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Modjaji Books

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Resources for writers in South Africa

As I have been tying up loose ends at the Centre for the Book this week in preparation for starting my new life as the sole employee of and publisher at Modjaji Books, I thought it would be a good idea to circulate the folk knowledge I have accumulated while responding to thousands (not exaggerating) of queries from writers over the years I have worked at the CB.

The resource list is a good starting point – and something you can work your way through instead of writing. Currently it is biased in favour of Cape Town as this is where I live, but I know there are lots of resources/ activities/ etc that others from other regions should add. You’re welcome to add updates/new information by posting comments.



* Competitions for writers to enter, calls for submissions (Books e-group – email

* Writing workshops, writing teachers (Books e-group, Centre for the Book website)

* Literary magazines (A rough guide to small-scale and self-publishing, Centre for the Book website)

* Online zines ( and

* National Arts Council grants to give you time to write (

* Join organisations that support you – IBBYSA, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Bhala – national organisation for those who write in isiXhosa, most towns and cities in regions that have large groups of Xhosa speakers have local groups of Bhala

* Join the Books e-group: (You will receive up-to-the-minute information about workshops, events, conferences, competitions, opportunities for publications, readings, writers groups, etc)

* Go to bookish conferences, symposia, festivals (Books e-group)

* If you are on Facebook or MySpace – check out the writers’ groups and bookish events happening in your area and online

* Get onto the mailing lists of bookstores – like Exclusive Books, Wordsworths, The Book Lounge (CT), Die Boekehuis (Jhb), Kallk Bay Books (CT)


* Send it off to literary magazines, both online and print. See the list at the back of A Rough guide to small-scale and self publishing. If your writing is rejected this is feedback of a sort. Don’t give up.

* Join a writing group or start a writing group. (Centre for the Book pamphlet on this topic).

* Come to Out to Lunch at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town on Wednesdays between 1 and 2.

* Do the Masters in Creative Writing at UCT or at Wits. Other universities around the country also offer creative writing – check out their websites to see what they have to offer.

* Join a Writing workshop. There are some excellent writing teachers around, check out the Centre for the Book website for a list of writing teachers. One of the best in Cape Town is Anne Schuster. See her website at

* You could send a completed manuscript off to a publisher (see the “About” pages of the publishers on BOOK SA). Before you do this, though, you need to research the market.

* Go to bookshops and look carefully at which local publishers are publishing books in a similar genre to yours. Make a shortlist of three or four publishers, including some small publishers. Before you submit a manuscript, go to each publisher’s website and find out what their submission requirements are.

Normally publishers do not want to see a whole manuscript, but rather want a package of:
(1) A one paragraph synopsis of the book
(2) A one paragraph bio-note about author
(3) A one to two page synopsis of your book
(4) A chapter by chapter synopsis (3-5 line per chapter)
(5) Two sample chapters.

* You could get your manuscript read by an “expert” reader for a small fee at (available after April 2008) or email


* Information pamphlet series for writers published by the Centre for the Book – ten pamphlets are available on topics of interest to writers written by experienced writers, publishers, and editors.

* Find a writers’ course or workshop that you can attend

* Register for a creative writing course at university. The SA Writers’ College is an online writing college based in Cape Town; you don’t have to live in the city to do a course. There’s also The Write Co in Johannesburg.

* You could get your manuscript read by an “expert” reader for a small fee at (available after April 2008) or by emailing

* Send stories, poems, articles, essays etc to literary magazines and popular magazines where relevant.

* Go to a local book store or library and find books that give advice and suggestions about how to write better

* Read widely and frequently – you have to be an avid reader if you want to be a good writer.


If you want a commercial publisher to consider your work

* Look at the PASA Directory, it is updated each year or check out the PASA website at

* You need to identify which publishers do the kind of book you are wanting to get published.

* Basil van Rooyen’s book – Get your book published in 30 (relatively) easy steps: A Hands-on Guide for South African Authors (Penguin) is useful, especially for non-fiction authors – but it is quite gloomy, so don’t get discouraged by the tone.

* You should also go to bookstores and see who is publishing similar books and see what is being published so they don’t reinvent the wheel

* A new website offers reader’s reports for a small fee and some at a reduced fee (bursaries). Check out (available after April 2008) or contact Maire Fisher at

* Poets should read the article about getting your poetry published. You shouldn’t think of starting with getting a book published. Get individual poems published first.

* Look at the Centre for the Book pamphlet on Publishing opportunities for new writers


Sometimes you can’t get published straight away, because you are a new writer, or you write in a genre that has limited appeal — have you considered independent publishing or self-publishing?

* Let’s push the boundaries of publishing – pamphlets, chapbooks, simple cheap books, digital printing, zines, reading to each other

* Get a copy of A Rough Guide to small-scale and self publishing published by the Centre for the Book – it is full of practical and useful advice. Available in English, Afrikaans, Sesotho, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

* Community Publishing Project grants, small grants for writers to publish their own work are on offer twice a year: deadlines: Usually in about March & September (Check the CB website for deadlines and to download the application form)

* Gary Cummiskey’s Blog — he is a veteran independent publisher – great blog –

* Consider a small print run and going the digital printing/ print-on-demand option


* Go to a bookshop or a library and look at who is publishing what and whom? If you join the Exclusive Books fanatics club and the Wordsworth’s Loyalty Club, not only will you get discounts, you will be invited to launches of books, where you will hear successful writers speak, read and launch their books. There is a whole collection of wonderful bookshops in Long Street, (Cape Town) the most famous and worth a visit is Clarke’s.

* The Book Lounge corner of Buitenkant and Roeland Streets in Cape Town city – has regular events and Kalk Bay Books in Main Road, Kalk Bay does too

* Baobab Books in Long Street has regular literary events on Wednesday evenings.

* Boekehuis in Auckland Park in Jozi – has a great selection of Africana and has regular bookish events

* Xarra Books in Newtown is a wonderful independent Jozi bookstore

* Read the books pages of newspapers and magazines – good ones are Rapport, Die Burger, Cape Times, The Weekender, The Mail and Guardian and the Sunday Independent, O Magazine, Real Simple – but there are lots of others!

* Check out the Publishers’ Association website or buy a copy of the annual PASA directory, which gives a breakdown of all publishers in South Africa who are members of PASA, what their publishing interests are, and contact details.

* Most publishers have their own websites and often tell you how they like to receive submissions. (Also, see publishers’ “About” pages on their BOOK SA blogs.) If they don’t tell you, give them a ring and ask.

*Listen to SAFM Literature on Sundays 1- 4pm , and keep an ear out for what is happening on “Otherwise” on SAFM at 1pm, they often have slots of interest to writers.


* For Afrikaans speaking writers – Woordfees at Stellenbosch in March is a must

* The Cape Town International Book Fair in June each year – it has been going for two years – 2008 is its third year – what more can I say?

* The Franschoek Literary Festival in May is a feast of literary activity

* Spier Poetry Exchange at the end of January, early February each year – a chance to see local and international poets in action

* Poetry Africa is held at the University of KZN in Durban in October each year -a fantastic opportunity to listen to local and international poets reading and performing their work

* Time of the Writer is held at UKZN in March each year

* Wordfest is the bookish/ writerly part of the Grahamstown Arts Festival at the end of June/July each year


* Join Society for Book Writers and Illustrators —

* Join IBBYSA, for more information check out their website —

* Join the Children’s Literature Network (CLN) e-group –

* Find courses and workshops for the writers of children’s books – SCBWI and IBBY SA often advertise such course

* Read lots of children’s books – to yourself and to children

*T ell stories to children – either your own or volunteer at a school or library

* Go to the Children’s Zone at the Cape Town International Book Fair

* Some cities and towns have specialist children’s bookstores – eg A is for Apple in Cape Town. Most decent bookstores have a children’s section and some are better than others. Look out for books that have won prizes or other recognition.


(other regions should figure this out and find a place to share this information)

* Out to Lunch at the Centre for the Book on Wednesday’s between 1 and 2, there is a free open writing practice session.

* Watch out for the Cape Town International Bookfair in 2008. (

* Off the Wall at A Touch of Madness in Observatory has poetry sessions on Monday nights. Usually there is a guest poet, and then an open mic. Contact: Hugh Hodge

* Gus Ferguson’s mailing list, you can subscribe to Carapace & get onto it that way (Invitations to launches, readings and other events) email:

*The CT Central Library has a monthly poetry group that meets on Saturday afternoons.

* Keith Gottschalk convenes a writers group called the Landsdowne Local which meets last Saturday of the month, contact


by Robert Berold

It is almost impossible to get a first book published. The route to go is to try to publish your work bit by bit in poetry magazines (see the Centre for the Book website). You will be able to find copies of these magazines in a large library, like a university library. Read them first to see which magazines suit your style of poetry. Reading these magazines will also give you an idea of what is going on in South African poetry in general, which is a very diverse field.

Publishing through small magazines is a slow process, but that is the way all poets do it. Some editors give criticism and feedback, others don’t.

Do not send the same poems to more than one magazine, and do not send more than 3 to 5, it just irritates the editor to be flooded. You sometimes have to wait a long time for a reply, up to 6 months or more.

After that time it is fair to write and ask the editor to make a decision so that you can send those particular poems somewhere else.

The slowness of this process is no reason to stop writing poetry, or sharing it with others, starting a poetry reading group, or even publishing a small book of your own.


* As well as whatever else you read, you must also read what other South African writers have written and are writing. You need to know where you fit into the ongoing conversation that is South African literature, South African writing.

* Buy South African books and subscribe to our local literary magazines. For a list see the Centre for the Book website and A rough guide to small-scale & self-publishing

* Read South African and African books from the library closest to you. South African writing and publishing is flourishing — and there are some wonderful reads.

* You may find books about writing useful too. See a selected bibliography at the bottom of the page

USEFUL WEBSITES (Publishers Association of SA) (National Arts Council) (Litnet – online magazine about arts and culture – strong Afrikaans focus) (Book SA — Southern Africa Lit Daily – mostly in English)


Natalie Goldberg’s books (1986) Writing Down the Bones Boston & London: Shambhala and (1990) “Wild Mind” New York: Bantam Books

Anne Lamott (1994) Bird by bird – Some instructions on writing and life. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday.

Dorothea Brande (1934 – first published, republished 1996) Becoming a writer. London: Macmillan.

Julia Cameron (2000) The Right to Write. London: Macmillan

Peter Elbow (1973) Writing without teachers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Judy Reeves (1999) A Writer’s Book of Days – A spirited companion and lively muse for the writing life. Novato, California: New World Library.

Stephen King (2000) On Writing: a memoir London: Hodder & Stoughton

Anne Schuster’s novel (2006) Foolish Delusions – has separate mini-sections which are helpful in writing memoir/ autobiography. Johannesburg: Jacana Media