Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 20, 2012

Book Scouts

Book Scouts
By Yvonne Ventresca

What is a book scout?

Book scouts work primarily for foreign publishing houses and film companies, evaluating manuscripts for their sales potential in those markets. To do this, they must keep up with projects and trends in the publishing industry, as well as their clients’ lists.

Book scouts are not performing the same functions as literary agents. Former book scout Michelle Andelman points out this important distinction: “Scouts do not sell rights. They merely report and advise on titles; for a client of theirs to buy rights, the client must follow up directly with whichever agency or publisher actually holds and is selling rights.” Book scout Kalah McCaffrey of Franklin & Siegal echoes that thought: “Scouts don’t publish books or work with authors. We don’t usually even see a book until somebody else has chosen to publish it.”

How do scouts advise their clients?

With a multitude of books published each year, scouts “act as a filter” for foreign publishers or film clients, according to McCaffrey. “We provide our opinion on the quality of the book, and if we think there’s any international appeal, then we step out of the process. Our clients decide whether or not they’re interested, and then [they] will be in touch with the US publisher or agent to make an offer for translation rights. We don’t get a commission, and we have no vested interest in getting certain books published in translation. It’s our job to find out about books early and give our clients all the available information.”

To recommend titles of interest, scouts must read proposals and manuscripts and be well-informed about their client’s existing lists. That way, when they suggest books for review, Andelman says, “they can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of stories with their clients, and offer advice as their clients decide whether to pursue rights.” She points out that this advice can take different forms. “Sometimes it’s strongly encouraging clients towards a literary stand-alone because the scout loves it, thinks it’s a perfect fit, or hears buzz that it could be a contender for year-end awards or become a word-of-mouth bestseller; sometimes it’s helping clients distinguish between several titles written in the same genre or which feature a similar element — titles that will be part of a coming trend,” Andelman explains. “A film executive or foreign editor will need to pick and choose amongst such titles, and can rely on scouts to help them select which from the pack could be the best fit, and is most worthy of their time and attention.”

Can authors send their work to a book scout?

No. Writers (regardless of whether published or unpublished) should not send their work to a book scout directly. Book scouts receive manuscripts from a publisher’s subsidiary rights department or from whoever handles the rights to translation sales.

What is a typical day like?
McCaffrey says that reading, obviously, is a big part of the job, but that “it almost never happens at our desk.” Instead, scouts use typical office time to contact people, being mindful of the different time zones. “We call agents, editors, and foreign rights people to ask if they’re working on any interesting new projects, to ask if an edited manuscript has come in, to let them know that our clients are interested in a particular book. We get to take these contacts out to coffee, lunch, and drinks to build up that mutually beneficial relationship. We have a database that keeps track of all the books we’ve made a note of and all the pertinent publication information, and it needs constant updating, so that’s a time-consuming activity,” she says. “And for a little variety, there are big conventions a few times a year that require a lot of planning; right now [in January] I’m making schedules [for] my clients and myself for the children’s book fair that happens in Bologna, Italy in March.”

Are there any interesting industry trends in children’s publishing?

“After vampires and werewolves came the dystopias, and though we’re still seeing lots of those, I think it’s about to shift again,” McCaffrey says. “My vote would be for a realistic psychological thriller – no special powers or magical beings necessary, and it doesn’t have to be a trilogy. I’ve also seen a surge of commercially appealing sci-fi, so that could be an option too. Time travel, space travel, with romance!”

About Yvonne

Yvonne has written about other publishing-related jobs for previous issues of “Sprouts,” and has covered some of them in more detail in her middle grade nonfiction book, Publishing (Careers for the 21st Century). She is currently working on a young adult novel.


  1. It is always interesting to learn whose who in the marketing world when you’re the new kid on the block. Thanks for sharing this knowledge.


  2. Why viewers still make use of to read news papers when in this technological world everything is available on net?


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