes on getting a literary agent in South Africa”

  1. Hi! I would have liked a happer ending to this post. I’m looking for an agent for my memoir. I’m not doing any selling but it touches on bipolar diagnosis, molestation, racial tensions in the apartheid (and post apartheid) era and influences on identity and a whole lot ofother things people can relate to.
    But ifpush comes to shove, I’ll self-publish. I have 2 already published bipolars keen on editing nd putting togther chapter for chapter (UK and U.S based).

    Thanks for the heads up in the author world though!

    Southafricanbipolarmom.wordpress.com

  2. Thanks for the post!

    This is the reality – you need to get an overseas agent interested. In my experience the only places to send queries to in South Africa in Penguin, whihc has a very limited selection, and indi-publishers, who I found don’t offer much more than what you can do yourself in self-publshing.

    So ZA authors have two options: query overseas agents and pray, or self-publish and promote your book as much as you can to get people interested.

    But what do I know…I’m just another author trying to make in this made world…

  3. Pingback: The state of writing and publishing in South Africa: a personal reflection - Leia Writing

  4. Hi Ryan, Hope you remember me — Theresa Lutge-Smith [www.sawn.co.za]. I’m searching for a Literary Agent in South Africa, one that can also negotiate with international publishers on behalf of an author. Hope to hear from you soon. Regards, Theresa

    1. I have lost a son and wrote about it in my book “Spiritual and Physical Weather”. I have visits and amazing after life experiences. I am stuck now to find an agent. I would like to have my book published by Hay House Publishers. they want me to have an agent first. Help what now? My book is already available on amazon.com thanks for listening. maybe you can help regards Sandra Gordon South Africa

  5. Penguin was notorious for publishing South African Communist Party distortions of South African liberation politics. Is seems impossible to find a South African publisher that will touch anything that is not white oriented or praising the ANC/SACP. I have had 35,000 free downloads of my works in South Africa but no South African publisher will reply let alone consider anything I write

  6. Ngobeni lindokuhle

    Seems that south African publishers are still lacking far behind when it comes to publishing. You have people buying European published books and yet authors are turned down with same genre that we buy . For example I read mills and boons and have about 100 books on the romence genre plus other genres. But they are all from europeans. This supphire romance is not doing enough

  7. Marie Dixon R.N.

    Hi! Have already put on computer my first book, an autobiography in humorous vein on my experiences as a Student Nurse to a Registered nurse. it runs to 300.000 words, I am a pensioner and unfamiliar with the computer, I only know how to write, can you advise me on how to find a publisher and I think a an Agent to help out please?

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