How to get published in South Africa
 More about the book!

How do I approach a publisher? How do I choose a publisher? What royalties should I expect?

Terry Morris, Managing Director of Pan Macmillan South Africa, chatted to Tamara LePine-Williams on Classic FM recently about getting published in South Africa.


Fiction vs non-fiction 

Morris says she believes people are starting to appreciate South African fiction more and more, but that publishers will still publish less in that area.

‘Fiction sales in South Africa are very tough, it’s very small and you’re up against every other book in the world; the new Arundhati Roy, the new John Grisham,’ she says.

Morris says non-fiction is easier to publish in South Africa, as the authors will generally already have a profile or established platform, being a journalist or well-known figure.

‘As a publisher you are using your non-fiction to subsidise your fiction publishing. But it’s important to publish fiction.’


What is step one in getting published?

‘The first step is to make sure you have quite a polished manuscript; that you’ve worked through it,’ Morris says.

Morris says new writers often send in the first version of their manuscript. But most established authors will go to version twenty before they even submit the manuscript to their publisher.

‘There’s quite a lot of work that needs to be done before you even submit, in terms of polishing.’


Do I have to employ an editor before I go to a publisher?

‘No, definitely not,’ Morris says. ‘Financially that’s very constraining.’

Morris says you don’t need a professional to help, but you should go through the manuscript carefully yourself.

‘A lot of it is about reworking, taking a step back from your manuscript for a week or two, going back to it, tweaking things. Getting some feedback if you are able to.’


Who should I ask for feedback on my manuscript?

‘Someone you trust. But not necessarily a family member, who may gush about the manuscript – don’t go to your mother.’

Morris says an informal writing group is a good place to start for feedback.

‘You know that you’re going to get very honest feedback. It’s a very constructive place to start.’


Which publisher should I approach?

Morris says you should take a look at the kinds of books publishers deal with before you approach them.

‘It definitely helps to see who’s publishing what, because then you can approach the publisher with a certain list in mind,’ she says.


Can I send my manuscript to more than one publisher?

‘It’s completely acceptable from a publisher’s perspective to send your manuscript out widely,’ Morris says.

The manuscript is sent out to several readers and there will be also be a discussion about it in-house. Because publishers have small teams, you can often wait four to six weeks for feedback.

‘It’s not really fair to expect a writer to wait six weeks before they go on to the next publisher. So we completely expect that people will approach many publishers.’


Don’t get disheartened by rejections

‘The best writers in the world will have hundreds of rejection letters,’ Morris says.

‘It’s also about our list. We may only have five fiction slots with established authors filling three of those, meaning there are only two slots available for debut fiction authors.’

Morris says Pan Macmillan SA try to give feedback on all manuscripts, but it’s difficult because they get about 400 or 500 a year.


My manuscript what accepted – what next?

After your manuscript has been accepted, you will have an initial meeting. Your publisher should give you feedback from a sales and marketing perspective, and then will hand over an offer letter.

‘The offer letter lays out the bare basics of the contract, and often there’s an advance against royalties,’ Morris says. ‘The advance tends to be higher in non-fiction because there’s a lot of research involved, so there’s a longer time-frame for the writing.’

Once you accept the offer letter, you and the publisher go into contract phase, where you thrash out the contract.


How do you edit my book?

‘The author needs to realise this is a commercial venture,’ Morris says, ‘and they need to try not to be too precious about their work. They need to take on board the editor’s comments, because the editor is really the expert in shaping a manuscript.’

Morris says editing is a three-step process:

  1. A structural edit, which looks at the overall structure of the book and its weakness;
  2. Editing, where an editor is assigned to the project, one whose skills match the book, to work with the author;
  3. Proofreading, where grammar and spelling are ironed out.

Then the book goes to typesetting.


What royalties should I get?

The pre-press costs are taken on by the publisher: typesetting, editing, design, cover design, printing warehousing.

‘So you see the risk for publishers is really high,’ Morris says. ‘Often people moan about the royalty percentages, but if the book doesn’t work and we sit with a lot of stock, that goes against the profits of the book.’

Morris says a writer can expect about 12% on net receipts for a print book, on average, and about 25% of net receipts on an ebook as standard.


How do you get published overseas?

Morris says getting published in the UK and US markets – ‘the holy grail’ – can’t be done without finding a literary agent.

‘Finding a literary agent in itself is difficult,’ Morris says. ‘You’ll find a lot of novelists approach hundreds of agents, and often it’s that 200th agent that they approach that might take them on.’


Click on the link above to listen to the podcast!


Image: Brad Neathery

Categories Fiction Non-fiction South Africa

Tags Book Publishing Pan Macmillan SA Publishing Terry Morris Writing Writing Advice

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