What is a book scout? Maria Brannan explains
Greyhound Literary agent Maria Brannan explains . . .
I was a literary scout for over five years prior to joining Greyhound Literary and one of the upsides to this move is that I no longer have to explain what my job is to every new person I meet. No-one outside the publishing industry seems to know what a scout is. I don’t think my family and friends really know what a scout does even now, aside from a lot of reading and worrying about books that aren’t going to be published for a few years. It’s an industry-facing role that revolves around the web of connections between publishers, agencies and film and TV companies around the world and as a result scouts are largely invisible to authors and readers.
So here is my best attempt at describing what a scout does and the one I trotted out when my brother asked for the eleventh time whether I was an editor (I have never been an editor). At the core of the job, scouts are consultants – they’re hired by individual publishers in various countries around the world to find and recommend books for them to buy the translation rights to and publish in their own languages. They also provide the same service, only with adaptation rights in mind, for film and TV clients, whether that’s an indie production company, a big studio, or a streamer.
It's all about being three steps ahead, ideally ten steps if you can manage it. There are a lot of competing scouting companies, each with their own clients in the same territories, who all want the best books. That means that a scout’s goal is to get information and manuscripts for exciting new titles first and fastest so that their clients have an edge and can get their offer in before anyone else, or perhaps even take a book off the table in a pre-empt. As a result a big part of my old job was building a great network of UK editors, agents, and right-sellers, promoting my (obviously excellent) taste and the company’s clients to them so that they’d want to tip me off and share material with me before they sent it to anyone else.
It’s a very fast-paced, varied job and a great education in both the publishing industry and client-focused work. The clients that I used to work with published books across all areas of fiction and non-fiction, so one day I would be reading Patrick Roberts’ proposal, Jungle, on the evolution of the rainforest across millennia or Joshua Wong’s call to action in Unfree Speech, the next day I’d be chuckling along with Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club or falling in love with the warmth and wit of Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry, or on one memorable occasion, reading a very long dystopian erotica novel that started life as Harry Styles fanfiction in case it might be the next The Hunger Games meets Fifty Shades of Grey for adaptation.
It’s invaluable experience for acquiring a broad and in-depth understanding of the market – what sells, what doesn’t, what editors want and how publishers package and position books. In addition to that, the company I worked for also scouted for Netflix for the duration of my time there, which gave me fascinating insight into the film and TV industry and their ever growing appetite for book adaptations. We’d track the progress of a book all the way from the initial submission, before it had been acquired by a publisher, through publication, to reviews, awards, film releases and beyond, always keeping an eye on any opportunities for our clients.
It’s not just about new debut manuscripts either. I had to be a news and social media sleuth, always on the lookout for new trends, topics, articles and writers that could lead to the next big book or film. We’d also often do a deep dive into backlists and older titles to find forgotten gems for translation or adaptation – The Fortnight in September by R C Sherriff, originally published in 1931 is now the book I give to all of my friends and family.
In addition to finding books, the other key part of my job as a scout was to act as a representative for my clients in the markets I was scouting, promoting and amplifying their reputations so that publishers and agencies felt confident that their books would be in good hands. We’d schedule international trips and bookfairs for them, matchmake them with the most useful contacts in our markets, support the offers that they made with emails outlining their successes and achievements, and pitch them in the daily meetings with had with editors and agents.
It's this client-focused nature of scouting, the advising and the championing of their interests that really made me want to become an agent myself. I really value the experience and knowledge that it gave me. It’s the best introduction to publishing that I could have asked for. Since I joined Greyhound it’s been a delight to discover the many ways in which the skills I learnt as a scout intersect with the skills needed to be an agent and to sell translation rights. Having said that though, please don’t send One Direction inspired erotica my way.