Something to Scout About

Rounding up the morning of our digital day was Something to Scout About, a panel designed to demystify the crucial roles literary agents and scouts play in the publishing industry – keeping their fingers on the pulse of the book world, seeking out the next bestsellers, and championing the work of their amazing authors. Chairing this panel was Jenny Brown, Literary Agent and Founder of Jenny Brown Associates – and joining her were Jane Southern, Owner of Jane Southern Literary Scouting; Gyamfia Osei, Agent at The Good Literary Agency; and Ros Ramsay, Managing Director of RR Scouting Ltd.

The first topic of discussion was – what does a normal day-in-the-life of an agent or scout look like?...And the answer was, of course, that there’s no such thing! Jane said this is exactly why she loves her job, because no two days are the same. You could spend a whole day at your desk, reading manuscripts and writing reports, or you could be out and about meeting agents, editors, and authors.

Gyamfia said that her days are also very varied, but the pace tends to be a bit slower for agenting because they work with authors for a long time before they go on submission. When submission starts, however, the pace picks up and it’s time for lots of quick-fire pitches! She also works on developmental edits for clients, spends a lot of time answering author queries, and networks with editors to find out what they’re looking for. It is a “juggling act” – and an exciting one, by the sounds of it!

Ros agreed that agenting and scouting both require agility. Ros has 12 international publisher clients, and that amounts to about 60–70 editors that they’re talking to at any one time. Maintaining relationships with each and every one of them is key, because “we are their eyes and ears on the ground”. Agents and scouts have to know their clients inside/out, so that everything you send them goes straight to the top of their reading pile.

Next up was the age-old question around predicting book trends, and whether it is even possible. Ros suggested that trends are actually retrospective; when people ask what the latest trends are, she looks at what’s been coming up over the last few months. Ultimately, she said, it is an “educated guess” – and Jane went even further and called it “a gamble”. Sorry folks, there are no crystal balls in publishing!

As for the qualities needed to become an agent or a scout, Jane said decisiveness is important. This is how you build trust and become a calming presence for your clients – so they can rest assured that their book will find the right audience. Communication skills were top of Ros’ list, because agents and scouts are responsible for persuading people that the work they are pitching is special. Gyamfia added that this is particularly important when representing an author from an underrepresented background, as traditional publishing can, regrettably, be difficult to penetrate.

For those looking to break into agenting and scouting, Gyamfia recommended finding a mentor in the industry, as well as doing internships in different areas when you’re developing your skills. She pointed out that people in publishing are always delighted to talk about their work (so true!) and you should absolutely take advantage of this to learn as much as possible. Jane also suggested working in a bookshop (“at the coalface!”), as you’ll start to get an idea of who the major publishers are, and what they publish.

One of the last questions was around working across multiple genres, and whether this is difficult. Ros flipped that question on its head and said it’s less of a difficulty, and more of a perk! So, the lesson there is – if you love to read quickly, widely, and voraciously, agenting or scouting might just be for you!

The recording of Something to Scout About will be available to all ticket holders until 31st May.

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