Back in the day when writers snail-mailed manuscripts to literary agents and editors, these hard-working, often overwhelmed publishing industry professionals were flooded with submissions. An agent told me that when she came to work one Monday morning, she couldn’t open the door to her office because her desk—which had collapsed under the weight of all the manuscripts—had fallen against the door.
And a senior editor at a top New York publishing house told me that she has so much reading to do that she looks for any infraction of the submission guidelines—such as incorrect margin width—to reject a manuscript, just to try to clear her desk. So if she’d received Gone with the Wind or the first Harry Potter manuscript with half-inch margins instead of the required one-inch margins, she would have rejected them without reading them at all.
So, agents and editors, to be sure you snag the next bestseller before someone else gets it, use a few simple speed-reading tricks.
- Let your purpose for reading (to get through a pile of manuscripts, research, learn a skill, read for fun) determine your approach and level of comprehension: remember in depth (90-100%), for fun (50-70%) or just to be aware the material exists if you might need it again (30-50%).
- Skim through all non-fiction manuscripts, paying special attention to introductions, conclusions, and subtitles. Then read more slowly if the material looks good.
- Skim contracts twice before reading them, the first time looking for negatives words such as no, not, and never—put a pencil check in the margins next to negative words, and the second time to get the big picture. And then read the contract at whatever speed you need to. Your entry level, what you already know about a subject
And now I trust that you’ll keep an eye out for my next book proposal for a fabulous how-to, self-improvement book—about seeing through the illusions in our lives—destined to become a classic.