Advice From Pros: Erin Henn from Booksmart Literary Scouting

Advice From Pros: Erin Henn from Booksmart Literary Scouting

Booksmart Literary Scouting is a literary scouting agency founded in 2022 and led by Erin Hennicke,  drawing on her 25+ years of industry experience and combining her love of great writing and film/TV. Hennicke began her career in the Subsidiary Rights Department at Viking Penguin, overseeing  domestic/foreign/audio/& film/TV rights, before segueing into the film industry as Story Editor at  Barbra Streisand’s production company, Barwood Films, where she handled development and  production. In 2000, she joined Franklin & Siegal & Associates, the largest literary scouting agency  in New York,  Most recently, she was in the Books & I.P. department at Netflix  before deciding to form her own agency. Meet Erin:

What is a literary scout? Is it anything like a literary agent? A scout is hired by a production company, network, studio, channel, etc. to find material, specifically, books, articles, podcasts that speak to their tastes.

Have you always wanted to work in this field? I was an English Lit major in college and always loved reading and film/TV, so when I found out this job existed, I felt like I had found my calling.

What do you like best about your work? I like talking to agents and editors about the authors they’re working with. But most of all, I love the hunt for the right book for the right outlet. It’s like being a literary detective!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? What about the publishing industry? I would say, do your research. Try to read as much about the job/industry you’re interested in. If you can narrow it down to a specific area of interest or job, then try and reach out to get an informational interview. When I was trying to make the transition from publishing to film/TV, I did a year of doing informational interviews and that led me to my first film job at a production company.

What is one (or more) fascinating insight you’ve gleaned from working in the tv/film industry? What about the publishing industry? There are many but the main one would be, everything is changeable. Whatever’s most successful at the box office or in the ratings, that’s what the studios will want to buy. If there’s something you really love and think would make a great movie or show, but it doesn’t reflect the latest mandates, don’t despair. Wait it out….tastes change. If it’s a good story, that will (hopefully) win out, but you might have to be patient. The same goes for the publishing industry.

As an expert in your field, what advice would you give to published authors? What about those who dream of seeing their books on the big screen? Make sure your agent has good contacts in film/TV or partners with a good book-to-film agent. I do tell authors that if they really want to see their book adapted for the big or little screen, they need to think of it as something else. Your book is your book and that’s your baby. The adaptation has so many cooks in the kitchen, you’ll find you have very little control unless you’re a Stephen King-level author. Just know that’s the case so whatever the outcome, it’s just an extension of your original work.

What advice would you give to unpublished authors? Research, again, plays a big part. If you’re looking for an agent, go to the bookstore or library, look at authors you admire and read their “Acknowledgments” section. They almost always thank their agents. Then research those agents and if they’re accepting new clients, query them. Most agents  have websites that detail their query/submission process.

Do you have any advice for screenwriters? As a book scout, I don’t often get to read screenplays (unless it’s for fun), but I used to when I worked for a production company, so to screenwriters I would say, you want to grab the reader within the first 15 pages. Not many execs are going to read past that if it’s not grabbing them initially. Also, work on your ‘elevator pitch.’  That’s the super-quick pitch meant to really encapsulate your project in one sentence. For example, “it’s WHITE LOTUS meets THE CROWN.” 

What is one (or more) cautionary “pearl” you’d like to share?  It’s not always a meritocracy. Some people get lucky or nepotism helps them climb the ladder faster. I think you get farther in this industry by not comparing your career to others. It’s best to stick by that old school adage, “Eyes on your own paper.” Focus on your own work.

What do you think is the biggest reason someone doesn’t get their book published There could be several reasons. It’s not what the market wants at the moment;  It’s not a fully finished manuscript (if we’re talking about a novel); maybe the author doesn’t agree with the potential changes an agent or editor suggests; or perhaps the author hasn’t found the right agent or editor.

What do you like to see on an author’s platform? I always like to see authors engage with their readers via social media, like showing cover reveals and letting readers know what they’re working on and where they’ll be doing readings/appearances.

How do you suggest authors (published and non-published) build their platform, including social media and website? If I haven’t hammered this point home hard enough, Research! Check out authors you admire, what do their sites look like? What social media platforms are they on? How do they engage with their audience? If you have the means, you can hire someone to build an incredible site but these days, you can do it yourself with Wix or Squarespace.

Are you an author? Not yet but I’ve always wanted to be. It’s just a matter of finding the time to devote to it. But who knows? Hopefully, someday soon!

What conferences or events do you recommend authors and writers attend? There are so many! It really depends on the author’s type of writing/genre. If you’re a romance writer, then check out the many RWA conferences that happen throughout the year. For mystery/crime writers, there are conferences like Bouchercon. A quick Google will help you find ones that relate to your specific genre or geographical location.

Do you speak at conferences or conduct trainings? I do speak at conferences, on panels, etc., and I love doing it.I’ve been a speaker at book fairs and writers’ conferences like Book Expo America, Emerald City Writers’ Conference, and several RWA conferences. It’s pretty much the only chance I get to interact with authors one-on-one. In my work, I deal mostly with execs, agents and editors, so I really love getting to talk with established and aspiring writers. I find it so inspiring.

What book uplifts you? I love a great plot with intriguing and complex characters, but the first thing that really grabs me is the setting. Have you, as the writer, really made the setting jump off the page for the reader? That’s uplifting. It’s the first thing that gets me.

You have such a unique background and career, what else can you share about your story? I started in the Subsidiary Rights department at Viking Penguin, then segued into a Story Editor position at Barwood Films before getting into scouting. Your career might not be linear and that’s ok. Each step is necessary to get you where you’re going. Be open to the ups and downs and twists and turns. It’s all part of the journey. But most of all, there’s no faking a passion for your work. It can be such a tough business, filled with lots of rejection. You just have to love it enough to keep rolling that rock up the mountain.

Thank you, Erin. What valuable insight!

When it comes to her work, Erin is a pro and in her leadership role at Booksmart Literary Scouting, rubs elbows daily with other industry professionals and celebrities. Her work includes scouting for clients like Universal Studios – a collaboration that lasted 21 years–finding material/I.P., including the article that became American Gangster with Denzel Washington  and Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott; the Fifty Shades series by E.L. James; & the children’s  book, Amari & the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, to name a few.  She’s also scouted for Paramount  TV on the series/mini/limited series side for 7 years, finding gems like Defending Jacob (Apple+)  and Station Eleven (HBO Max).

And if you’re wondering who’s behind the talent in all those great Hallmark movies? You guessed it…Erin. It’s a special treat to have her as a guest on Books Uplift! 

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