Monday 25 March 2013

Peony Literary Agency

Peony Literary Agency, in Hong Kong, is one of the foremost multi-lingual literary agencies in Asia. It represents both established and debut authors, organising translation if needed. 

Marysia Juszczakiewicz, a Mandarin speaker who had previously worked in international publishing, founded Peony because she believes Asia is the future, and she wanted to be at the forefront of presenting Asian stories to the west. “Asia has such a diversity of cultures and voices, with many amazing histories, and various political systems, and dynasties.” She says. “There is still so much that is untapped, and I want to see this richness brought to the widest possible audience.”

Though Peony is best known for representing Chinese writers, Marysia now looks at all of Asia when signing up new writers. “Currently I am selling a North Korean memoir by Jang Jin Sung, the court poet who, until he defected, created the aura of Kim Il Sung. I’m also looking at literature in Burma, and I'm in discussion with Indian writers.”

How difficult is it for Peony's writers to break into international markets?  “The English language market is tough.” Says Marysia. “English language publishers have their own home-grown authors to draw on, and works in translation still represent a tiny niche market.” Is it better in other markets?  “Compared to the U.K., publishers in, for example, France and Italy, have a better established tradition of taking works in translation.”  

Despite the challenges Marysia has had great success in cracking the important English language market, sometimes going to great lengths to ensure her clients reach this platform: “Digital is the way it's going with comics and graphic novels. I recently sold world digital rights in a graphic novel, Darkness Outside The Night, to Tabella. The illustrations are by Shanghai-based artist Xie Peng who doesn't speak English, whom I paired up with a writer, Duncan Jepson, who only speaks English. This collaboration was certainly interesting - Duncan and Xie Peng did not meet during the creative process, and were unable to communicate directly - but the end result is wonderful, and has been getting great reviews.” 

Whatever the format, and whether into English, or into any other language, seeing translations of her authors’ work always pleases Marysia.  Recently The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung has been a hit: “It is available in nearly 20 languages, and seeing all those foreign-language editions has been a huge thrill.” She is also excited by the increasing interest in Chinese stories by US film companies: “I represent Yan Geling, who wrote The Flowers of War. This was made into a movie directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Christian Bale. It was internationally distributed, and became a huge blockbuster in China.”

With this sort of buzz, it’s not surprising that Western publishers are currently setting up all over Asia, scouting for new writers. So what is Marysia’s advice for Asian authors looking to be taken on by these international companies? “That’s easy! Get an Agent!”

Jang Jin Sung runs New Focus International, the leading website on North Korea by North Koreans. It is at:

If you have any thoughts on literary agencies in Asia do please post them.