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 February, 2010

Securing a Literary Agent

by Bruce L. Cook
Typically a dedicated author will produce a manuscript that deserves publication in book form. However, the process of becoming published is murky at best. .... (continued below...)


The Southern Sudanese Creative Writers


by Abdalla Keri Wani

Note: In response to the situation described here, author-me created a website for writers in South Sudan. Please visit www.SudanLit.com.

There are more than a dozen Southern Sudanese creative writers actively involved in literary works, but due to lack of promotion of their efforts, very few of them have their books published.

The only writers among them who succeeded are few and include Taban Lo-Liyong, who made it into the international community of creative writers with his prolific works on Sudan in general and Southern Sudan in particular.

Coming from the Kuku tribe of Kajokeji in Bahr el Jebel State, although he was brought up in Gulu, Uganda among the Acholi, a tribal community having little in common culturally with the Kuku, Taban had survived the strong Luo cultural influence and predominance over his childhood and based his creative works squarely on his early knowledge of the Kuku culture.

His vivid references to his childhood among the Acholi community in his works were clear indications of the cultural interaction his family had experienced among their hosts since their emigration from Southern Sudan, making richer material to present to his readers than other writers from the same area in the same period.

Taban, in his subtle exposition, described the Luo culture and other variables in his first book: The Eating Chiefs, which was published by Heineman. For example, his lucid discussion of the influence exerted by Tombe Gboro, a Ma'di of Patibi Moyiba clan among his tribe and the neighbouring tribes is a clear indication that his parents were culturally strong and withstood the influence of a predominant culture amidst which they lived and kept their original Kuku traditions and customs alive and imparted them to their young son.

Likewise Taban could not have known anything about Tombe Gboro, the Ma'di man who had a long legacy of turning from his human form to a leopard to solve scores with his enemies and was known throughout the region especially among the Kuku, Lulubo, Acholi and Bari communities.

Taban even tried to explain to the readers the meaning of the name Malakal, a Shilluk name for the capital of Upper Nile Province in his book the Eating Chiefs. Likewise ,his reference in The Eating Chiefs to Luo Legends of how Nyikango and Dumo, the two brothers, separated was his acquisition of aspects of Luo culture during his childhood.

Another creative writer of international repute who falls between Southern and Northern Sudan is Francis Mading Deng. Having as a main theme in his writings how he can promote understanding of the Afro-Arab interaction in the border region where his Dinka Ngok people seasonally share pasture land and water with the Messeriya Baggara people of Arab extraction, the works of Francis are limited in scope inasmuch as other African cultures in South Sudan are concerned.

Despite the readiness of potential Southern Sudanese writers to contribute works to the literary scene of Africa like the West, and East Africans have done in the 1960s and 1970s, the indifference of the world promoters of literary works - especially publishers of books in English - discourages them from making concerted efforts. This situation makes it necessary for those who are daring with their own works to finance their publication locally.

Salvatore Ibrahim Diolelah is one of the prolific Southern Sudanese writers. He has written three small volumes short stories whose publications he financed. One of Diolelah's booklets is titled 'Kamusa Dagaig' describing fictitiously the bad effects of over drinking the locally-brewed liquor, aragi. He draws on the dimension of this on social and economic situation of a man in an urban setting.

Another writer who financed his own creative works is Joseph Abuk Lo Diyo whose Poems from South Sudan were published by the New Day Publishers in Khartoum in 1999.

Jonathan Mayen Nguen, the former Director of Radio Juba, is also a Southern Sudanese writer who has a good appetite for creative writing but faces the same problem of finding a publisher for his works. His most recent work is a collection of mainly Dinka folktales, which he titled 'The Vision of Folktales'. Jonathan financed the publication of his own books by the New Day Publishers in Khartoum in 2001 and 2002.

Among the group of Southern Sudanese who promoted their own works due to the indifference of both regional and international publishers in works written in English from this part of the world is geologist Azaria Gilo Emilio. His two creative works: 'Victims of Follies' and 'The Fossils' were financed by him and published by Fr. Vittorino Dellagiacoma, in St. Paul's Major seminary, Khartoum North in 1998 and 1999 respectively. The author added his effort to this trend of self-promotional literary works by Southern creative writers with his collection of stories titled Kenyi's Adventure and Other Stories whose publication at St. Paul's Major Seminary in Khartoum North in 1998 was financed by him.

Besides the creative Southern writers, there is another crop of them who undertake research and documentation, which also contribute immensely to the print media in the South. Among this group are Bona Malwal Madut with his work Power and Politics in the Sudan, Dustan Wai de Mogga' work and Abel Alier Kwai with his "Southern Sudan: Many Agreements Dishonoured".

Whether they are creative or non-fiction works, the books by Southern writers enhance understanding of the potentialities of the South as a fertile field for writing. The difficulty of finding publishers for their works inside or outside the Sudan is making the Southern writers to think very hard of how they can overcome this big obstacle on their way.

In 2002, Ohisa Affwoni Lais, the author of 'God the Master.' Otuho Religion approached the author of this article and suggested tthat he work jointly on a document outlining a proposal for formation of Southern Sudan Writers' Association. The association membership is to be confined to Southerners who have published at least one book or booklet about a theme related to the South. Any other writer outside the South who has written a book or booklet about the South is to become an associate member. Other Southerners who have manuscripts but cannot find publishers for them can be accepted as associate members of the association and become full members after their works are published.


This article was first published by Sudanvisiondaily.com



Literary Agent.... (continued)

The obvious options are publishing online, Print on Demand, or paying to have a local printer produce the book. Then there are e-books (Acrobat, Kindle, epub, etc.)  When making these choices, the author has high hopes that the work may be noticed by someone who will bring the work to the attention of a legitimate publisher in the commercial book market.

Rather than hope against hope, the writer might well deliver the manuscript to specialists whose job it is to present high potential manuscripts to legitimate publishers. These are the literary agents. While there’s no guarantee they will select your work, the chances of success are probably greater than if the writer just makes the book available online in printed form.

Another option is to market the book to individual publishers. However, once this is done, it’s hardly fair to ask an agent to represent it. And, as any writer will discover, major publishers will only consider submissions that come from agents. Further, while local publication is instant, publishing through an agent, even directly through a publisher, is a frustratingly slow process.

Don’t underestimate the difficulty of the writer’s decision. Every unpublished author cringes to think of marketing any product, especially a book that has become a treasured part of his or her life. Nobody wants to face repeated rejections from publishers or agents. But remember… An agent can hardly accept a manuscript that hasn’t been submitted. Same goes for publishers.

We all have to expect rejections - repeated rejections. Like playing the lottery, it just seems impossible to win. With the deluge of submissions now descending on agents and publishers (partly due to high unemployment), it’s useful to understand that the odds are not very high. You may submit a perfectly marketable manuscript to 100 agents and get favorable responses from few to none. But remember, it only takes one to succeed.

Consider the problem from the agent’s point of view. Perhaps you are a one-person literary agency and you have hired three graduate students to screen the 100 e-mailed submissions you receive each day. You represent only 100 authors, and have no time for new ones, but you review the submissions out of duty. After all, you may discover a rare nugget (the rare blockbuster author), and you attend enough writer’s conferences to sympathize with the plight of aspiring authors. However, due to time constraints and other practical considerations, you discard all but one submission in every 100 you receive. And, from those you didn’t discard at first, you agent few to none.

Against this background, if you are able to steel yourself against the harsh reality of multiple rejections, here are a few tips.

Find help online and write an effective query letter. Paragraph one is most important, since it has to “hook” the agent (who is likely to only read that much of your lengthy submission). Also, obtain help in writing a synopsis and bio. Then read the description of each agent and customize each submission to the particular agent’s specification and interests. (If your manuscript doesn’t fit their interests, don’t send it to them. You don’t get points for trying to convince an agent to start representing a new category!)

You will need to search published lists to find agents who are likely to have an interest in representing your work. The book Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents is very useful. (Also, there are services like “Writers Relief” that will submit to agents for you, but watch your wallet!) Here are some useful online resources.

Literary Market Place. A British reference work, and a veritable standard. You can search their lists for free, providing that you register, but it costs $399 per year for a full-featured membership.

Publishers Marketplace. The American corollary to LMP, you can search Publisher’s Marketplace for $20 per month. This is costly, but the quality is very high.

Writers Market.com. This is the online version of the very popular American publications – Writers Market, Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, Poet’s Market, etc. Cost is more reasonable, usually around $29 to $40, depending how you purchase the products. Allows you to store and save searches. Then, when a publisher or agent in your list modifies their listing, or qualifies to enter your list, you are notified by e-mail.

AgentQuery.com. This is a free online service of high quality. The website operators provide their data and searches for free, and deserve high commendations for their work.

Writers.net. Another free online service. Very helpful in searching for agents.

Duotrope.com. This free online service is oriented to new writers. Through Duotrope, at no cost, you can locate publishers of books and articles, including publishers who pay little or nothing. You can store your favorites and tools are provided to track submissions. Further, Duotrope offers e-mailed reports on successful placements, changes in publisher profiles, and other useful items. They do request – and fully deserve – voluntary contributions.

If you are ready to become published, willing to work, and have nerves of steel, use these sources and get published. Best of luck!



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Publishing New Writers,

February, 2010 (no. 1102)


Bruce L. Cook
6086 Dunes Dr,
Sanford, NC 27332

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