I was having a chat with an agent yesterday, who was surprised when we got back to her with a detailed response to one of her submissions. “Did you actually read the book?” she asked. “Yeah? Why?” She claimed that ninety-five per cent of the book submissions she sends out are not actually read by publishers, editorial directors or editors, but by freelance readers “who are paid around £30-£40 per book”, and consequently have to read or skim-read two or three books a day, churning out hasty one-page reports which are then looked at by the publishers, digested in a split second and – if the title in question grabs their attention – discussed at publishing meetings with the Finance Directors, the number-crunchers.
Is this true? Can this be true? I refuse to believe it. It must be an agent’s distorted and frustrated view of the publishing world! I still want to think that there are actual people in publishing house who read books, and that the selection process is not left to some editor-at-large or random intern. The agent told me that she recently got another rejection to the same novel and, with it, the publishers had inadvertently left the reader’s report inside the manuscript they returned. The report was extremely positive, yet the book was not taken on because the publishers didn’t feel they could make it into a commercial success. Funnily enough – and revealingly – the synopsis was totally inaccurate, as if the professional reader had been reading another book altogether.
So what does it take to get published these days? I thought it took a good book and an enthusiastic publisher. But maybe I’m plain wrong, and possibly in the wrong line of business.