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In the increasingly competitive literary market, success depends on knowing how to capitalize on any chance at notoriety.  It is not just about winning literary prizes and contest, but converting these brief moments under the spotlight into something more substantial.  After the five minutes of social media fame you got from winning that literary prize is over, what next? The money earned from winning literary prizes tend to be modest, sometime paltry.  Certainly not enough for you to quit your day job. Prizes don’t get you rich or transform you into a canonical author. They give you the literary capital to land the book deal you’ve always wanted. South Africa novelist, Lauren Beukes, won the Arthur C, Clarke award for her novel, Zoo City. A few months later at the Frankfurt book festival, she landed a two-book deal with Harper Collins. Here is how it happened.

The novel, a high-concept thriller about a time-travelling serial killer, is the first of a two-book deal Beukes landed at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011 after she had been “put on editors’ radars” when she won the Arthur C Clarke Award for her “phantasmagorical noir”, Zoo City, earlier that year.

The award was a pivotal moment for her. Although, before winning it, Beukes had written three books — the other two are Moxyland and Maverick: Extraordinary Women From SA’s Past — Zoo City was about to go out of print and the animation company she and her husband worked for was shut down abruptly. They were struggling financially.

“We’d been without regular income for about five months and were living off tiny foreign royalties coming in from sales from Zoo City, and bits and pieces I made from writing comics,” says Beukes. “At one point, we were paying the bond out of the bond.”

The Clarke award is not huge in financial terms — prize money matches the year, which means Beukes won £2,011. But, she says, “it was a moment of being in the spotlight — and you’ve got to tap dance while you’re in it. It was the perfect storm. I won the award, which led me to getting an amazing agent and put me on editors’ radars. You make your life. When opportunity rises, you grab it and the award changed my entire life.”

The “amazing agent” — Beukes also describes him as “kick-ass” and “a pit-bull” — is Oliver Munson of London literary agency, AM Heath. Munson, who also negotiated a six-figure book deal for another South African author, Sarah Lotz, last year, took Beukes on as a client in April 2011 after she had won the award. Five months later, he set the terms for a five-way literary auction for The Shining Girls at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Munson had requested 30,000 words before the horse-trading began. Beukes managed only 16,000. He had not before, he warned her, sold a book with so few words done. Continue…

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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