Welcome back to Pursuing Publishing, where I interview industry experts about their roles and ask them some of your questions. As you might’ve guessed from the title, this post is all about Literary Scouts!
Literary scouting wasn’t something I was particularly familiar with before I began my job search in publishing, but now knowing more about it, I think they’re definitely some of the unsung heroes on the industry! In order to learn more, I spoke with Soraya Bouazzaoui, Assistant Literary Scout at Louise Allen Jones, about her role.
What’s your job title, and can you explain a bit about what an average day in your position looks like?
My title is Assistant Literary Scout at Louise Allen Jones, which I’ve been in for about a month. Currently, my average day consists of putting all recent books deals into our systems, writing up reader reports for our clients, having meetings in preparation for Frankfurt - which is all online this year- and reading manuscripts.
Can you explain your publishing journey and how you got to where you are now?
While doing a Masters in Creative Writing, I worked as a part-time children’s bookseller at Waterstones in Piccadilly. Towards the end of my MA, I helped open the new store in Crouch End, becoming a senior bookseller. By the end of my bookselling career, I was training new booksellers in stores such as Cambridge and Hatchards. When I went into Publishing, I became an editorial assistant for fiction at Egmont, and spent a year and a half-there. After that, I became a freelance writer; and have written for places such as the Metro, Huffington Post and Stylist magazine. When I thought about returning to Publishing, it was two friends - Aisha Bushby and Jas Bansal - who suggested I’d be a good scout or agent.
I have to shout them out, because there is no way I’d be in the position I am in today without them both. Which is how I ended up at LAJ; I work part-time, so am still able to freelance.
As someone new to literary scouting, what are you most looking forward to achieving in your new role?
When you’re in a publishing house you become very wrapped up in your own titles, and the outside of publishing becomes a bit muted. With bookselling, you’re wrapped up in everything post publishing day and don’t get to hear much about things prior to that. So I’m excited to be in a new area where you have your finger on the pulse of the entire industry, part of your job is to be aware of what’s on submission, what deals are coming in, and having your personal opinion on a title be valued by your clients. I’m looking forward to expanding my reading, and building relationships among members of the industry, as well as getting to know all the clients we have.
What stood out to you about literary scouting, and what made you want to transition from children’s publishing to scouting?
It ties into my previous answer; past the submissions point to the editorial team, we wouldn’t hear as much about other titles because getting our own acquisitions ready for publication is such a big job. You worked with marketing, PR, sales and rights all to get the title and the author ready for what was to come. So if there was a title that publishing was excited about, you’d only get snippets of it through word of mouth or the Bookseller. Scouting is the opposite of that, and I was intrigued to see what else was in store.
What I loved about bookselling was never being able to shut your trap about a book you loved to customers, it was part of the role when it came to handselling. I love championing titles, and explaining in annoyingly vivid detail what’s so lovely about them (it’s the fangirl in me). I think that’s a skill that scouts can use often, to both clients and to just general industry members they know. It helps create buzz for titles, but also it can be what convinces overseas publishers to want a book too.
As a new literary scout, is there anything that has surprised you about your current position that you did not know before?
The role of scouting was always a little bit of an enigma to me, I knew a few things based on a friend who was a scout, but the everyday details of their roles wasn’t something I was familiar with. I think the most surprising was learning about foreign publishers being clients we write reader reports for.
What kind of skills are needed as a Literary Scout Assistant?
A lot of it is things you can learn on the go; admin, writing reports, building relationships with clients. All which take time, so anyone is capable of becoming a scout!
What advice would you give to someone looking to transition from publishing to scouting, like you did?
To ask lots of questions about it from people in their respective professions, at first editorial was the be-all and end-all. I hadn’t properly considered anything else; like PR, agenting or scouting. Publishing is a small circle, but there are so many different careers you can explore and try out, even if you do move to scouting and decide it’s not for you, that’s okay. I think it’s important we branch out to test out different things if we’re curious, because often we work towards one particular role and it eclipses everything else we may find interesting.
What would you say to your past self/someone currently job hunting now?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to publishing professionals online and ask for help, especially if you’re Black, Asian or an Ethnic Minority. Many of us do call-outs on twitter offering help with CV’s, or giving general advice and answering questions. It can be a very frustrating waiting game when you apply for stuff (I’ve written enough cover letters to rival a conspiracist's toilet paper stash in an apocalypse), so just know that there are people and organisations out there who are willing to help should you ask.
It’s common knowledge that the industry can be middle class and white, and as a result, nepotism/elitism can help some people get in faster, so if you’re struggling don’t be afraid to reach out to those who are offering help. It would be disingenuous of me to say to people to just keep trying and an opportunity will come, because for many who are POC, disabled or lgbtq+ it’s significantly harder. To those who fall into that category, there are places and people within the industry trying to make it better, reach out to us! Our DM’s are always open.
And for your bookish question – what’s your favourite book to film adaptation?
This is kind of hard, because I have so many!
I really loved The Handmaiden, which is a South Korean adaptation of The Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. And Gone Girl, which is super basic of me, but I really loved how well that translated onto the screen. Also, Battle Royale! Which is a Japanese novel that pre-dates The Hunger Games, and follows similar themes. The adaptation was a little different, but still enjoyable, and the directing style was brilliant. Tarantino loved an actor in the film so much - Chiaki Kuriyama - that he cast her in Kill Bill vol. 1, she played Gogo Yubari.
Catching Fire and The Maze Runner also deserve shoutouts for being perfect adaptations, too.
I told you this was hard!
A huge thank you to Soraya for taking part and answering these questions, and make sure to follow her on Twitter.
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And as always, if you have any people or questions you’d like me to feature, feel free to send me a message!