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.