Things I wish I had known when looking for a literary agent

When I was searching for a literary agent, I used to scour the internet for something, anything, that made the process a little clearer. Now that I am represented by the phenomenal Bent Agency, I thought I would add my own story. 

I searched for a literary agent for over two years with previous books, and about a year with Shame on You. In the process there are several things I wish I had known. 

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How I got published

Getting published has been my dream for as long as I have been a writer. What could be better than seeing your name in print, than knowing that people all over the world would be reading your story? I always thought that 'making it' consisted of getting my name on a book jacket, but the real achievement was becoming the best writer I could be. My journey to publication required three books, a thick skin and whole lot of faith, so I thought I would get it all down to encourage anyone waiting for their big break. 

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Five questions with Ali Land

Ali Land spins sentences and characters that punch you in the gut. I read and reviewed her debut novel, Good Me, Bad Me earlier this year, and it still remains one of my top books of the year. While her novel is a page-turner worthy of an all-nighter, it is more than a thriller. It is an intense character study that reveals the emotional nuances of the damaged, sidelined characters we often write off. Ali spoke to me a little about her writing process, and the answers are a treat for any writer or fan of the book. 

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Great thrillers for under $2

One of my favourite things to do is cruise Amazon for new books. While I read quite widely, I always gravitate towards thrillers when I need instant, guaranteed entertainment. The thriller doesn't have to be the next big thing, it just needs to have a plot that pulls me forward. Lately I have been spotting some fantastic thrillers on Amazon, and choked on my tea when I saw how cheap they were! So I thought I would share the love, and a few of my favourites. 

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Finding your writers group

As I mentioned in my previous post, my writers group has been instrumental in my growth and fulfilment as a writer. Writing changed from a lonely pursuit to a passion that I could regularly share with others. However, with something so intimate as writing, starting or joining a writers group can initially feel as awkward as an introvert trying to join a swingers club. 

Here are a few tips to make the process less painful: 

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An alternative pregnancy reading list

Falling pregnant is a beautiful, mythical experience rich with opportunities for growth and self-love. It is also a rude induction into a world where, as a woman, you acutely realise that your body and your choices have become part of the public domain. Yet no matter how vocal others are about your physical appearance and the impending challenges of motherhood, it is difficult to find reading material that is real, but also supportive. I have found myself craving tenderness, humour and real stories. Here are a few books that have really helped me. 

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Surround yourself with other writers

I have always believed myself to be a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to work and writing. Looking back, I think this was rooted in pride and a young writer's arrogance that my talent was all I needed to sustain a creative career. 

Yet over three years ago I found myself sitting in a coffee shop, anxiously scanning for the faces of the new members of my writing group. I had met Cath once before at a Writivism workshop in Cape Town, while Blaize had responded to my call for writing group participants over Twitter. It was just us three, a very small gang, and I was as nervous as someone on a first date. 

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Building books and babies

Suddenly, it is the middle of winter and I am at the start of my third trimester. I am beginning to wonder just how I am going to look back on this time, whether it will feel as ordinary as it does now, or morph into something sacred. Growing a book and a baby to fruition at once is both beautiful and demanding. The parallels could inspire all sorts of obvious metaphors, the sheer labour of it all. However, I think my two greatest lessons have been patience, and acceptance of the gap between expectation and reality. 

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Read South African writers not because they are local, but because they're good

For a long time, I have felt uncomfortable about the way we discuss South African writers. Bookstores and reviewers are championed for their 'support' of our authors and readers are asked to buy more South African books. I love many South African books and authors, but I feel that in our persistent cheerleading of African writers, we remove the power from the conversation and miss the point entirely. We shouldn't be reading local authors as a favour to them or the industry, we should be reading them because they are good. 

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Females are strong as hell | Spire Book Review

Spire, Fiona Snyckers' latest release, was one of the of those books I went into knowing very little about, yet it grabbed me by its icy fist from the very first page. Caroline is a virologist who has travelled to a remote site on the South Pole to spend the winter conducting experiments on a petrifying arsenal of diseases. She is young, beautiful, accomplished and excited to prove herself. However, from the moment she arrives, things go wrong.

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The map is not the territory

In another lifetime, I sat in a social worker's office with an old bar heater rumbling between us as we tried to talk through my sexual assault. Like many women in my situation, I didn't feel I deserved to be there, I didn't feel like my reactions followed the script or that I was 'recovering right.' It was my most acute experience of how pre-defined the experience of womanhood could be, and how I often fell flailing outside those lines. The social worker, an incredible literary woman who would later help me recover through books and poetry, said something to me I will always remember: 

The map is not the territory. 

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Your next book club read just got a lot more chilling

My walk through Delta park this past Sunday was a little different. As I wound my way past the cluster of bright jungle gyms and children's parties I looked a little closer at the families playing there, imagining each of their stories, scratching at the surface of their domestic bliss. It's no wonder, because this is where my latest read, The Park, has its chilling beginning. 

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