From Scout to Agent: Sarah O’Halloran interview

Sarah OHalloran e1448037985574

Sarah O’Halloran is a brand new literary agent working at the Madeleine Milburn Agency. She began her career at The Agency (London) Ltd, before working at Curtis Brown and The Marsh Agency. Most recently she was a literary scout at Louise Allen-Jones Associates where she worked across all markets with a particular focus on children’s and YA.

1. You were a scout before you became an agent. How has your work as a scout influenced your agency work?

I think scouting is a wonderful job in its own right, but also great preparation for working as a literary agent. Both jobs rely heavily on building relationships and developing your professional network, whether it’s with agents, UK editors, foreign publishers or authors, and both require you to have a keen editorial eye and a broad understanding of the market.

In my role as an agent my background as a scout has made me hugely aware of the importance of foreign rights deals for authors, and as an agency we’re really focused on developing our authors’ careers internationally.  

2. How do you build networks and relationships in scouting, and how similar is that to networking as an agent?

In both jobs your network is really important. Both in order to do your job properly, and because there are a lot of hugely interesting people working in the industry. Scouts always work in small teams, and agents often do as well, so it’s lovely to have a big network and to feel part of the broader publishing community.

Sometimes people aren’t fully aware of what scouts do and developing relationships can be a bit harder when you have to explain why someone might want to meet with you at all. I find the offer of coffee and cake generally helps!

The best professional relationships develop in a relatively organic way as you come across people with who share similar taste, making the whole networking process feel less mercenary. Although, of course, sometimes more targeted approaches may be required to expedite the process!

3. Have your tastes changed since taking on your new position? What are you hankering for as an agent?

As a scout you prioritise the manuscripts that are generating the most excitement in the UK market, as well as the manuscripts that you consider to be of most interest to your foreign clients, and so your own personal taste doesn’t necessarily come into it. As an agent, while constantly thinking about the market, you have the pleasure of focusing on the books that appeal most to you.

As an agent I’m looking for upmarket commercial fiction, accessible literary fiction, psychological suspense, non-fiction, and children’s and YA. Across all genres I’m looking for distinctive voices and stylish writing as well as compelling storytelling. I’m often drawn to dark, edgy themes and unlikeable characters, but as a new agent actively looking to build a client list there is very little I actively won’t consider!

4. How do you balance keeping on top of trends and work that sells with staying true to yourself and selling work that you believe in?

Of course, agents tend to represent work that they themselves are passionate about and to develop broadly taste-based lists, but publishing is a business and ultimately the aim is to be profitable. So, although agents generally won’t represent a book they themselves don’t believe in, equally, they can’t represent every book they enjoy without reference to what is working in the market. Speaking for myself, if I’m not confident that I can sell a book then no matter how much I might love it, I won’t offer representation.

5. What advice would you give people who aspire to either career path?      

For both scouting and agenting, I recommend making sure you are engaging with contemporary fiction. It might seem obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of people who spend their interview speaking about their love of Chaucer, Derrida or Dostoyevsky. Although I have nothing against Chaucer, it is key to show that you have a genuine interest in contemporary, commercial fiction and that you’ve been keeping an eye on market trends.

I also recommend taking advantage of every opportunity you have to speak to as many people in the industry as possible. Scouts and agents are generally a very friendly bunch so, if you have an internship at a literary agency, ask if there is someone in foreign rights perhaps who might speak to you about their job, because you might fall in love with a part of the industry you didn’t even know existed.


Related Articles


Comments are closed.

Sign up to our Newsletter


* indicates required

BookMachine Ltd. will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices.