Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reading Day

In response to a Tweet I made in which I said my day was going to be comprised of reading, among other things, someone Tweeted back with, “I'm a little jealous when you share you're reading all day, (the MSs, not the contracts), tho I know it's not always fun”

Don’t I wish that my reading was really just reading and that I really get to spend a day just snuggled on the couch reading. There’s a common misconception about an agent’s job that all we do all day is read. Most important, there’s a misconception that the reading an agent does is anything like the reading you do or we do when sitting on the beach or relaxing by the fire (I get so little time to just read that I’ve created this entire fantasy around it; also picture cookies, tea, peace and quiet).

When an agent is reading for clients it’s best described as critical reading. We’re not allowed to simply lose ourselves in the book, only to come up later without any idea of time or place. When we’re reading for clients, or when editors are reading for that matter, we need to read every word with a critical eye and we need to remain present at every moment.

When I say I’m reading for the day it means I’m reading either at my desk next to my laptop so I can take notes for the author, or with a notebook and pen in hand so I can take notes and later transcribe them to an email for my client. I often have to go back and reread passages, and I think about that book constantly when I’m done. In fact, while on vacation this summer I was reading a manuscript for a client and had to take a break to go for a walk (mental breaks are important when reading for clients so I can clear my head and think more about the book). While on the walk I pulled out my iPhone to take more notes to send to the author. When reading critically, I think about the book constantly until the email is finally sent, and even then, as many of my clients will attest, I’ll think about it and send follow-up emails.

So if you’re thinking you want to be an agent because you love to read or are jealous because we get to read so many books (which really you should be jealous of, because it is the greatest job in the world), put into perspective what it means when we say we read. I can read a book, snuggled on my couch, in a day. A manuscript will often take longer, simply because I need to slow down, think, and often reimagine the book in a way that won’t offend the author, but will make it stronger.


Jessica

18 comments:

Pippa Jay said...

Thanks for sharing the realities of your job. I have to admit to having images of agents in comfy chairs reading to their hearts' content before I started the submission process. I have learnt better!

B.E. Sanderson said...

So, sorta like what we do when we're editing for ourselves or critting/beta reading. Cool. I mean, not cool that you don't get to read for pleasure very often, but cool that there's a connection there. Thanks for sharing this, Ms. Faust. =o)

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that there's such a misconception - I would imagine that most writers have a critique partner or group, and so should have experienced that kind of critical reading. I do actually enjoy critical reading, and rethinking the story, but it's definitely hard work.

Amy

Gabriela Lessa said...

Hum... Still sounds like a great job! Demanding, I'm sure, and obviously not all fun, but I would think it's as enjoyable as work can be. Which is definitely a good thing. Who would want someone bitter and who hates her job reading their manuscripts?

A3Writer said...

I'm still a bit jealous. Having it be a manuscript you've requested or from a client you enjoy working with goes a long way.

In my mundane life as a college English composition teacher, I have to do that same critical reading and commenting, but quite a few of the essays I read resemble very long text messages in terms of grammar, voice, and content.

That in-depth critical reading and commenting can suck quite a bit of joy out of reading. I think it can suck away some of the desire, too, especially if a manuscript doesn't live up to the potential you were hoping for.

clindsay said...

One of the reasons I made the decision to leave agenting was that I was losing my love of reading. It can be a big problem when you aren't really reading for simple enjoyment any more. For me, it was no longer worth the trade off.

Kate Douglas said...

I just finished working on the best set of copy edits I've ever gotten, and I was amazed by the copious notes the CE gave me--I can't read that carefully, no matter how hard I try, so my hat's off to you for being able to keep the kind of distance you have to maintain from a story in order to see it critically.

Natasha Fondren said...

I used to think I wanted to be an agent because I love to negotiate, but unfortunately you guys don't negotiate every minute of the day! (Though that sounds exhausting.)

Stephanie Faris said...

I've found most glamor jobs aren't really as glamorous as those on the outside think...but we like to have our fantasies about them! Even writing sounds glamorous but people don't see the hard work that goes into each chapter.

Julie Anne Lindsey said...

I know this is a big stretch, but what you describe sounds like my experience when I beta or read for my crit group. The stories are awesome, but I barely get through a page, sometimes a paragraph with out trying to comment on this and that and anything that will help them with cutting bloat, pacing or flow issues. Its not as much fun as the final cut, and reading that always feels like a whole different manuscript.

Layla Fiske said...

In my previous life, I used to write and edit reports before they went out for public/political issue.

I loved the writing and editing process. It was fun to see something go from complicated, and unclear to clear and concise and politically correct.

If I could have a second life I would want to be an author or an agent. Oh, wait...that's what I'm doing...author.

I'm glad that there are those who are agents. We all need and appreciate your role in this wonderfully, crazy world of writing, reading and publishing!

Kathy said...

Honestly, I'm still jealous of your job (at least the critical reading part). It sounds very like what I've done for a college literary magazine for the past two years. It's one of my favorite parts of the writing process, as long as it's not my own writing. As tiring and stressful as it can be, I still enjoy helping another writer make their piece as strong as possible.

I think that would be one of the better parts of the agent job, if I ever wanted to be an agent.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think people realize that even though it's a job you love (or you would not, I hope, be an agent), it's still a job, and so any reading you do for it is going to be different than the reading any of us does for pleasure. A good exercise for these writers would be to read critically for craft. I know we're all supposed to do that anyway, and we notice examples of good or bad writing as we read, but I mean that they should read really closely for craft. Do a paragraph-by-paragraph or sentence-by-sentence analysis as they go along. Really dissect each little bit of the writing while paying attention to the overall plot, themes, etc., even if the book at that moment isn't at a high point of tension. I think they'll be surprised how much more time and brain power it takes and maybe gain a better appreciation of what you mean by reading (even if it's not exactly the same).

Anonymous said...

Jessica,

Do you ever read a MS for "lose yourself in the book" quality and then go back an edit? That's what I ask my beta readers to do, so that I can judge if I have that magic or not. I know there are going to be tons of mistakes that need corrected, but the magic is the most important element. Mistakes are fixable. I have read so many books that are error free and overall good, but they are missing the magic.

Mark Terry said...

I'm sort of smirking about someone who referred to "glamour" jobs. Because, you know, writers are people that spend huge amounts of time by themselves sitting in a chair staring at a computer screen. Yeah, glamour. It probably helps if you have the people skills of a wolverine.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I love to read posts like this about the reality of an agent's job. I think there's a lot of misconception about both a writer's and an agent's job.

Malin said...

Can you shut it off when reading for fun? And do you have any tips for how to shut off the inner editor when reading?

Sheila Cull said...

Because I'm a Snake, I remain jealous of your success. And how I wish you were red Xing my words!