Not Your Fourth Grade Book Report: Tips for Writing Reader’s Reports
Whether you’re a recent graduate, a young professional looking to switch career tracks, or an intern/newbie editorial assistant trying to impress your boss, if you’re hoping to work in an editorial department at a publishing company, you’ll inevitably encounter… the Reader’s Report. You’ll probably have to write one to get a job (as part of a post-interview edit test), and you’ll definitely have to churn them out as an editorial assistant. Here are 6 tips for writing the best darn reader’s reports you can.
But first… what is a reader’s report?
I’m glad you asked. A reader’s report is a report you write about a manuscript, submitted by an agent, that your manager is considering acquiring, editing, and publishing (in the dream scenario). It’s kind of like those book reports you wrote in elementary and middle school… but also, kind of not like that at all. The typical reader’s report includes all vital manuscript stats (title, author name, agent name/agency, genre, age range), plus a plot summary and your assessment of the work. Ideally, a reader’s report is roughly one page long (if we’re talking single-spaced): you want to be succinct. One paragraph—maybe two—for the plot summary should be enough. Keep in mind that if you can’t summarize the plot in that much space, that could be an overall con to consider; perhaps the plot itself is too complicated. One to three paragraphs spent on assessment should be good. Then deliver your verdict (see more on that below) at the end.
Regarding format, you can go with whatever feels right to you—though I recommend you break things up with headings like “Summary,” “Assessment,” “Pros,” Cons,” Verdict,” or whatever versions of these work for you. Your Reader’s Report should showcase your voice and your writing skills, but keep it profesh (i.e. don’t abbreviate like I just did).
Now that we’re all clear on what an RR actually is, let’s get to those tips.
Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Details
Keep the plot summary on a need-to-know basis. Is it essential to delve into the dirty details of how, exactly, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley became BFFAE on the Hogwarts Express? No, it’s not. This will work fine: “Harry meets his soon-to-be best friends, Ron and Hermione, on the way to Hogwarts, and by the end of the book, they’ve helped him save the day.”
If you sugarcoat, you run the risk of sounding like you enjoyed a manuscript much more than you did—and then your manager may read it, discover it’s terrible but you were too nice to say so, and feel he or she just wasted his or her time. And that you aren’t exactly trustworthy when it comes to recommendations.
…But Not Too Honest
Your manager should be able to pick up pieces of your report and use them—with little editing—in his or her response to the agent. Don’t be unnecessarily brutal! Being mean wins you no points.
It’s Not All About “Like”
Be clear and constructive in your assessment of the manuscript. “I liked it” helps no one. Give reasons for why you enjoyed it (or didn’t); explain why you think it would sell well (or not); where it would fit in the market; where it would fit in with the books your boss or potential boss has edited and published (if you know what their list of published books looks like); etc. If you didn’t like something in the manuscript but have a suggestion for how to fix it, include that, too! For example: “I found that the protagonist was a bit too mean at certain points, so I think scaling back on her venom and perhaps punching up her relationship with her little brother might soften her just a bit.” And be mindful of the difference between disliking a manuscript because it just isn’t your personal taste and disliking a manuscript because it’s just bad. When you’re writing a reader’s report, you’re evaluating this work for someone else—keep in mind that their tastes may differ from yours.
Comparisons Are Your Friend
Make comparisons to other titles that are doing well (or not so well) in the market. This helps your manager decide how this manuscript fits in with his or her tastes and overall list and the marketplace as a whole, and it shows that you know your stuff. However, try to stay away from comparing books to the giants. “This could be the next Hunger Games!” isn’t really helpful because the Hunger Games franchise is so stratospherically successful that comparisons need not apply. Technically, anyone could be the next John Green or Suzanne Collins…but it’s not a useful comparison because the superstars are so often the exception to the rule.
Keep Sight of Your Goal
You’re writing this report so your boss knows whether or not he or she needs to take the time to read this manuscript. Therefore, you need to make a clear recommendation at the end of your assessment. A simple “Recommendation: This manuscript deserves a second read,” or “Recommendation: You can pass on this one” will do.
If you keep these tips in mind while you write your report, you’re sure to turn in something stellar… and then you’ll definitely get the job!*
*Really, I cannot make that promise. DISCLAIMER: I (and YPG) have no authority regarding whether or not you get a job. But these tips will help you do the best work you can, and that definitely can’t hurt.
This article was contributed by YPG member Jess MacLeish. For more information, visit our Contributing Writers page.