Friday, 12 July 2013

Asia Literary Agency

The Asia Literary Agency, based in Hong Kong, aims to sell its authors' work worldwide. The Agency's American founder, Kelly Falconer, told me why she decided to set it up: "This was after working as an editor for about 12 years, mainly in London, for a variety of leading publishers, and also for the literary magazine, Granta. When I moved to Hong Kong, the Asia Literary Review rang me and asked if I wanted to join them as their literary editor. It was a wonderful opportunity,  and I had the great pleasure of commissioning and editing writers from Asia. I worked there for a year and then started the Agency at the beginning of 2013 when I realised how many great authors I was reading in Asia but whom I'd never heard of when I was living and working in the West. Founding the Agency simply seemed the next step for me, professionally, given my experience as an editor and the contacts I have in the West and the East."
I asked Kelly if she were interested in signing writers from all over the continent, or only from specific regions and countries? "I want writers from across the region.  The Asia Literary Agency represents Asian authors, experts on Asia, and non-Asian writers currently living on the continent." So where did she mean by the region? Did she include the Near West / Middle East,  and Australia? "Yes.  It's not not just the continent I'm concerned with. Australia, a part of the Pacific Rim with its eyes looking east, is definitely within my remit." 
Was Kelly focusing on any particular type of writing?  Fiction? Non-fiction? Genre fiction? Literary fiction? "I think you're too interested in labels!  I'm simply looking for a good story, well-told, be it fiction or non-fiction, so I'm representing authors of both, or either,  type of writing.  As to genre versus literary fiction, the boundaries are now quite often blurred. Beyond prose writing,  I also represent the Burmese poet,  ko ko thett, and Nguyen Phan Que Mai, from Vietnam, who is both a poet and a novelist  - her debut novel,  Rice Lullaby, would be considered upmarket women's fiction."
With such eclectic tastes, I wondered whether there were any genres that didn't interest Kelly, such as books for children, or for young adults?  "All genres interest me! I'm on the cusp of adding one or two young adult authors to my list. Children's book publishing, though, is a specialist field."
For authors writing in Asian languages, but aiming for international success, translation, especially into English,  assumes a special importance.  I wondered whether the Asia Literary Agency intended to represent translators?  "All agents represent translators, to some degree or at some point in time." Okay, so how did Kelly actually work with translators? How did she develop relationships with them?  "Translators often bring to our attention writers they are working with.  If the translator is  good, it's important to make sure the publisher uses their work for the finished product - I think this is only fair. Most of my authors write in English; I have a thick address book full of potential translators for those who don't. It's always nice, also, to meet new translators, who, like new authors, can reveal to us work with a fresh ear and eye. I've recently signed the very cool Korean writer, Han Yujoo, whose novel, Impossible Fairytale, published in Korea by one of the big publishers, will be published in France by Decrescenzo. Ms Han's English translator, Janet Min, was the one who introduced us and called my attention to this extraordinary author." 

It is generally acknowledged to be difficult to sell any non-English-language book into the English-language market. In Kelly's opinion, what gave non-English-language fiction the best shot at publication in English? "A book is easier to sell if it has been well-translated, if there is a buzz about it in the original language, if it's topical and has relevance, or if it's funny, with a sense of humour that resonates universally."  

All authors are looking for international publication, but it's probably best to start local. What advice would Kelly offer to unpublished Asian writers looking for publication, either in Asia, or further afield? "As with any career, it always helps to network - to attend writers' conferences, or  to pursue a creative-writing MA.  When you've got a work-in-progress, it helps to solicit peer reviews and criticism, and if possible to work with an editor.  You could practise writing short-stories and begin to submit these to respected journals. In a nutshell, my advice is to write, write, write and continue to polish your work."

Finally, I asked Kelly what she most enjoys about her work and what most frustrates her? "I enjoy working with my authors, learning about their cultures and sensibilities, and working with other people from other countries who are aiming to promote their authors to the rest of the world. Really, I am doing this job for love, and for my authors. The most enjoyable part is hearing good news from a publisher who wants to work with us! The most frustrating part is receiving turn-downs, but all of us agents have thick skins. It's part of the job to have faith in our authors and their work, to continue to champion them and to persevere."
To find out more about the Asia Literary Agency visit