How to Write a Reader's Report



TIA HERE with some advice for any editorial intern-wannabe who has been asked if they can write a sample reader's report as part of an application to a publishing industry-related company. If you haven't written one before, you probably aren't sure where to start. Based on my experience interning at three different places within the publishing industry (an ebook publishing company, literary agency, and publishing house), here is my outline, with examples, on how to write a killer reader's report that will get you hired:

First, some general advice.

  • I will be putting these sections in the order I use, but some companies order things differently, and some use details that others don't (such as word count, marketability, series potential, film/TV potential, a list of comparable titles, etc.). It's a bit hit or miss in that regard, but the point of the internship is to learn the specific job's ins-and-outs. If you follow this general structure, you will be just fine.
  • Do not let your reader's report exceed a page! Just because you read a novel doesn't mean you should write one in reply. If you're reading 50 pages or less, it can be half of a page, but typically fitting your report onto one page is ideal. (And for clarity, I'm talking 1-inch margins, a 12-pt. font like Times New Roman, single spaced.)
  • Don't be afraid to Google/research in order to find the information you need. That includes stalking the author on social media to write them a good bio (if you like their story, at least—every little bit helps them) or looking up genres to attune yourself to the relevant industry lingo.
  • Don't spend lots of time on something you're rejecting. The manuscripts you're recommending to an agent/editor are the ones you should reward with lengthy and detailed reader's reports. You need to prove to your boss why a book is worth their time. If you hate something, trust your judgment—just make it clear why you want to reject it, and don't waste any more effort. A no is a no. And don't confuse your boss with "maybes," if you can avoid them.
  • In emails, you will typically write book titles out in all caps, but within a Word document, stick to italics. The only reason you ever use caps is if there is a chance that the italics will be cleared to plain text. This sometimes happens in emails.



And now onto the different sections of a reader's report!

  • Start with general labels: Put your name somewhere (probably in the header) along with what you're writing and when you're writing it.
    • For example: Report by John Doe (9/10/15)
  • Give a short description of the book: This will likely be one sentence and cover title, author's name, genre, summary, and an indication of whether or not you liked it.
    • For example: The Sweet Party Bus by Jane Doe is nonsensical YA contemporary fiction and follows the story of 15-year-old Joe Button, who must fight his principal in a boxing match to restore his right to party.
  • Dive into the summary: This can be a paragraph or two, depending on how complicated the story is and how much of the manuscript you've read. I'd stick to one if you can. Cover the basics and feel free to spoil the ending, or not—it's your call.
    • For example: Joe Button is obsessed with turning his high school's bus system into a series of party machines. Unfortunately, his grumpy, power-hungry principal denies his request each time, no matter how Joe proves the bus could be beneficial to the school, both financially and with morale. In his final request, Joe rallies the student body and marches down to the principal's office. To his surprise, the man offers him an opportunity to get just one of the buses he desires—if he can beat him in the boxing ring. Joe must train with the best of the best to be strong enough, and in the end, he begins to wonder if the party buses are really worth the toll that the boxing ring has on his weak arms.
  • Get into your commentary and don't hold back: In a paragraph, or two, or three, dive into everything you loved and hated about the story. Make it clear what led you to your rejection or recommendation, and be honest and detailed in your writing. This is the biggest and most important section of the reader's report and deserves the most of your time and effort.
    • For example: Joe's characterization is unconvincing. He is obsessed with the party bus idea and doesn't seem to think anything else might be a viable and equally entertaining alternative, even when the principal suggests other reasonable options. Similarly, the principal himself is nonsensical in his behavior, acting out and ridiculously in every situation. There is nothing predictable about his behavior, and this is not a good thing. He seems to be a different character in each interaction. In terms of plot, this story does nothing to help itself. It is all over the place and hardly follows a cohesive pattern, with an ineffectual climax on the last page that leaves the reader with no hope to recover from the bizarre and incomplete boxing match. Finally, the writing is subpar. The word choice is simple and sentence structure unvaried throughout. The only redeeming quality of this novel is the head cheerleader, Dana. She appears only twice but is an excellent, strong character who recognizes the ridiculousness of the story she is a part of.
  • Paste in the author's bio and fix the pronouns: Assuming the author included a relevant bio in their query, paste it in and make sure it's in the third person, rather than first person. If they don't have a bio and you really like their manuscript, look them up and try to find any thematically or writer-related information. This can be anything from one sentence to a full paragraph.
    • For example: Jane Doe is a party bus driver, but has no writing credentials.
  • Wrap it up with a concluding sentence that is quick and to-the-point: Include a little note about what brought you to your conclusion, the title, and whether or not you recommend it.
    • For example: Because of the disorganized story and poor writing, I do not recommend The Sweet Party Bus.

Hope this helps you out! Don't overthink it, and trust your instincts. You'll do just fine.

For more, check out Tia's new blog!

Much love,

T.