1) Let’s get around the big misconception of scouting; do you just get to read books for a living?
I won’t lie, I do read an awful lot of books for work (particularly around a book fair) but I also spend a fair amount of my time writing reading reports and liaising with UK editors and rights people to find out about upcoming authors and rights/option situations, as well as trying to get a hold of the reading material in the first place – ideally before anyone else does!
2) What differentiates you from being an agent?
In some ways we’re similar. Where an agent will find the literary talent and then package that to sell to an editor, a scout will look at all of these various authors and books to try and find the best ones for the foreign publishers who make up their client list and then try to help them successfully acquire the rights. We work purely on a retainer basis with our overseas publishers, with no commission. Our job is like a matchmaking service in some ways, matching the right books to the rights clients, rather than being sales driven – our opinion is what matters and that is what we’re paid for.
3) How did you become a scout? How can keen publishers forge into this field?
I sort of fell into scouting myself, which I think is fairly common among scouts. At the time I was working in rights for a children’s publisher and looking for a change of scenery when I had a call asking if I’d be interested in scouting – I’ve been very lucky as there don’t tend to be too many literary scout vacancies out there and even those don’t tend to get advertised through the usual channels. It’s a tough job but a fascinating one that gives a great overview of the publishing industry as a whole. Some scouts use readers to help cope with the glut of manuscripts pre-book fair, so if you’re serious about scouting then offering your services as a reader is probably a good place to start.
4) Can Scouts help to set the trends by championing new titles in advance of the wave of interest cresting or are you following what key commissioning editors think is the ‘next big thing’?
It’s probably a bit of both really. Scouts can help to create a lot of buzz around a book and that can help something become the ‘next big thing’ but a lot of the time we’re in that same boat as editors, trying to predict what will work and, more specifically, what will work well for our clients.
5) Presumably its network, network, network for you to build strong connections to get manuscripts as early as possible. Do you get to live a bit of an Old Era Publishing lifestyle; long lunches and lost afternoons?
I wish I had time for long lunches and lost afternoons! Networking is very important but our workload is usually too pressing to take too much time away from the desk unfortunately. That said, we do always enjoy a good drinks party and we’re unlikely to turn down an invite…
6) And to come at the age old publishing question from a different angle, do you have a favourite book…that you’ve placed with a publisher?
From recent years I’d have to say Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry which several of our clients bought. It’s a wonderful novel – both funny and heart-breaking but ultimately uplifting. It’s especially good to see it being shortlisted for various awards now too.