What Does a Literary Scout at a TV Network Do?

Meet Megan Reid, Director of Literary Scouting and Development at FX Networks. As enthusiasts of both literature and television, we at STET think Megan has hit an ultimate jackpot when it comes to a job that intersects two different kinds of storytelling mediums we love—books and the small screen. Fun as it may seem to bring compelling narratives to TV series, Megan’s role also comes with plenty of challenges and responsibilities. Interested in finding out more about what a literary scout does? Below, read up on Megan’s driven career trajectory, her advice for young people, and why working in her field requires a shit-ton of patience.

Say you’re at a dinner party. How would you describe your job to someone who asks you, “What do you do?”

“I find books to make into TV shows for FX.” Then, people usually A.) ask me if I’ve ever met Donald Glover (no), or B.) look confused and nod encouragingly.

Sometimes I tell them I’m a writer of children’s books. Which is true. But it’s a good way to turn a conversation around because literally everyone has a pitch for a picture book/strong feelings about the state of children’s publishing and its effects on the “youths,” just read this super-great YA, etc.

How did you come to realize literary scouting was a job and what drew you to this field?

It’s funny how little I knew about the scouting world when I was an editor, but then again, I feel like most editors don’t really know what we do. One of my friends was leaving his job as a foreign scout, and encouraged me to interview. Foreign scouts consult international publishers on the North American publishing market and cover books of all categories for translation. The job is to read everything—I loved that I got to be a generalist, and my sense of the industry really expanded. The U.S. is absolutely NOT the be-all and end-all for books. Something that sells five hundred copies here can be a giant bestseller in Brazil, or Norway, or China, and making connections between those editors was really exciting for me.

Then, FX was looking for someone to advise them on books, and got my name. They love stories and authors in a way that is totally against Hollywood stereotype. They were already developing a lot of book-based intellectual property, and they wanted someone on the ground in New York to cover the publishing world and writing community here. So I said yes and my job expanded to encompass theater and working with development.

For someone interested in following your footsteps, what was your trajectory in a nutshell?

I was an art history/theatre double major in college and I thought I was going to work in magazines. But then the economy crashed and I went to graduate school in English, having taken only one English class, which is both the most ridiculous and most difficult thing I’ve ever done.

I started my career as an editor by assisting the publisher at Touchstone, and then working as an assistant and associate editor for the marvelous Emily Bestler at Simon & Schuster. I got there by being very serious about internships (six of them) and by making friends.

Honestly, making friends is probably the most important part. I got my first assistant job through an online friend who was an author with Touchstone and was nice enough to write to her editor about me without ever meeting me in real life. And then I also had very generous recommendations from the assistants who I interned under, because I got to know them well and stayed in touch. And as a scout, you have to socialize a lot. It’s easier when you like and admire the people who you’re lunching or having drinks with.

My parents couldn’t afford to support me for unpaid summer work. I got a grant my first year, but after that, I worked to save money every semester to fund my summers. Luck played a big part, because I had wonderful fairy godparents who would let me stay with them while I worked for free.

What other ways can people break into this world?

One of the uglier truths about publishing is that it’s really hard to get your foot in the door if you or your parents don’t have a lot of expendable income. But there are workarounds. If you can’t move to NYC, find agencies that hire remote interns to read their slush. Look for small press or academic press internships locally. Get a job at a bookstore. Ask a professor if you can be a research assistant on an academic publication to get some editing credit. Write book reviews for your campus newspaper. Reach out to people you admire and come to New York when you can—even if it’s just for a day or two—to meet them and get on their radars. Figure out how to connect the skills you have to the ones you’ll need in publishing. I learned more about managing difficult people, being meticulous at scheduling, phone manner, and focused multitasking in three months as a hostess at a wine bar than I did in my first year of being an editorial assistant.

Also, learn to read really fast.

How is literary scouting similar or different at a TV network, than say, another publishing company?

I get to be a lot more specific with my reading for this job that I did working as a foreign scout. FX has a very distinct brand, and we’re only really interested in books that will appeal to our specific audience. I’m fascinated by the act of translating a novel to script form—I have so much respect for the writers who actually get our team’s vision on to a page.

Do you have a favorite literary discovery that you were able to bring to the screen?

We aren’t allowed to say until we’ve finished developing them and the publicity team takes over! I used to think it took foreverrrr for a manuscript to become a book, but it’s even longer for a book to become a show. But there are certainly a couple of projects and writers that I’ve scouted that I’m obsessed with.

What do you look for in a piece of work that lets you know it will translate well to TV or film?

Strong characters. A distinct, original tone. Asking questions that push the envelope and make you invested in the answers. Our motto is “Fearless,” and that kind of sums up the kind of people and projects we want to be in business with.

What’s the biggest challenge in your line of work?

Publishing is a very homogenous industry. Most of the time, I’m the only person of color in a room. The first time I went to the London Book Fair, for instance, it took me two days to see another black woman on the floor. Gender plays a part, too: though publishing is primarily women, the pay and title gap between male and female employees is enraging. Feeling those disparities is a challenge, but I feel like a lot of smart people have found ways to play an active part in breaking them down.