Sophie Clarke is Junior Scout at Daniela Schlingman Literary Scouting. So, what does a scout actually do? If you don’t know, then you’re not the only one! Huge thanks to Sophie for demystifying one of the many areas of publishing that not many people know about.
Welcome, Sophie! Thanks so much for making time to talk to me, especially at such a busy time of year, with Frankfurt Book Fair taking place next month. The first thing I want to ask you is: before you got into the industry, did you have any preconceptions about what it would be like to work as a scout? And is it what you were hoping for?
I genuinely did not know scouts existed until I started working in my first publishing job and someone told me about scouts in the US. I didn’t know there were scouts in the UK (because I am not very good at joining the dots sometimes) until I sat in on some pre-London Book Fair (LBF) scout meetings. So, no preconceptions. It’s quite hard to give people a really good idea of what being a scout is like unless they are a fly on the wall at a book fair or in your office in the run-up to a book fair. Because I had no preconceptions, this job is everything I expected and hoped for and about 137% more.
For anyone who doesn't know (and a lot of people, both inside and outside the industry might not), a scout's role is to help their clients, who are international publishers in lots of territories, find books from a different territory and language (I scout English language books published mostly in the UK, for example) which they might wish to buy and translate for their own list - or perhaps, in the case of our film and TV clients, adapt for a different medium.
137% is an impressive mark-up! And thank you for clarifying what a scout actually does. OK, so can you walk us through a typical working day?
Oh dearie me, I can try. Well. I wake up and I check my emails immediately and triage to see if there’s anything very urgent that’s come in overnight – because we have clients and publisher contacts internationally, so things can start early and finish late. I log on, either at home or in the office, by the latest 9am. 50% of my job is talking to people (agents, editors, rights agents and, most importantly, clients) and 50% of my job is reading books (generally speaking) so I then split the day between taking meetings (face to face, video, phone call) and reading, constantly reassessing what priorities might have shifted if a title starts moving internationally or in the UK at speed. And of course, emails – we have a HUGE amount of email traffic in our office so staying on top of that information and not drowning under the overload is a real skill. So a typical day might involve reading at least one book and taking between three and six meetings, and then co-ordinating emails and ensuring we keep the clients totally up to date.
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
When a client buys a book that we all love and have recommended! Such a good feeling. And also talking to the clients and seeing them at book fairs, getting to know them is a great process. Plus the EXTREMELY satisfying feeling of building a very, very beautiful book fair schedule. Just artwork in motion.
What is the least satisfying part of your job?
The inbox management. I feel like Sisyphus.
What are some of the skills that a scout will develop?
You’ll get VERY good at walking into a room, completely cold knowing no-one, and being able to network your way around it and meet lots of people. You’ll become an excellent speed reader. You’ll definitely learn how to form quick, trustworthy and accurate judgements on manuscripts. And your mastery of scheduling calendars and appointments around the book fair will be top notch.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a scout?
Read as widely as you can, read as much industry news as you can, learn as many details about as many publishers and agencies – like who works there, what they’ve recently bought/sold, what their vibe is like – as you can. You need to be a sponge and an encyclopaedia, so get used to holding lots of information in your head all the time. And perfect your ability to juggle your phone, a drink, your business cards and a notebook and pen in your hands at any one time, because goodness knows you’ll need it. Good luck!
Sophie Clarke on Twitter.
Daniela Schlingman Literary Scouting website.