Feature Catherine Eccles


ATHERINE ECCLES TOOK the reins from Anne Louise Fisher to lead London-based international liter- ary scouting outfit Eccles Fisher Associates in

January 2015. Since she joined 12 years ago, EFA’s client base has grown by 50%, and the firm has expanded its offer, too. Now, as well as scouting UK-originated books in the English language, it is looking all over Europe for standout titles in major European languages and casting its net as far afield as East Asia. “The botom line is, a scout is only as good as the publishers they work with,” says Eccles, explaining the somewhat mysterious business of scouting for the unini- tiated. First off, you need to be working with a list of excellent publishers. Then people will want to talk to you. It’s all about your network of agents and editors, and the trust that you have in those people and your clients. “I oſten say it is quite hard to quantify your contribution

to clients. You’re telling them what not to read as much as you’re recommending what they should pay atention to. I can’t imagine being an editor or a publisher siting

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The world of scouting may be lesser known that that of in-house editorial, but its processes and reach are vital to ensuring potential bestsellers aren’t overlooked. Katherine Cowdrey reports

in a major European publishing house and not having a scout, because there would always be that feeling that you don’t know exactly what’s going on. When you have a scout, the reassurance is they’ll draw your atention to the right things. At this time of year, it’s key.” Eccles speaks from experience. Prior to forging her career in scouting, Eccles was m.d. of Granta in the early ’90s, then she took a 10-year publishing hiatus, working as a homeopath. Recalling her time at the negotiating table, she admits: “I sometimes miss the process of actu- ally puting a book out there; the acquisition is always going to be exciting.” But she and her six-strong team are never far from the action. With 19 clients, encompassing at least 100 imprints, the agency covers everything from commercial fiction to literary fiction, serious to popular non-fiction, as well as the children’s and YA market. Another string to its bow is scouting for film and TV for Heyday, the company behind the Harry Poter films. “More film and TV companies are looking to work with scouts, judging by the amount of approaches we get,” says Eccles. “There’s a huge amount going into production because of Netflix and Amazon Prime.”

What are such clients looking for? In a word: qualit.

“If you’re working with qualit publishers, you’re look- ing for qualit books, whether that’s a memoir, a history, the next Gone Girl, the next Booker winner,” says Eccles, adding that sorting the wheat from the chaff is “an inter- esting process, deciding what you are going to read... It’s a particular triage that comes at the end of every day, but you get prety good instincts for what you need to read and you get through an enormous amount.” The growth of the businesses of EFA’s clients has widened its remit. For example, in Spain it now scouts for Ediciones B following its acquisition by PRH Grupo Editorial. But it is also expanding on its own terms. This year the agency added a new territory, China, which, although a nascent market for fiction, is showing grow- ing interest in English-language titles. Eccles says she would love to work with more publishers in Northeast Asia, but her priorit is to “maintain an excellent reputa- tion and run a happy team”, a sentiment she’s embraced by recognising Fisher’s legacy in the business’ name. “I wanted it to be all about the team,” says Eccles. “Anne Louise started it and grew it into something substan- tial. So it felt more appropriate for me to take it forward without just my name on the door—it is much bigger than I am.” She adds: “I’m focused on delivering excel- lence. It’s the same with good books: don’t follow the money, pursue qualit, and the rest will follow.”

Founded in 1983, Eccles Fisher Associates is one of the longest-standing scouting agencies in the UK. Its clients include: Doubleday (US), Penguin Random House Canada, Random House Germany, Rizzoli (Italy), Robert

Laffont (France), Albert Bonniers Förlag (Sweden), PRH Grupo Editorial (Spain and Portugal), Companhia das Letras (Brazil), CITIC (China) and British production company Heydey. Eccles is also the co-founder of the annual

£20,000 Eccles British Library Writer’s Award. For more information about the prize, visit fellowships-and-awards/ writers-award.


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