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Industry Insight: Q&A with Bengono Bessala (Harper Inspire)

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 10th August 2020

Bengono Bessala is a Marketing and Publishing Manager for Harper Inspire, an imprint of HarperCollins. She is also one of 2020’s The Bookseller Rising Stars, which is a real accolade. She has worked across a variety of departments at HarperCollins since starting at the company over 4 years ago. Within her current role she has worked on books from The Archbishop of Canterbury and fiction books from the founder of God TV Wendy Alec. At LoveReading, we have worked with Bengono when shouting about Ashes by Christopher de Vinck, My Name is Tani by Tanitoluwa Adewumi and Crag Borlase, Swords of Silence by Shaun Curry, and Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan. Currently, Bengono is excited about a new book by the rapper Guvna B discussing toxic masculinity, which Harper Inspire is publishing in February 2021. Her strange book habit is rather wonderful, however we can appreciate how quickly you would run out of shelf room!

Tell us about your role in the book world and how it came into being:

I came into publishing via the HarperCollins Traineeship. At the time (as is now), HarperCollins recognised that they needed to recruit more staff from diverse backgrounds, and this is what the traineeship enabled them to do. I was picked as one of two trainees from hundreds of applicants and my book world story began.

Although the traineeship was meant to last for 12 months, I managed to secure a permanent role within the award-winning imprints 4th Estate and William Collins (HarperCollins Publishers) as a marketing assistant. From there, I was able to move on and work as the Digital Marketing Manager for HQ also at HarperCollins on a temporary maternity cover contract. When that assignment came to an end, I left the company but returned a few months later, when I was offered the Marketing and PR Manager job within the newly created imprint Harper Inspire, which sits within HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

When it comes to your particular role, what makes your heart beat faster?

I love it when we acquire new books and I start working on creating a marketing and PR plan for each author. Each book is so different, and every writer has so many wonderful ideas. It’s magical to see an idea go from conception to realisation, having an author call or email you saying that they’re so happy to see their book reviewed somewhere or to see a reader fall in love with their story, is honestly priceless.

Since you first arrived in the industry, what is the one thing that has remained constant, and what has been the biggest change or challenge?

The biggest challenge has been bringing more diverse voices into publishing. At Harper Inspire, it’s one of our objectives. We want to hear inspirational stories from all walks of life, especially from underrepresented voices.

What has remained constant is the world’s thirst for reading and for buying books. We are so lucky to be in an industry where our currency is the stories that we share.

Is there a fictional or historical character you would be thrilled to market a book for, why is that, and what type of book do you think it would be?

I really fell in love with Andrea Tang in Lauren Ho’s Last Tang Standing.

Andrea is an overachieving singleton, in her 30s who is trying to live up to the expectations of her mother and family. I found the book hilarious and I would have been thrilled to market that book. This story is written for this generation and is so true for so many people.

Who are your book world inspirations?

I really love Merky Books and Sharmaine Lovegrove at Dialogue Books. Both imprints have completely changed the way that the publishing industry considers books from diverse voices. It’s so refreshing, and I hope that more change is coming, across the publishing world.

Describe your favourite place to read:

I love reading outside. This could be in a park, in the forest or at the beach. It’s so relaxing to be out in nature (weather permitting) – with good stories.

What is your favourite book from childhood, how did it make you feel?

My favourite book from childhood is The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This book reminds me of when I first became confident enough to voice my love of black authors, black characters and black stories in my school setting. This book really empowered me and made me realise how important it is to read and share wonderful literature.

Hardback, paperback, ebook, discuss:

All formats – but you’ve forgotten one…I am OBSESSED with audiobooks! We have to read so much for work (which is wonderful), but I love switching off and just pressing play on an audiobook. Especially the ones that have cool features such as bonus content or cool sound effects.

(Ooops, thanks for pointing that out Bengono! Will correct for future questions. Liz)

Any strange book habits?

I own a lot of duplicates of books! I have multiple versions of Jane Austen books for example. I love buying the varied covers! It’s become a bit of a weird habit and these duplicates are taking up a lot of bookshelf space…eek!

What would be your desert island book and why have you chosen it?

This question always makes me laugh because my desert island book would be The Holy Bible! There are so many stories and you could read it forever and the meaning of every story would deepen with each re-read!

Fun book fact:

If you’re going to send or gift me a book – you have to write a personal note in it before I’ll accept it! I’ve said no to books as Christmas presents before, until the gifter wrote in it! Ha! 

Keep up with the latest from Bengono and Harper Inspire

Website: harperinspire.co.uk

Twitter: @TheMissBeeBee and @HarperInspire

If your enjoyed this, check out our other Industry Insight blog pieces.

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