Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Reader's Reports

When an agent or an editor requests a reader's report on a manuscript which has been submitted to them, they'll usually send those reports onto the writer once they've made a decision about the manuscript concerned, whatever that decision is—and whatever the reader has reported.

Reader's reports often contain some strong criticism and discuss the manuscript in very frank terms, and if you're not able to deal well with constructive criticism they can be very painful to read. But if you're keen to make your work the best it can possibly be, and can overcome the initial disappointment and hurt that you might feel, these reports can be extremely helpful: they focus closely on a manuscript's flaws and so make very clear how it could be improved.

Reader's reports are very valuable tools for a writer who is serious about improving his craft, but agents and editors only ever request reader's reports on a tiny proportion of submissions: the ones which show real promise. And as most submissions are rejected a long way before a reader’s report is even considered, relatively few writers will ever get to see one.

17 comments:

csmith said...

It is probably slightly masochistic of me to think "I want one of these!"

Thanks Jane!

BuffySquirrel said...

Now that sounds like a job tailor-made for sqrls.

Jane Smith said...

I've got a few and they come into the brilliant-but-hard category. Well worth having and no, it's not masochistic at all for you to want your own collection, C.

Buffy. I think that squrls could write them very well indeed. But do you know, I have no idea how agents recruit such readers to write their reports! I shall ask around.

Nicola Slade said...

I've had a couple and they do make painful reading but a stiff whisky and commonsense usually brings me round. And now I read for the RNA New Writers' Scheme which is hard work but rewarding; but probably not for squirrels.

BuffySquirrel said...

Probably not! :)

Philip S said...

My very first submitted manuscript was the subject of two reader's reports - both from the first house I sent it to. One, typed on pink paper, gave the book a glowing thumbs up; the other, typed on lime green paper, was pretty dismissive ("competently written," was about as good as it got). The stark contrast in itself was an education.

Carolyn said...

Several years ago I recall seeing an advert from Harlequin seeking freelance readers. IIRC, they were trolling for Englihs grad students. I was not, at the time, a grad student.

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, no, never got as far as grad school myself :D.

Jane Smith said...

I know the care that Nicola Slade takes over the reports that she writes and anyone who is on the receiving end is very lucky.

And Buffy, don't worry about not doing a first degree: I took my 'O' levels, had a gap of a few years while I earned a living, then took my MA with nothing in between. I got a distinction. Clever me! And if I can do it, you certainly can.

Lexi said...

Jane, am I right in thinking these reader's reports are on the full typescript?

How long does it take for a report to be written, on average?

Jane Smith said...

Lexi, the ones I've been sent on my work, from agents I've submitted to, were indeed on the full mss, and it took about a week from me submitting to me receiving the report and accompanying rejection; for another, it was about ten days along with an offer of representation. The first was two pages long, single-spaced; the second, three. However, I've been promised a response and never heard anything again so I think it varies!

It's unlikely that you'd get a reader's report on anything less than a full mss, as if it's obvious that a book isn't good enough, or isn't appropriate for the agent concerned, then they'll know that from reading a partial and won't have to see the whole thing. Reader's reports are only used when it's very close.

The Romantic Novellists' Association reports that Nicola does under the New Writers' Scheme take rather longer, I suspect, but they are still good. But that's a whole different thing, as the writer pays for the report, not the agent.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, I have a first degree--I keep it in a box! just don't have an MA or anything. My dad has an MA; he got it from Cambridge in the time-honoured way (wait a year then pay the fee).

(am I confused about what grad school means?)

R.R.Jones said...

I'm not sure how I'd deal with that.
It'd be nice to have one with an offer of publication, but to be ripped apart and rejected would send me to whiskeyland, I think.
To see it in an adult light, it would be a very useful tool to have in regards to independent criticism, self betterment, a better MS, blah blah fishcakes.
However, my adult scale dips and ceilings in tandem with my moods...
Nope, don't want one unless I'm been offered a contract or I've won the lottery.
That's where I'm at on this one.
Reg ;-)
PS. As ever, a very informative piece and now at least I'm forewarned for when one actually does come to trash my day.

Bjarne Bjerklund said...

It's really odd reading about this, seeing as I do freelance work as a reader in Norway.

As for how you're supposed to get a job as a reader you'd have to ask someone else. I just sent them a mail telling them how pleased I was that they were publishing a book I liked and they asked me to consult on the next one. (i'm guessing this is not really the usual way to go).

But in any case, reading manuscripts is not a full time job, and it doesn't really pay that much being a freelance reader, but it's fun to do and the extra income is nice.

Shakespeare's Housekeeper said...

Hello Jane-
I read this post first thing this morning...and it's taken me most of the day to decide whether to give my two peneth(?)worth.
But here goes.
My hubby (aka 'The Writer') has had at least 8 readers reports on his one manuscript.
Yes.8.
At least.
The first one was comissioned by an agent who showed interest in representing The Writer. The report that came back was extremely favourable, and the agent took him on.
The one readers report wasn't enough- fair enough, and the agent sent the manuscript out to another reader. The second report was less favourable.
The Writer did a re-write.
A third report was comissioned by the agent, and a fourth, and a fifth..
Each time, The Writer re-wrote.
And each time, the manuscript was sent to a different reader!
Now, i'm no expert..only the wife- but surely it makes much sense to send a manuscript to the same reader each time, as every single reader is going to have a different view on the manuscript.
Eventually, the agent had The Writer pay for his own readers reports. Which i seem to recall from one of your previous contributers posts is actually a rather naughty thing to do.
Incidentally, this particular agent had only ever sent the first one, two or three chapters to readers for reports.
And what makes me really mad is that on an average of seven reports by seven different readers, the general concensus on the manuscript was really positive...just a tweak here and there.
So why did he always go with the negative and the minority, and after two years of readers reports, decide that he couldn't do anything with the manuscipt, and ditched The Writer?
I'm at a loss at how this system works.
Incidentally, The Writer is familiar with readers reports- he writes reports on scripts and screenplays and has done for many years.
SHxx

catdownunder said...

Reader's reports can be confusing,
"Unless (the publisher) has rejected you outright I would get back to her." I still do not know what to make of that!

Jenny said...

You could make a good point that the more painful the report, the more accurate it often is. I usually find something useful in feedback, good or bad. Sure, it's just someone's opinion, but then, nearly the whole reading public consists of "just someones."

Still, I once got a weird if not downright spiteful reader's report on a children's manuscript I'd submitted to an agent. It was anonymous, but I discovered that it had been written by a children's books writer whose name I knew.

Indeed, wearing my reviewer's hat, I had recently received for review a children's book which this very woman had written!

I'd found her book lacklustre, poorly characterised and with a drearily predictable plot. I had NOT reviewed it - there's far too much good stuff around to waste time on the bad. For all I know it is still gracing the shelves of my local Oxfam shop.

Of course, a reader is paid to report on a particular book whereas a reviewer can choose. So it's not fair to complain that she was nasty about my book whereas I just ignored hers.

Anyway I took the view that she was just as bad at writing reports, as she was at writing novels. But somehow it still upset me!