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A day in the life of a Literary Scout

23 November 2015

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Twenty-four year-old Charlotte Seymour lives in London and works as an assistant literary scout. She studied modern languages at university, with a strong focus on literature, and knew when she left that she wanted to pursue a career that involved books and languages. She has managed to do just that, so we caught up with her to find out how she bagged the dream job and what a day in the life of a literary scout is really like.

What does a day in the life of a literary scout look like?

We work with foreign publishers who are interested in buying books from the UK for their territories. So it’s our job to be on the lookout for the next bestseller, prize-winner, or whatever is getting people excited, be it vlogging or colouring books for adults. On a typical day, we talk to agents and publishers in the UK to find out what new books they have on offer, call in manuscripts when they are ready, and read the very best.

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We write reader’s reports to help our clients decide if a book could be for them, and make sure they have all the material they need. We also talk to our clients regularly to keep up with any developments in the foreign book markets, to help us know what we are looking for. Book fairs are especially busy times, when our clients travel to London, Frankfurt and Bologna for meetings – as do we. A lot of hard work goes into each fair, but it always pays off, and is a lot of fun!

Did volunteering or work experience play a part in getting you to where you are today?

Absolutely. For most people, getting a job in publishing is all about experience and often about luck – being in the right place at the right time. I interned at a literary agency while I was at university and at another upon graduating. I then worked as an intern at a small publishing house and was offered a short-term position when one of their employees left. Throughout this time I wrote to lots of agents, publishers and scouts, many of whom were willing to offer advice and, in some cases, freelance work. My current boss is one of the many people I was in touch with; I was very lucky that when a position came up, she remembered me and gave me a call.

What advice would you give to any aspiring young people who want to work in this field?

Get as much experience as you can, in as many different areas as you can. Not only will this give you an idea of what sort of role you would be most suited to, but it also helps build up a picture of how the different parts of the industry (the various departments in a publishing house, for example) all work together, and will make you a stronger candidate. Be open minded: lots of people assume they only want to work in editorial, but the truth is there are many interesting book-related careers that are worth finding out about. And don’t give up: finding a first job in publishing can require perseverance, but if you stick at it you will find something.

Who inspires you and why?

There are far too many people to list, so I’ll just mention some of those who I think stand out because they are doing something slightly different, harnessing some of the upheaval the publishing world has been experiencing in recent years to move away from traditional models and try something new. For example, there are crowd-funded publishers, subscription services, and digital-first models which offer new writers the chance to have their work published as ebooks initially, with the most successful titles going on to appear in print.

Then there are story-telling platforms such as
Wattpad, which allow aspiring writers to make their work available online and build up an audience through direct engagement with their readers and other writers. Some of the very best Wattpad writers go on to get publishing deals, in some cases at incredibly young ages. More importantly, Wattpad has created an online community of readers and writers that is unrivalled by publishers or even Amazon. So it’s all these start-ups and new ways of bringing content to readers that I find most interesting and inspiring at the moment.

What are your favourite and least favourite things about the job?

I love getting to read new books long before anyone else, and promoting the ones I really enjoy. Scouting is also a very sociable job, as it brings you into contact with agents and publishers from all over the world. The only downside is that we do all our reading in our own time, so it does tend to take over evenings and weekends – but that’s true across publishing, and most of us would be using that time to read anyway!

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