Being a literary scout is one of the best-kept secrets in publishing. 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 depends largely on where they work.
Where 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, they also need to be constantly reading manuscripts to identify material they think has the potential to sell. In this way, a scout’s job combines elements of a literary agent and a book editor.
Literary scouts who work on the film side function much the same way as the scouts who work for foreign publishers, only these scouts are identifying books for possible film adaptations. Film scouts, as they’re sometimes called, work for studios, production companies and, occasionally, well-established producers.
A film scout, like a literary scout, must also stay on top of what books are being sold to get manuscripts in early to pass along to clients. While it can take years for a book to be made into a movie, many books are optioned—i.e., someone buys the right to adapt the work to the screen—before they make it to bookstores.
Getting a Job
The good news about literary scout positions is that they are often open to entry-level candidates new to publishing. While there aren’t too many literary scout jobs—there are also only a handful of scouting agencies and almost all of them are in New York City—these positions can be wonderful entrée to various other jobs in publishing.
One way to find literary scouting jobs is to contact scouting agencies. Some of the major scouting agencies in New York include Maria Campbell & Associates; Bettina Schrewe; Franklin & Siegal; and Mary Ann Thompson Associates. Scouting jobs are also listed on media-specific job boards like Mediabistro.