• Todd Sattersten, a business book author became a scout by accident: a Twitter exchange led to a relationship with Spain’s Grupo Planeta.
• Now preparing for his first Frankfurt Book Fair, he describes his journey into this mysterious profession and offers tips on selling books abroad.
By Todd Sattersten
That’s what most people say when I tell them I got into book scouting through a Twitter post. You could even extend that one step further, saying that my first trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year has come about from a simple 140 character query.
In January 2010, Roger Domingo, the editorial director for the business book line at Planeta Grupo in Spain, tweeted about an interview I had done with Seth Godin on his new book Linchpin. Planeta had acquired the Spanish rights to the book and was using my interview to highlight the Fall 2010 release of their edition. I tweeted back, thanked him, and added a joke about how the Spanish rights were still available for The 100 Best Business Book of All Time, a 2009 book I co-wrote with Jack Covert. Roger thanked me for the information, saying he had passed on it because of a similar project they were doing locally.
A few months later, Roger got back in touch (through Twitter again) and asked if I would be interested in helping Planeta determine what business books they should acquire out of the US market. At the time, I was only vaguely familiar with literary scouting having spent all of my time on the retail and special sales sides of publishing. It seemed like I dream come true: someone would pay me to read and recommend business books. I had spent the prior six years at US business book retailer 800-CEO-READ reading and recommending and didn’t think I would find another career track that allowed me to continue to pursue my passion for the genre (yes, I LOVE business books.)
I quickly needed to get a sense for the profession. I started by talking to my friends in publishing and realized subrights and the even more obscure trade of literary scouting was only vaguely familiar to most. More than one of them sent me back to the great series that Emily Williams wrote for Publishing Perspectives about her experiences as a scout, but as best as I could tell scouting was a pretty natural extension of my previous work: keep track of what is being published, stay connected with players in the genre, read the books, and tell others what I think. While all of those things are true, scouting is much more than that.
First, there is a whole set of players ranging from right managers to subrights agents in the individual localities to a host of publishers who might be involved in a single transaction. The rights themselves may be held by the author and managed by their agent or by their publisher, that split seeming to be about 50/50 for important books in the business genre. The ever shifting set of players and their varying levels of influence complicates the process of ushering potential books to your clients for publication.
Understanding the local market conditions of my individual clients has been equally important. Spain is part of a well developed economy that has many local experts submitting attractive proposals to publishers. Books acquired outside the country require a broad appeal and unique perspective that can’t be found in Spain. Brazil, the location of another of my clients, Artmed Editora, is almost the exact opposite, with a highly robust business book market that matches the quickly developing nature of their national economy.
The global nature of scouting also provides its own challenges. Language is the most obvious and least severe thus far. Varying time zones sometimes impact information flows and timely decision-making, but it is amazing what can be done with Google Docs and Skype. Actually, my biggest problem has been managing the payment process whether it be strict monetary controls in a local country or providing the proper documentation (hint for American citizens: most countries accept IRS Form 6166 to avoid local taxation of fees).
The work now as Frankfurt approaches involves the same tactics any new business would use (and of course, there are takeaways, I told you — I scout business books):
• Provide clear value to clients. I specialize in business book scouting, which severely reduces the potential number of clients, but makes me a perfect fit for the right set of publishers.
• Establish credibility. The business card I will be handing out is a 150-page custom book I published just for the Fair titled “Everything I Know About Business Books.”
• Network like crazy. The biggest barrier to success for most fledging businesses is obscurity. The Fair provides a unique opportunity to meet the global set of professionals dedicated to business book publishing.
So, if you see the guy with the slightly lost expression on his face and carrying a pile of orange books, I hope you’ll come up and say hi. If you need to find me, try Twitter (@toddsattersten). It has worked pretty well so far.