SAFREA Western Cape: Publishing Event
Western Cape SAFREA members recently got advice from three very different, but all incredibly insightful authors, who shared their experience of the publishing process. The panel discussion was held on 5 September at 6 Spin street in the Cape Town CBD.
On the panel were:
• Pieter Louis Myburgh
Investigative journalist at Daily Maverick, and author of two controversial current affairs non-fiction books, Gangster State and Republic of Gupta.
• Lois Strachan
Inspirational speaker, facilitator and author of the autobiography A different way of seeing, and the children’s novel The adventures of Missy Mouse.
• Jaco Wolmarans
SAFREA member, photographer and videographer, whose debut novel, the thriller Bos, was published by nb publishers. His second novel is on production schedule for publishing in February 2020 and he has just submitted the manuscript for his second novel.
Having three different authors share their experience highlighted how distinct each individual’s writing and book publishing process can be. Because Lois wrote an autobiography, she found that the writing was the easiest part of the process, while for Jaco “writing was the hardest part”.
While Jaco submitted a completed manuscript to a well-known South African publisher, Lois went the self-publishing route. Pieter-Louis, on the other hand, pitched his idea for Gangster State to the well-known publisher that he already had a relationship with, and dedicated himself full time to researching and writing the book.
Despite their differences, there were important things that they agreed on. Below is some of the advice they imparted during the discussion which was facilitated by SAFREA Western Cape committee member James Bainbridge.
1. Prioritise it every day
The juggle is real, agreed the panelists. Completing a book project is a question of prioritisation every day. Lois encouraged would-be authors to carve out a similar time period every day – “you seem to mentally prepare for that time slot, and store ideas for later,” she said.
Jaco added that this time slot should be when you are most creative, and for him that is 5am-6am. “I like to work in chunks of inspiration, and if it’s not working I will go and do something else. I can also plan, for example if I have a job on Wednesday, I will use Monday and Tuesday to write,” he added.
Pieter-Louis broke the project down into the amount of time he had to write the book divided by how long the book was expected to be and arrived at a number of words to be written each day. “As a journalist, word count works for me, rather than hours a day,” he said. If he skipped a day, he would have to make that up the next day.
2. Third party assessment is invaluable
Editors and assessors, who look at story consistency and plot development can provide tremendous help to authors, who sometimes get so involved in the book that they cannot see its shortcomings.
“The assessors at nb (http://www.nb.co.za/) gave me such amazing feedback. There is really nuanced writing needed to bring a character to life – you need to add layers bit by bit. They helped me realise what extra work needed to be done,” said Jaco.
In the self-publishing realm however, and particularly for an autobiography, Lois warned that one has to learn to trust one’s gut feel, and “not allow editors to write ‘you’ out of the book”.
3. Research publishers and put yourself out there
When looking for a publisher that might be interested in your work, it is worthwhile to reach out to those that have published similar books. For example, if you have written a book about the founder of a particular sport in South Africa, look for who has shown an interest in publishing similar content.
“If you want to publish a book, you’ve got to go to places and meet publishers,” said Pieter-Louis. The other panelists agreed that one should go to book launches, fairs and events and network to get to know publishers. Sending your manuscript to someone specific helps. “It’s worthwhile investing time and presenting to a person you know,” reiterated Jaco.
On that note, it was also recommended that the first three chapters of your manuscript are impeccable – a great story free of typos. If your manuscript is on a pile with 20 others (which it will be) it needs to stand out.
4. Know your worth
“My biggest mistake was maybe not negotiating harder,” said Pieter-Louis. Don’t get overly caught up in the excitement of landing the publishing deal and be resolute and firm when negotiating details. Carefully read through contracts and get experienced people to assist you where possible.
“Back that shit up,” emphasized Jaco, who added that all the work he does now is saved in the cloud.
Written by: Christy Borman
Quotes: (to go with images?)
“The advice is to write fast and edit slow. I strive for the perfect sentence from the get go, and that really slows one down.” – Pieter-Louis Myburgh.
“Don’t cram every good idea you have ever had into the book. Think of it as a successive story and leave some good ideas for the next novel.” Jaco Wolmarans.
“The process for me was intensely frustrating, but so rewarding. When I had that physical object in my hands, it was so worthwhile.” Lois Strachan.