Friday, October 03, 2008

The Way I Read

I’m always asked if I actually read for pleasure given that my job entails doing a whole heck of a lot of reading, and I’m actually surprised that others are surprised when I say yes. However, one of the things I’m not sure I’ve ever explained to anyone is I read differently for each thing I read. For example . . .

Query Letters

To clarify, these are the one-page equeries that I receive each day (by the way, we’re now up to about 25 to 30 a day in my inbox alone). When I read queries I often skim through the introductory material, title, and even genre, because I’m looking for the meat of the query. I want to know what the book is about and I want to be excited about it. In other words, I’m reading through the query to be stopped. I want to get to the point where I think, “Wait a minute. I need to read that again.” When I get to that point it’s very likely that unless there are any real bumps in the road (a word count of 7,000, for example) I will be requesting more material. Queries take a lot longer to read than one would think, and even if I can read one query every two minutes, I certainly can’t read 50 queries in a row. Which is why I now have nearly 200 queries sitting in my query folder.


This is almost always material I’ve requested from a query letter. Typically a proposal should include the first three chapters of your book and a synopsis. Now here’s the big one . . . never do I read the synopsis first, and I always wonder why people put the synopsis on the top of the chapters since the chapters are what you really want me to read, but that’s a post for another time. When reading proposals the first thing I do is read the attached letter (attached because my assistant probably clipped the entire packet together). Proposals that either don’t include letters or don’t include letters that give me any information about the book (usually the same information that was in the query is best) usually get put back down to be read at a later date. When I finally have time to sit and read proposals I want to pick up proposals that I know I’ll be excited to read. So I go through and read all the letters first. Which proposals do I remember requesting and which grab me just as much the second time around as they did the first? Those are the proposals that are likely to go home with me first. From that point I flip through until I get to the first chapter and then I sit down to read. Often when reading proposals I’m distracted. I’m reading at home, at night, and dinner is on, or the TV is on, or there is just chaos. A good three chapters is going to make that chaos disappear. Like most readers I don’t have the opportunity for a peaceful few hours to sit quietly and read. Instead I’m counting on the book to take me to that peaceful place. Okay, full disclosure time: When reading proposals I’m looking for that first reason to reject. I get 25 queries a day and probably 25 or so proposal packets a week. I can’t possibly take on that many new clients, and in my years of experience I know that there are not going to be that many winners in there. So I’m skeptical (as are all agents and editors), but I want to be wowed. Because there’s nothing more exciting than finding something amazing when you least expect it.

Requested Manuscripts

I don’t request many full manuscripts, so when I do I usually remember it and watch for it. However, the true test of the full manuscript for me is whether or not it holds up. I’ve already read the first three chapters, so when the full crosses my desk, do I have to read those first three chapters again or do I remember them so clearly that all I need to do is skim through anxiously awaiting the material I haven’t yet read? If I have to read them again to remind myself about the book and if I feel weighted down by the time I get to chapter five, I can easily reject the book. If, however, chapter four grabs me as well as chapter three and the next thing I know dinner is burning and infomercials are playing, I know I have a winner. Requested manuscripts are something that often hang over my head. I’ve got three client manuscripts right now I need to read (and I’m excited about reading) as well as numerous proposals and other things, so while I’m always excited to find a new client, the thought of finding time to read another 400 pages is intimidating. So again, I’m looking for a reason to reject and get this task off my desk.

Client Manuscript for Revisions

When reading client material, whether a full or partial, for revisions I need to be in a completely different mind-set. I need to be able to focus, which means I need to have my desk as cleared off as possible with no other projects hanging over my head. The phone can’t be ringing and I can’t be checking email. The best thing for me to do when reading for revisions is sequester myself (wouldn’t that be nice). When reading for revisions I always have pen in hand and a notebook at my side and I make notes. Notes to myself and notes I will share with the author. I am reading with an incredibly critical eye. Not skeptical, but critical. I need to concentrate and follow the story carefully and I need to be willing to be judgmental. To tell my client what is or isn’t working and to give suggestions. I need to have my editor’s hat on, which means a creative hat as well as critical. Reading for revisions is actually very tiring for me. It’s not like sitting down to read queries or to simply read an already published book. Instead it involves carefully thinking about every word and phrase.

Reading for Pleasure

Which, let’s face it, is the best reading of all. There is nothing better for me than being able to just sit down and read a book. I’m not going to be asked for my opinion and I’m not going to be asked to judge the book. All I need to do is lose myself in the story and read. I can put it down and never pick it up again if I don’t want to or I can pick it up weeks later when I have the time.