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Frequently Asked Questions: Untold Stories

Hang on, what do you mean by ‘dead letter’?

Dead letters are letters that were never delivered on time. They got lost, or sent to the wrong place and bounced back and forth. The sender intended for them to be read as soon as possible, but they never were. As such, your letter must speak to the time it was written in, not the time it was opened. If a letter were sent ten years ago and opened today in 2014, there shouldn’t be any mention of social media, for example. Use contextual clues to give your letter a setting, such as “My dearest love, I watched the Moon Landing today – what a wonderful day it is for humankind”.

What kind of letter should I send?

We are looking for letters clearly set in a specific time, unknowingly undelivered. They could hold vital information, they could be musing on the great events of the day, they could be the quiet exchanges between families, the impassioned declarations of lovers. Pick a topic, set it in a time (it could be yesterday, it could be 1976, it could be 1652) and send it to us written in your hand.

I really want the prize, but I’m not that great a writer – what’s the point of entering?

Letter-writing, indeed writing in general, should never be confined to just great writers. Letters are an honest, everyday form of communication. If a letter is heartfelt, the writing takes care of itself. And who knows? The letter you write may be the best letter of them all. Don’t be shy – send your letter in!

Why is there a minimum age?

In order to make sure the prize is claimed sooner rather than later, the minimum age is 16. The winner must turn 16 in 2014. There is no maximum age – should someone wish to go to university at 30, 40 or 60, who are we to argue?

Tell me more about the prize!

At Exclusive Books, education is very near and dear to our hearts. We’re also aware of the soaring costs of tertiary education, and would love to help someone realise their dream of a university education. We will pay for three years of any undergraduate course, diploma or degree at a South African institute of learning, but it must be accredited with the department of education.

This prize covers tuition and books. It DOES NOT cover residence, transport, printing, equipment or miscellaneous fees and costs.

Can’t I use this to get my masters or phd? 

The reason we stipulate an undergraduate degree is so that we can give someone the precious gift of a tertiary education. It seems unfair to award a degree to someone who has already had the opportunity to study.

How do I get my letter to you if I am not near a store?

We welcome entries from all over the country, and look forward to receiving your letter at our head office. Since we are currently moving offices, we ask that you check the website for our address to make sure you’re sending it to the right place. Please address it to the marketing department.

What is the entry procedure?

All you need to do is put your handwritten letter in an envelope, write your name, email or phone number on the back and post it in either one of our store postboxes or send it to our head office, addressed to Marketing.

Can I write on any topic?

In order to keep the judging of the letters on a fairer footing and more manageable in terms of sheer volume, we ask that writers stick to the topics at hand. The adherence to the topic doesn’t have to be super strict, but it will help your letter rise to the top of the pile.

Can I donate the prize to someone else?

Due to legal issues, prizes cannot be transferrable in order to prevent any fraud. However, we encourage you to share the competition with someone who you think could win the prize.

How long should my letter be?

There’s a great rule of thumb to writing, and it’s called the miniskirt rule. It should be long enough to cover everything important, but short enough to be interesting. For the sake of numbers, letters should be around 500 – 2500 words. Each letter will be considered on its own merit.

When and how will the prize be announced?

The winning letter will be printed in the Sunday Times towards the end of August once we are satisfied that all due diligence has been carried out. We will also share the winning letter on our social media channels. We will contact the winner two days prior to the announcement.

How are these letters being judged?

Once the letters make it to head office, they are checked to see if they meet three points of criteria: one, they are handwritten. Two, they are addressed to a person and not Exclusive Books. Three, they follow one of the topics set out on the blog, bookmarks and pamphlets. Once these three criteria are met, each letter is read by three different people at head office, all of which have degrees in literature and publishing, as well as copywriting experience. We also have an auditor monitoring proceedings. The top one hundred will make it into an anthology. The final winning letter will be determined from this collection.


Should you have any more questions, please feel free to email

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16 Responses to Frequently Asked Questions: Untold Stories

  1. Nadine June 19th, 2014 at 5:43 pm #


    What if the winner was unable to complete their STD 9 and matric, would they be able to utilize this opportunity to complete their education should they win?

  2. Eloisa Garnica June 24th, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    Hi, I just applied to the University of Pretoria as an international student. Can i participate in this contest ? Thank you.

  3. ashley July 9th, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    Hi I’m confused
    I’m 14 and i really want to enter.
    I just wanna know can i enter or not?
    Please don’t be angry i just wanna know cause i have a really deep story that haunts me and I really want to get out of my life…

    • Zoe July 11th, 2014 at 9:20 am #

      Hi Ashley,

      You can definitely send us a letter, but please be aware then that you can’t win the main prize. We promise we won’t mind 🙂

  4. Melanie July 11th, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    I would love to do a degree, but I assume that if I take longer than 3 years only the first 3 will be paid for? (UNISA offers 3yr degrees done in 8yrs for working people who need to do part time)

    • Zoe July 21st, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Hi Melanie,

      Thank you for your question. We will indeed only cover the first three years of any undergrad tuition.

  5. Mmantoa Kgaphola July 13th, 2014 at 7:48 pm #


    I also have a story, but I see your target is someone without tertiary education. Can you assist if I have a story to publish. I have tertiary qualifications.

    • Zoe July 21st, 2014 at 8:49 am #

      Hi Mmantoa,

      When you say story, do you mean a full-length novel? Or just a story you wish to tell? You can still enter the competition to stand a chance of appearing in our anthology, but we are really strict about the tertiary education part. We want to give the prize to someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to study further.
      If you are curious about getting published as an author, please read our guide here:

      Hope this helps!

  6. Leon July 16th, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    I have read this – both website and blog – and cannot find a list of the TOPICS – what are they and where do we find them?

    • Zoe July 21st, 2014 at 8:39 am #

      Hi Leon,

      The topics can be found in the original post here, the bookmarks in our stores, on the website by the products and on the pamphlets in stores 🙂

  7. Korra July 19th, 2014 at 5:06 pm #


    I really want to enter your competition, my only problem is my sister is now studying her first year at university and I was hoping that maybe I could(if by some miracle i might win) give the money to my sister instead as I am still a few years away from studying? I don’t want to cause any problems, I’m simply curious

    • Zoe July 21st, 2014 at 8:37 am #

      Hi Korra,

      Unfortunately, the prize is not transferrable. We do this to prevent fraudulent entries, but sadly it also means that sometimes we can’t assist even the best intentions. Please do enter anyway – maybe your letter will make it into the anthology 🙂

  8. Angie July 22nd, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    Hello 🙂

    Can we write a story from a fictitious sender to a fictitious recipient? Or does it have to be a story that is true and personal to ourselves?

    • Zoe July 28th, 2014 at 9:36 am #

      Eeek! Sorry for the late reply – our spam filter ate this 🙁 It can be either, depending on which story you feel is more powerful 🙂

  9. Dominique July 27th, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    I haven’t found a rule to say we can’t submit more than one letter. Is this allowed or is it strictly one per person? Thanks in advance!

    • Zoe July 28th, 2014 at 9:30 am #

      Hi Dominique,

      You can send up to 5 letters per person. Hurry and get yours to a store today!

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