If you’re searching for a career that aligns with your love of books, a few professions might immediately come to mind: editor, writer, even literary agent, the person who matches writers with editors at publishing houses.
But book-centric careers go way beyond these. One of publishing’s best-kept secrets? Book scouts, who help foreign publishers (and sometimes also film or TV producers!) find the next best book to bring into their markets.
And the international market is booming: Countries like China, Germany, England, France, Brazil and more all have healthy book markets. In its 2016 report, the International Publisher’s Association estimated the value of the European Union book market in 2014 at about 22 billion euros, or about $25.9 billion, putting it just behind the size of the U.S. market. The Chinese market was valued at about 10.5 billion euros, or about $12.4 billion. And many countries are seeing a major bump in market size: Sweden’s book market grew by 50 percent from 2014 to 2015, and Saudi Arabia’s grew by 21 percent.
So what is being a book scout like? We spoke with three New York City-based scouts to find out:
(These interviews have been edited for length.)
What are some of the different kinds of book scouts?
Some of us work for movie producers, finding them books to make into films, and some of us work for foreign publishers, finding them books to buy and translate and publish in their markets. I’m a foreign scout. I work for 18 publishing companies around the world giving them advice on the best American books for them to publish.
How do you find best American books to recommend to foreign publishers?
There’s three steps to that: Finding out what potentially good books are going to be published here; reading them to see if they really are any good; and telling my clients about them. Step 1 is the bit that takes the most time. (My staff and I) spend a lot of our time meeting with agents, editors, and foreign rights sellers to find out what books are coming up, and what they’re excited about. Of course we’re always reading as well, but that takes place in and around the other stuff—at night, on the weekend, sometimes at the office between emails and phone calls.
It’s the final step that’s the most rewarding—it’s fun when a client likes a book as much as you do and decides to buy and publish it.
What might a typical day look like for you?
There is a social part, which consists in connecting with agents and publishers in order to know what new books they are submitting or they will be submitting, and also to stay in touch with the international publishers you represent.
There is also the time dedicated to reading the manuscripts themselves. It is very time-sensitive—a manuscript you get in today may be sold in a major territory tomorrow, so you need to be very fast and have a sense of what may work for which one of your publishers so that they will not miss the chance to buy a title which is perfect for their list.
What’s something most people don’t know about book scouting?
Reading is, of course, the best and most important part of the job. Despite that, there is a lot of pressure involved, as there are always many, many books to review and evaluate in the least possible time.
How do you describe what a book scout does?
A book scout scouts books. Every book scout defines their work differently, depending upon their clients and what their needs are. There’s a basic job description, which is scouting books, and then it gets more refined based on the clients and based on the markets you’re looking at (nonfiction, fiction, etc). Some scouts work with a group of literary publishers, some scouts work with film companies, some scouts work with studios, and some scouts with work with a combination of all of the above. It’s a very wide-ranging part of publishing.
What are some common misconceptions about your career?
You sit around and read all day. I have two offices, New York and London, that I’m responsible for, and I have all the administrative work that a small company has, from worrying about health insurance coverage to rent and all of the mundane things about turning the lights on in two offices.
I also think it’s very mysterious to people how scouts get their information, but it’s in my opinion a lot like journalism. You have contacts, and you sometimes have privileged information, so you have to be very careful about what you communicate and to whom you communicate it.
What do you love most about the work you do?
This work has educated me in ways that I never expected. Every time I took on a new publisher in a new country and new culture, I had to learn about it. What job do people have where they’re educated as they go along? It’s a continuing grad school in what the world reads.