As ever, it’s a pleasure to give you a glimpse into a the work of a person who makes book-business work, but whose job you probably never knew existed. International literary scouts are like international publishers’ eyes and ears to what’s going on (in this case) in the US. Meaning: they’re like spies and matchmakers rolled into one. Here to tell us about all that glamour (and the day-to-day realities) is Kelly Farber, a scout for Barbara Tolley & Associates.
What was your first job in book business and what were the most important things you gained from it?
My first full-time job in publishing was at Sterling Lord Literistic as the foreign rights assistant. It was a big list, and I got to be very involved, allowing me to learn a whole lot about international publishing out of the gate. However, I think the most important thing I learned is the least tangible: how to remain unflappable. I promised myself that I would learn the answer to every question, so that if my boss asked me something I would never have to say, “I don’t know”. I learned to always keep a cool head no matter what happens. Don’t underestimate how much your boss needs to trust you.
How do you explain your job to people?
I say I’m basically a consultant for foreign publishers about what to buy from America. Also: “I read for a living.” (only sort of true)
What is the biggest challenge in your current job? In what ways did your previous jobs prepare you for what you do here?
The hardest thing about scouting is probably the constant nature of it. We are expected to keep up with all books, all the time. So you never really have a day of work where you can kick up your heels. On the other hand, it rarely gets boring. You also need a near-encyclopedic knowledge of publishing both here and abroad. My previous bosses in foreign rights definitely prepared me for that, in big ways like taking me to book fairs, in small ways like making me keep track of foreign submissions of books on spreadsheets, etc. That stuff actually matters!
What value has this job brought to the way you think about book business as a whole and to your own relationship to books?
Well, I like to think that scouting is the most involved you can be in the whole of publishing on a daily basis via only one job. So you always kind of know what’s going on, and can sense trends and shifts very acutely. When I was first starting off, an agent told me that you never really understand publishing until you see a book from its inception during the submissions process to its publication and reception by critics/audiences. There are a lot of steps in that process, and it can take anything from a few months to a couple of years. The cool thing about scouting is that you see the steps in that process for nearly every book in America and see how different the same process can really be. Plus, you get paid to give your opinion on the book, which is an added bonus.
Where does international scouting fit into the future of book-business, in your mind?
I don’t think anyone is sure where the changes in how people read will lead us ultimately, so I will avoid making any highfalutin statements here. I do know that as long as there are publishers, they will need content. We are a quick, trustworthy, unbiased source for that content.
Kelly Farber started her publishing career as an intern at The Gernert Company, followed by several years in the foreign rights department at Sterling Lord Literistic. Currently she is a literary scout at Barbara Tolley & Associates, where she scouts for many international publishing houses. She is originally from Philadelphia where she attended college at St. Joseph’s University, majoring in English with a concentration in Writing/Spanish Literature. She lives in Brooklyn.