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A Few Tips on Getting Published

One of the most common questions we’re asked at Exclusive Books is: ‘How do I get published?’ As a retailer, we don’t publish books, but we naturally work with the many South African publishers who do. Being in the industry, we get a good feel for what they look for, and the kind of books that make a match with trends and demand.

There is no guaranteed method of getting published, of course. Sometimes writers are published because they know the right people, or because their manuscripts landed in the right place at the right time. Most published writers, however, are the ones who never gave up, despite receiving a pile of rejection letters. Persistence pays in the world of publishing.

Here is a brief introduction to getting published through traditional publishers. It cannot cover all the aspects in depth, but may help point you in the right direction on your publishing quest.

Writer, Be Warned

It should be emphasised from the start that, unless you specifically intend to travel the self-publishing route (another story altogether), you should not pay to get published! The businesses that promise to publish writers for a fee have you, the author, at the centre of their business models, rather than your work. You can read more about the difference between legitimate self-publishing services and writing scams at the Writer Beware blog, here and here.

Where To Get Started

If you are writing fiction, and are just starting out, it’s best to have a complete manuscript before you begin submitting queries to publishers. If you are writing non-fiction, a table of contents and a few chapters are usually enough to secure interest. Publishers look for about 60 000 words for a novel but this changes from genre to genre and publisher to publisher.

There are a lot of guides to getting published, like this one, written by Basil van Rooyen specifically for the South African market: Get Your Book Published in 30 (Relatively Easy) Steps.

If you need help with writing, meanwhile, try these titles:

Getting Your Book Into The Right Hands

Getting published takes a lot of work, and there will be rejections. Rejection letters are not fun, but are also not necessarily an indication of the quality of your writing. Many of the most famous authors have had harsh rejection letters. Securing a publishing contract is nearly a full-time job in and of itself. The start is very much like applying for a job, in fact: compile the book – this is your CV – and write a basic cover letter.  Next, research all the publishing houses to find the right person and the right imprint.  Then send your cover letter according to the specification of the imprint’s website.

In South Africa, many publishers accept manuscripts directly from writers. Overseas, publishers often work exclusively through agents and will reject unsolicited manuscripts. See more on agents below.

Each publisher has its own manuscript submission requirements. Some will want a blurb and the first 3 chapters. Some will want the whole manuscript, a blurb, a synopsis and your CV as a writer, listing any qualifications you may have, such as creative writing courses or a publication list. Then there’s the usual three-to-six-month wait for an answer – if one comes at all. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes, your manuscript will be rejected immediately for a thousand different reasons. Mostly, your work sits in what’s called a ‘slush pile’ amongst many other manuscripts, which the publisher works through bit by bit.

For a quick FAQ on getting published in South Africa, read this guide from The Publishers Association of South Africa.

Literary Agent: Should You Have One?

As mentioned, in South Africa, most publishers will accept a manuscript directly from writers – check their websites to see publishers’ terms and conditions.

However, working with a literary agent to sell your manuscript to publishers has significant advantages – one of which is increasing the likelihood that you will be published in more than one market, including the biggest prizes of all, the UK and USA markets. Agents work to sell your books into a variety of publishing houses, in return for a percentage of your royalty fees. Agents also negotiate better contract terms for you, and will generally know the publishing landscape better than you, acting as an advisor in a number of different circumstances (including, lately, the all-important question of how to handle the digital rights to your work).

Like getting published, getting an agent isn’t easy. This blog post from a published author offers some good advice.

When you do get published, we can’t wait to see your book on our shelves :)

For further reference, visit this list of publishing resources.

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15 Responses to A Few Tips on Getting Published

  1. Retha May 17th, 2012 at 6:34 am #

    Hi can you tell me who to contact to publish a childrens book?

  2. Zoe September 14th, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Hi Retha,

    We would recommend Pan Macmillan SA, Penguin and Random House, as they publish local children’s authors. Good luck!

  3. Luna October 27th, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    How big is the fantasy novel market here in South Africa?

    • Zoe October 29th, 2012 at 6:17 am #

      Hi Luna,

      This is a good question. It is a market with a steady and loyal readership, though not the biggest market. It is hard to put a figure on it, but my rough reckoning would be that it makes up less than 10% of the readership, though I stand under correction. South Africans generally enjoy crime, non-fiction and genre fiction the most, but a really good fantasy book like Zoo City by Lauren Beukes does enjoy publicity and readership.

  4. Shameez November 8th, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    How does one go about getting a literary agent?


  5. Lazola Pambo December 30th, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Hello Zoe

    Thank you so much for your exclusive and informative blog post.
    All that you stated really makes perfect sense.

    Through hard work indeed, my novel got published in Austria this year and it’s available in all good bookstores. Book title: “Oscar’s Journey.”

    • Zoe January 7th, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Congratulations, Lazola! That is such great news :)

  6. John Henwood (Sid Tonto) January 10th, 2014 at 5:28 am #


    I have a published novel”The Very Thin White Line” my publisher is publish America and I would like to know who my publisher, can get hold of here in South Africa as a distribution agent.

    I have addresses for On The Dot, psdprom, naspers and primedia.

    The novel is on the shelves with Barns and Nobel and amazon and in all forms of eBook

    Is there any other distribution outlets that I may have missed, Please let me know Thank you

    John Henwood


    • Zoe January 13th, 2014 at 9:41 am #

      Hi John,

      You can try Porcupine Press, who also carry self-published books. You’ve already got PSD promotions, who may be able to help you. Also, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but please check this website about Publish America:

  7. John Henwood (Sid Tonto) January 13th, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    Dear Zoe.

    I certainly hope that Publish America have changed there marketing strategy, as I have asked many times about the bad publicity they had in 2005, and they said that they had.(


  8. John Henwood (Sid Tonto) January 13th, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    I hope that PA dose what they say , I have two more novels
    to publish as a sequel.
    “The Very Thin White Line” SYNOPSIS

    We follow the wild and exciting lives of two undercover police officers who have given up everything to fight the eternal battle against the drug trade. Their faithful companion is a sniffer dog called Davel; a Rottweiler that has some serious hang ups and thinks he is more human than dog.
    Many adventures await them as they are led through different towns around South Africa following the elusive members of a family involved in the making and distribution of narcotics.

  9. Nina May 19th, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    Hi there Zoe,

    I’ve completed my novel about two years ago, polished and re-polished it, but after completion I set out quite enthusiastically to get published. I sent query letters, the synopsis and in some cases some sample chapters to various literary agents in the UK and US, got a bunch of refusals after waiting it out for about seven months, but I was not about to give up, so I polished my query letter, even revised my manuscript again, and tried sending it out again to even more other promising agents, but received more refusals! I then searched for publishers in South Africa, but couldn’t find many of them interested in Young Adult fiction with Paranormal and Urban-Fantasy as sub-genre (it falls under the so called “angel-bunch”). Those I did query either told me that it is not what they are looking for at this stage, where the rest simply did not reply. I gave the manuscript to many book-fanatic friends of mine and they gave it to some of their friends just to see if it’s maybe because of bad writing or if the story’s just not that interesting that it keeps being rejected, but all of them absolutely loved it, which gave me hope to try again :-).

    Do you possibly know of any publishers in South Africa that might be interested in this genre of book? Or have any advice that could help?

    Thank you,

  10. Rene Sickle May 19th, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Dear Nina,

    Have you considered self publishing? There is a printing house in Cape Town who are quite efficient called:
    C: 083 658 7444
    T: 0861 234 256 / T: 021 551 6663
    F: 0865 600 444
    B27 Platinum Junction, Platinum Crescent, Milnerton 7441, Cape Town, South Africa

  11. Cheryl October 6th, 2016 at 4:08 pm #


    I have self-published a book. What is the process to get listed for distribution at Exclusive Book stores?

    • Justine October 7th, 2016 at 7:56 am #

      Hi Cheryl,

      Thank you for your query.

      Please note that the book buying at Exclusive Books is done by our store managers and not centrally. Store managers can only be approached by distributors registered with Exclusive Books.

      Our registered distributors are Bacchus Books, Blue Weaver, Faradawn, PSD, Phambili, Xavier Nagel and Feather Communications. Each distributor has its own trading terms and will be able to advise you on the process of selling your book to Exclusive Books and other book retailers.

      Many thanks,
      Exclusive Books Product Department

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