Cressida Downing, is a professional reader for Writers' & Artists' services, literary agents, publishers and literary scouts. Among her slush-pile finds has been a novel that attracted a six-figure publishing deal.
It’s true, if a manuscript is on the substantial side, it can get left on the backburner until I have a good solid chunk of time. Having read (and liked) the initial three chapters of a recent submission, I had asked to see more and wound up with a hefty 650-page sci-fi novel hanging around for a week or two. But when I finally got stuck in, I really rated it and felt intent on making a case for it. My report to the agent covered its strong points (characterisation, plot and dialogue) and areas that needed a bit of work (too long!), and I’ve recommended they read it with a view to representing the author. I get a warm glow when I can do that – which isn’t that often – as I know how much it will mean to the author who submitted it.
These days I find myself reading a mix of 50% chick-lit (often now merging into yummy-mummy-lit, and bite-lit), 20% teenage fiction and 30% non-fiction. The factual titles are a random lot and consequently there isn’t much I don’t know about the life of whales, golf courses around the world and the devastating effects of climate change.
Like many professional readers I work from home as a freelance, having built up my contacts in the business over years of permanent employment. I get my office set up early (boot cat out from under the printer, put coffee on and turn on the radio – Radio 5 is ideal – members of the public ranting about topical subjects, with regular news injections) before settling in for a day’s critiquing.
The ideal scenario is when I like something so much I actually resent not having the full manuscript there to finish. I’m a reader primarily because I love books, and love reading – like most authors I know.
Inside publishing: the professional reader: As an unpublished author, there is a good chance your manuscript will be vetted by a professional reader before it gets seen by an agent or publisher. Readers are employed to sift through the submissions and pull out those that have potential. They are often the first to make editorial suggestions on how the manuscript can be improved including advice on making it more commercial.
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