Wednesday, May 13, 2015
A SCOUTING REPORT
Judy and I met Iris Hsieh two years ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair and I was taken by her buoyancy, brightness and her love of good fiction. Upon returning to Sag Harbor I started sending her electronic files of manuscripts I was high on (the latest being Charles Davis’ Hitler, Mussolini and Me which will not appear until 13 months from now) and review updates and subrights sales after they were published. Invariably she would send back an upbeat response. I teased her recently saying that she could add new clients abroad simply because she is such a good “unhurried” listener and a pleasure to spend time with. Given that, why wouldn’t any overseas publishers want to sign on as an Aram Fox client? It was both tease of course, and homage. Ever since then I’ve become one of those North American publishers who routinely sends her titles. Here, now is Iris’ story:
"After graduating with a Master’s degree from SUNY Binghamton, I worked as a rights assistant at various literary agencies for six years, starting at Greenburger, then on to Trident and finally as an associate at Scholastic.
"A few of my friends were working as scouts, and even in casual conversation they just seemed to know everything—it was like they were in the white, hot center of publishing. There's no other job within the industry that has the same kind of bird's-eye-view of publishing. How did they know about everything before anyone else did? How could I be like that?
"When I heard that Aram Fox, Inc. was hiring it just seemed like the perfect opportunity and I’ve now been there for two years. The company is more of a boutique scouting agency, because Aram's focus is on providing as much specific advice as possible for our clients, which means being more selective about the clients we work with. Right now we have 10 clients, all of whom everyone in our office of five engages with daily and who we meet when attending Book Fairs in London, Frankfurt, and Bologna.
"Aram’s willingness to train me has been quite helpful since being a scout is all about being able to make the right judgment calls within the matrix of often fuzzy logic. And I still have a lot to learn.
"Being a literary scout is being hired as a consultant for publishers in other countries who are acquiring translation rights for books originating from North America. True, we read a lot, but there's much more to it. We're also talking to editors and agents every day, trading notes on what we're reading, what's trending, which buzzy books are jumping out at us, and which books are hidden gems.
"Having recently returned from the London Book Fair, I can tell you that it is a whirlwind of activity: scheduling appointments for our clients and ourselves four or five months beforehand. In the last month before a book fair everyone I know begins trading tips on how to beat the seemingly-inevitable pre-fair and post-fair colds. In between talking about books we talk about whatever combination of vitamins, gym superstitions, and homeopathic remedies we're testing for that fair cycle. Since fairs have evolved to become more and more about building relationships, it's the perfect opportunity to finally get face-time with someone I haven't seen in six months. After all the excitement brewing around a fair, it's almost a bit disconcerting when it all ends. Of course, that's when we begin planning for the next fair.
"Scouts have a bird's-eye view of publishing that I find fascinating. We're talking to editors, agents, and rights contacts all the time, bouncing ideas off each other about books. It's exhilarating to hear about books from the beginning of the process and to rediscover them two years later in a bookstore. We also have the pleasure of working closely with our clients, international publishers, and developing a deeper understanding about their lists and their unique publishing trends. Being able to have this global approach to publishing makes scouting exciting for me.
"There's a certain satisfaction that comes with being able to walk into a bookstore and recognize the titles on display are the books that I loved back when they were still manuscripts, and now they are on the bestseller shelf. But there's also the inevitable sinking feeling that comes when manuscripts I loved haven't succeeded. There are so many people across the world who have poured their hearts and souls into the making of a book, and at the end of the day all you can hope is that someone outside of publishing will see what we saw in it too.
"As scouts, it's our job to be decisive about books, which means that our process is quite a subjective one. It's important to have an opinion and make judgment calls every step of the way, and sometimes I worry about making the wrong decision, for there's no magic formula to making the right call!"
I look forward to your feedback both on this blog and or by email. Next week, on May 20, I’ll be posting a blog from mystery writer Jaden Terrell who, over the last 10 years, as a volunteer, helped put Clay Stafford’s Killer Nashville on the map as a major regional Mystery Conference.