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Scouting: how editors can find new voices in literature22.12.2021
Corinna Kroker worked as an editor for Klett-Cotta since 2016; in 2019 she became editorial director for the Klett-Cotta literary list. She’s responsible for international as well as German authors (classic and contemporary) and acquired, among others, Booker prize winner.
Within her session at BarCamp 2.0, Corinna told how, in her opinion, editors can find new voices in literature and create an interesting, balanced and commercially successful literary list.
Here are two key points from Corinna:
- Concentrate on finding really good books. Good books make everything easier for everyone in the publishing house.
- Have a vision of how to make a book visible in your market.
In my experience, it doesn’t help at all when your book is either good or you have a clear publishing strategy. You always need to have both.
Where & how to find books
There are quite obvious places to look for new voices. First of all, they are book fairs. There you can talk to literary agents from all over the world.
For me, every literary agent is a little window into the market you still don’t know.
For finding new the most interesting authors from the Netherlands, for example, it’s not enough to just read the information provided by the agent. You need to have the bigger picture: who is talking about who, who was nominated for the big literary prize only because of a deal of friendship, or who really created something new in terms of literature. The better you know a market, the better you find what you are looking for. Every talk with an agent is never only about books, so use it as a little window to the market you still don’t understand.
Talk to everyone who can be such windows: agents, literary critics, readers, booksellers, and editors from foreign countries. Every talk with a cup of coffee is worth the time.
There is also a scouting system. Basically, a scout is a professional reader who scans their own market for one exclusive client from other countries. It’s the person who is always up-to-date, has new manuscripts directly and brings them to the clients. For scouts, everything is about networking, gossip, fast reading, fast-fast reading.
Additionally, among the ways of finding new voices are programs at the literary festivals and contests conducted by the publishers.
To read or not to read?
So, why is it so crucial to have insights into the market? Corinna is convinced that one of the main reasons is that you can’t read every single manuscript that is sent to you. Moreover, you can’t even read half of them. Every day, you have to make a lot of decisions: to read or not to read. These decisions are usually based on the information you have around each title. First of all, it’s the plot, the subject, and then maybe the success it has in the original country and internationally and so on. This information is useful, but you should know some peculiarities of the market to understand whether it’s reliable or not.
The more you know about different markets and how they work, the better you can judge the information you got. So, when you decide to read a manuscript, all information that can help you make a decision whether it’s worth reading is extremely important.
Reading foreign newspapers, following podcasts and reading sample translations could be of huge help. Translators are also these little window persons, so talking to them can help you find the perfect book.
Read, read, read everything you can.
If you have finally found such a good book, with the text that really surprises you in every line, then it’s time to think what exactly is the vision of the book. Editors think a lot in terms of multipliers and only partly in terms of target groups. This is because we rarely reach our target groups directly. Even in the bookshop, there is a bookseller behind who makes the book seen. The same is with the online sellers like Amazon. That means that the first clients of the editors in these cases are not the readers themselves, but the booksellers and the algorithms of the online platforms.
So, the book that you’ve chosen for publishing will be under the same decision-making process again and again: by booksellers, literary critics, media, juries of the literary prizes, organizers of the festivals, booktubers and so on. They will choose to make your book seen or not seen. And before publishing a book, you should have a clear vision of which of these groups will like your book and why.
The better you understand the important key figures and the tastes, the clearer becomes your vision of the book.
How to create a balanced and commercially successful literary list
It is not a secret that publishing houses need to refinance unsuccessful titles with successful ones. That doesn’t mean that not every title has its special potential. To fully use this potential means to give every book the room it needs and the support it needs in consideration of its target groups. The main point is that you have to define different strategies for each book.
A commercial literary novel can be perfectly combined with a literary deputy that is still to be discovered. Those two books can be wonderfully combined with a classic rediscovery that recalls an interesting subject for today.
Every book has its own potential, and they are not the same potentials.
How literary scouts work
For example, the German publishing has a French scout. This person in France is scanning the French market and sending reports every week. He or she has a fixed income and is bound to this publishing. The scout might have other clients in Sweden or Italy or other countries, but not in Germany.
It can be one person or more, like an agency of three or four people working together. These scouts scan their own market, which means that they talk to all the literary agents, editors, and publishers, so that they make sure to get every new manuscript that is sent out from a busy market. Usually, these manuscripts come to the scouts one or two days earlier than to the rest of the publishers.
That means they do a bit of the editor’s work. That is quite useful for the big publishing house. For a little literary publishing, it is normally too expensive.
I do open to direct contacts with authors. The problem is that a lot of the sent manuscripts just don’t fit our list
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