Humanities: Publishing

Write a reader’s report of a manuscript for a literary agent or editor


Editorial assistants read manuscripts with an eye towards what might fit with their company’s list, whether they work for an agent, editor, publishing house, or literary magazine. Reader’s reports briefly summarize the manuscript and evaluate how well it fits with the company’s aesthetic, as well as the manuscript’s sales potential. Depending on your role in the organization you may read manuscripts that an editor or agent has specifically requested, or unsolicited manuscripts (aka “the slush pile”). For this exercise, you work for a general fiction publishing company.

The Process

Task 1: Evaluation

Before reading the manuscript, evaluate its length, genre, and formatting. Poor proofreading and lack of a cover page are signs that the author is not familiar with the conventions of writing.

Task 2: Reading

Read as much of the manuscript as you feel you need to to speak intelligently to its components. In other words, start at the beginning and read until you feel you can answer the following questions:

  • What is the basic plot? What is the premise of the book, and where and when is it set?
  • Who are the characters?
  • What is the writing style? Does the author tend to use long or short sentences, simple or complex words, section breaks such as chapters, etc.?
  • Who is the ideal reader of the book?
  • What other books does the manuscript remind you of?

Keep in mind that as you may read several manuscripts in a day, you should not devote more than 1-2 hours to reading.

Task 3: Writing the Report

Write a one-page report that an editor could use to decide whether to follow up with the manuscript’s author. The first half of the report should give the reader an idea of what the manuscript is, including a short plot summary and any relevant comparisons to other books currently on the market. In the second half of your report, express whether you believe the editor should move forward in publishing the manuscript and why. You may also use this space to suggest possible improvements to the manuscript.

Editors and agents handle a large volume of manuscripts, so your report must be clear, concise, and highly readable. Remember that your tone should be polite and respectful, no matter the quality of the book.

Sample Deliverable

Click here to download the sample manuscript

Reader’s Report: “Youth” by Isaac Asimov

Issac Asimov’s “Youth” is a short story, divided into fourteen sections, narrated by alternating perspectives. The text is within the realm of science-fiction and coming-of-age fiction. The author is familiar with the tropes of science fiction. The central sections present dialogues between two children and their parents as well as the staff members of their household. The other sections present the dialogue between the two ‘creatures’ the young boys find. In a Kafkaesque fashion, the characters’ names reflect a physical characteristic or a profession they have such as the Astronomer and the Industrialist. The sentences are primarily comprised of simple, even colloquial, language which makes the manuscript accessible to various readers. The ideal reader of Asimov’s text is the lover of science fiction, in particular the individual who also enjoys shows such as The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror where conceptions of reality are “bent” to indicate fictional, if potential and absurd, possibilities within the world we think we know.


Skills used to perform this task:

  • Clear, concise writing
  • Quick but comprehensive reading
  • Ability to formulate and present an opinion on a literary work

Skills needed in publishing careers:

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Communication skills

You are viewing a job simulation. To get started, set up SMART Goals to perform this simulation in a reasonable timeline. If you have completed the task, fill out the Self-Reflection Sheet.

Simulation author – Serena Solin, MFA
Job simulation vetted by publishers in St. Louis