Magabala Books

Magabala Books

Magabala Books acknowledges Yawuru, the traditional owners and custodians of Broome. We honour the Yawuru Elders past and present and are privileged to share and walk this special country together.

Magabala Books was born out of a traditional Aboriginal song and dance festival held in September 1984 at Ngumpan near Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Here it was decided that an organisation be established that was firmly rooted in Aboriginal law and culture—the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (KALACC). KALACC was to be run by Aboriginal leaders and one of its aims was to protect the rights of traditional storytellers and artists.


Tell us a little about yourself and your history in the publishing industry.

My name is Rachel Bin Salleh. I am a Nimunburru, Yawuru and Bunuba woman from the town of Broome in Western Australia. I was born and grew up here. My Malaysian Grandfather came to Broome as a pearl diver and ended up marrying my Aboriginal Grandmother. I grew up in a Catholic-Muslim household, with a grandfather that spoke limited English and my Granny speaking her traditional language. My mum came from a Catholic estate in Northern Ireland, so civil rights, equality and education where always important issues growing up. I spent my high school years in Perth and then eventually left to return home. I heard that there was a job going at Magabala Books and with no idea about publishing, I sent my CV in. I was however, an avid reader. I think I got the job by accident, and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made without knowing I was making it.

How long have you been working with Magabala Books?

I have been working with Magabala Books (off and on) since I was 20. I am now old, well I feel really OLD for my 44 years.

What can you tell us about your publishing house and what you publish?

Magabala Books is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander publishing house. We publish works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from all over Australia. We publish in all genres from Children’s picture books, biographies, poetry, sci-fi, fantasy, children’s chapter books, Young adult fiction, fiction, mind body spirit, culture.

What qualities do you look for when deciding to publish a picture book? Is there a checklist you use when considering manuscripts?

Anything submitted to Magabala Books must have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authorship. If it is a collaboration (written only) it must have 50% authorship by an Indigenous writer or creator and be within the Magabala guidelines. We are open to all stories in any genres, and judge each submission on its individual merits. I know that it is a cliché, but we do look for the “X-factor” in regards to a submission’s appeal.

How many submissions do you receive per year?

We receive over 150 unsolicited manuscripts per year.

Out of those, how many do you publish?

We accept for publication between 10-15 books per year.

How long from acceptance until the book hits the shelves?

Anywhere from 12 months to 5 years. Entirely dependent on the manuscript and the work involved.

Should a potential author be discouraged by the dreaded rejection letter?

No. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. That is just the way it is. What might not suit one publishing house, may suit another. It is entirely subjective.

Tell us something that has caught your eye, in a good way, in a cover letter?

Personally I detest cover letters that try to sell a manuscript. I just need the basics, and I really need the author to get to the point really quickly. I know there is a lot of information around about the ‘right pitch’ but it all boils down to the fundamentals of writing – and are you any good at getting your ideas across?

And finally, what are publishers looking for in a submission?

Publishers and publishing houses look for new ways of seeing, a new look, a new texture, a new smell. Sometimes we search for the meaning of life in the first page of a submission or the punch line in a chapter title. We look for new ways to be quirky and old ways to be read to. We look for the ancient in your words and the birth of civilisation in a sentence. We want to see new ways of looking at old things. We look for the moments that a manuscript will take our breath away.

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