Note: The following is a guest post from Stephanie Stokes Oliver, an author, editor, and scout for Simon & Schuster's Atria Books. For more information on Stephanie's scouting guidelines, see below. You can find her online at stephaniestokesoliver.com.
Cheers! You've finished your manuscript, and are preparing to begin your search for the perfect agent or publisher. But what if someone discovered you first? Someone who could shorten aspects of the traditional submissions process—vetting a publisher's interest before you've even signed with an agent, or getting you a foreign-language deal? This may be the stuff writers' dreams are made of—but those dreams are pretty far-fetched. Or are they?
In publishing circles, a system for bringing your book directly to the attention of a publisher by way of "literary scout" is taking off—so much so that if you haven't yet stumbled upon the term, you probably will soon. Here's a brief look at the many forms scouts can take—and what they could mean for you.
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Publishing House Scouting
What it is: Scouts from these in-house programs are tasked with seeking out potential projects and bringing them to in-house editors. At Simon & Schuster, for example, Judith Curr—the president, publisher and founder of the Atria Books imprint—has contracted several scouts to bring in projects for editorial consideration, much like Atria's full-time acquiring editors do.
UPDATED 7/18/18: Judith Curr is no longer with Atria Books and is not scouting for editorial projects currently.
How it works: The literary scouts, typically hand-selected for their connections to writers and/or agents through previous career experience, are groomed to know the editorial needs and guidelines of the publishing house inside and out—and then tap their contacts for works-in-progress that might be a fit. Scouts' proposals get streamlined consideration—with the publisher often committing to a 30-day submission and response period—which can be an asset to agents and writers alike. If the scout's proposal is accepted, the scout steps away, and editors then pursue the deal as usual with the author or agent. The best part: One does not have to be agented to have work considered.
What it looks like in action: Titles acquired this way include Life by the Cup by Zhena Muzyka and The Book of Doing and Being by Barnet Bain (both Atria Books).
Where to find out more: As of now, for the most part, these mysterious and elusive scouts must find you. (Still, it never hurts to do a little digging to find out if you happen to know someone who knows someone.)
International Agency Scouting
What it is: Some scouts work for literary agencies: They help discover new works for agents to represent. These scouts are largely reps from European or Asian markets looking for U.S. books that have not yet been published overseas.
In a similar vein, there are also U.S. scouting agencies whose clients are international publishers, for whom they're seeking books for translation and publication in foreign markets. For example, New York-based Maria B. Campbell Associates (MBCA) Inc. has a team of scouts that serve publishing houses in 19 countries, as well as some television and film markets. Some markets for scouts are specialized; MBCA meets a high demand for children's literature that has appeal outside of the U.S.
How it works: Such scouts and scouting agencies make connections with a vast network of agents, editors, right specialists, and magazine editors. They read newspapers, magazines, literary journals; browse YouTube, book blogs, and e-book bestselling lists; and attend international book conferences to see what has a receptive audience stateside that may appeal elsewhere.
"There is also the serendipity of finding a little gem in a book store and rediscovering a classic that has never been translated in one of the languages we work in," Campbell says. "Scouting has become more global, as has publishing."
What it looks like in action: MBCA averages a sale of one to two books per day. Recent sales include Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman (Harper), rights for which were acquired by clients Little, Brown (U.K.), Fayard (France), and People's Press (Denmark); and The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner), which was placed with Mondadori (Italy), Fischer (Germany), Companhia das Letras (Brazil), and Albert Bonniers (Sweden).
Where to find out more: Most agencies don't work with unsolicited submissions, but agents interested in pursuing a foreign rights push can contact MBCA vice president Agnes Ahlander Turner via mbcbook.com.
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What it is: In 2014 Amazon launched the Kindle Scout program, which takes submissions of books that don't have traditional publishing contracts. Once accepted for consideration, a cover and description are posted for readers to vote on.
How it works: You submit an unpublished (but publishing-ready) manuscript of at least 50,000 words to the categories of Amazon's best-selling genres, such as Mystery and Thriller; Science Fiction and Fantasy; and Teen and Young Adult. Your work must be edited, with a cover, description, and author bio and photo provided. The books with the most reader nominations are vetted by Amazon for a chance at a contract with Kindle Press, which comes with a $1,500 advance, 50 percent e-book royalty, five-year renewable terms, and marketing on Amazon.
What it looks like in action: Crowd-scouted titles include Typecast by Kim Carmichael and Girl on the Moon by Jack McDonald Burnett.
How to find out more: Visit kindlescout.amazon.com.
Remember: Scouts are not substitutes for agents. They don't represent you by shopping your project around, advising you on contracts, addressing production problems, or cutting royalty checks. Publishers typically pay them a flat rate per book. Their job is in and out, making sure your project is submitted for publication, translation, foreign rights, or TV and film, and that you receive a publishing decision in 30-45 days. Scout's honor.
Proposal Submission Guidelines
Scouting literary projects for Atria Books (A Division of Simon & Schuster), Stephanie is accepting submissions in the nonfiction categories of inspiration and spirituality, memoir and biography, self-help, and business and finance. To develop a proposal, include the following elements:
- Overview: a title and subtitle, a one-line description of the book, a summary, and answer the question Why this book?
- Author's Story: a bio and author photo.
- Author Outreach: platform and previous publications.
- Online Presence: social networks and website.
- Previous Publishing: books published and sales figures.
- Comparable Books: comparable and competitive books on the market, and sales figures.
- Continuity: possible future projects.
- Contents: for nonfiction projects, a full Table of Contents with a paragraph of description for each chapter.
- Sample Pages: if completed, full manuscript; if work-in-progress, Introduction (if applicable) and first 50 pages.
UPDATE 7/18/18: Stephanie is no longer accepting submissions.