What Do Literary Scouts Do?
I was once having lunch with a former scout who told me she thought the job of a literary scout was one of the best-kept secrets in publishing. As it happens, most people outside of the publishing business don't know what literary scouts do, nor have they even heard of the profession.
Like scouts who work in sports, who are hired by teams to seek out and discover talented players to sign, literary scouts are in the business of finding material. Scouts are, first and foremost, readers. What they read –- and how they read it -– depends largely on where they work.
Where Do Literary Scouts Work?
Literary scouts work, primarily, for scouting agencies. Some literary scouts also work on the film side, for production companies, but we’ll come back to that.
Scouting agencies are hired by foreign publishers to identify American books they should purchase to publish in their country. The nature of publishing is such that foreign houses buy more American books than vice versa. Foreign publishers, i.e. publishing houses in Europe and Asia and around the world, are eager to publish American books, and these foreign publishers rely on scouts to keep them informed about what's happening in the American book market and to recommend titles they should purchase to publish.
Scouts, then, monitor what books are being sold to American editors, by agents, reading those titles and identifying books they think are promising for their clients to buy. A literary scout’s job is multifaceted because the scout must not only stay on top of what’s being sold, by talking to agents and editors on a regular basis, she also needs to be constantly reading manuscripts to identify material she thinks has the potential to sell. In this way a scout’s job combines elements of a literary agent’s and a book editor’s.