The final session on Saturday at the HK Literary Festival featured a panel of highly successful people from the publishing world. Constance Briscoe is the best-selling author of UGLY, a memoir of her abusive childhood, and one of the first black judges in the UK. Darley Anderson is her agent and a veteran of the publishing industry who represents a range of highly successful authors. Marysia Juszczakiewicz is the head of the only agency in Hong Kong, Peony Literary Agency.
The session had a question and answer format, and Constance and Darley shared the story of her book’s journey from manuscript to bestseller. The audience was full of aspiring writers, and many of them had also attended Aleesah Darlison’s session earlier in the day. They asked many questions about finding literary agents, the current publishing market, and book promotion.
The basic take home message was that you must have a literary agent, and you should rely on their knowledge of the industry to find the appropriate editor for your work. Constance initially sent her manuscript directly to a publisher and was rejected before finding Darley. He worked with her on structural edits and cuts to turn the book into an extremely desirable commodity. At the time the “misery memoir” market was especially hot, so they ended up holding an auction between 8 editors for the right to publish the book. Marysia reminded everyone that this is not typical.
Darley said that one of the keys to the book’s success was that he immediately recognized Constance’s ability to promote her work. Publishers typically cannot devote too much time to publicity for every single book, so the job of getting the word out there is firmly in the author’s hands. Constance has a dynamic presence and a driven nature that make her an excellent bookseller. She is currently working on a series of crime dramas.
Darley said that a bestseller must have a page-turning quality, no matter the subject matter. Constance’s story is non-fiction, but she has the ability to tell a story in a dramatic, can’t-put-it-down manner. A bestseller must be infused with drama, good pacing, humor, and strong and compelling characters. Constance also emphasized that you must write what you are good at and not just write for whatever market you think is big. She said it is the agent’s job to worry about the publishers and the future of the book and it is the writer’s job to write the best book they can.
After the event the two agents and the author stayed for a long time, talking to all the aspiring writers with questions about what to do for their own projects. Constance was particularly engaging, telling stories as she signed books and asking the writers all about their work. A lot of the information about literary agents was not new for me because I spent a summer working for a literary agency in London a few years ago, but I just loved listening to these powerful characters talking about their work.