Interview with… The Mysterious Anonymous Editor!

I was so curious about report readers in romance, I emailed an editor who was kind enough to answer my questions but asked that I leave names out of it. So! Mysterious Anonymous Editor tells me everything I want to know about report readers, and I figured I’d share it with y’all.

Can you tell me more about report readers? What do they do, and what are you looking for in a romance report reader? And how did Cassie Edwards get past the report reader?

M.A.E.: Basically, readers review manuscripts for an editor. Different
publishers probably do things very differently, I am sure, but in my
experience, they are primarily used to review full manuscripts that an
editor would like feedback on. I personally would never just take a
reader report as a reason to sign or reject a book — I would review
at least part of it myself first. I primarily find it helpful as it
weeds out the heinous and mediocre, and allows me to devote the little
time I have to review the better submissions.

As for what the reports actually are — that varies greatly from
editor to editor. Some of the reports can be quite formal and
analytical, others can be more casual. I personally like a casual,
chatty style — I guess because what I am editing is popular fiction,
I want a typical reader reaction to it. I don’t mind snark in my
reports, and if something is so bad it is an offense to mankind, I
want to be informed of it. In my experience, reports can be as long as
3 to 5 pages, or as short as a paragraph. Mostly, what I want to see
in a report is what the reader thinks of the story, WHY they think
that, and specific examples of any problems they see in the
manuscript. If they like the manuscript, it is also helpful to know
what it is that they like about it as well.

As to how Cassie Edwards sold to begin with…that is a mystery for
the ages. Once an
author is signed, readers are no longer used. Maybe her editor had a Native American fetish, maybe she
likes really bad prose. Maybe she had just said to herself “Self, you
know what I really need to publish? Really tacky Indian romances. Why,
what is this submission on my desk? Passion’s Savage Wind? This is

Are there people for whom reader reporting is their full time job?

M.A.E: I have no clue
what other publishers pay, but I do know it is a lot of work for
little money. As far as I know most people do reader reports on a part time
basis — it would be awful hard to make a living at it, that’s for

I’m completely fascinated like the noob I am with the report readers who look over manuscripts and write up brief reports on whether they should see the shelves. It’s like a secret society that mans the first gate of publication before the Greek tycoon’s virgin mistress can moon the gatekeeper long enough to distract him and run through where the rest of the romances waiting to be published pound on the door kept by the editorial assistant, and shove each other aside so that Lord Dinnae Ken’s kilt flies up and shows off his boy howdy to Viscount Hawkenscresterfield, who frowns thoughtfully and adds a line to his secret blog because he traveled through time to 2007 where Jessica Inez Sarah Michelle Jenkins (aka showed him the internet and he really didn’t need a Viscountess after that.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Ipomoea says:

    Here’s a question that’s been running through my mind recently: how many small presses employ/use copy editors?  I’ve been reading a ton of Ellora’s Cave, and there are some copy editing errors that make me want to weep in frustration (your/you’re, etc.)  What about large presses, as I’ve found copy editing errors in first printings that make me crazy.  I want to read the good dirty stuff, but as an English major, there’s nothing like a misused contraction to bump me out of the mood.

  2. 2
    Cathy in AK says:

    Thanks for asking those burning questions, Sarah, and thanks for answering, M.A.E.  Loved that last bit.

  3. 3

    Sarah – are you thinking of becoming a report reader yourself? Because I’ll bet you’d be AWESOME at it!!

    Ipomoea – there are editors and line editors in place at EC and still the typos get through. Found some in my own books, I’m ashamed to admit. I think they multiply in transit from my computer to theirs…

  4. 4
    Angela James says:

    Here’s a question that’s been running through my mind recently: how many small presses employ/use copy editors?

    Samhain has a “staff” of 12 copy editors (who are seperate from the content editors). I can’t answer for other small presses, though I know from anecdotal evidence from authors that not all do employ them. For some, the “editor” is the content and copy editor. I think it’s an issue of money. And it’s not easy to find a good copy editor. In the past year, I’ve had 500 applicants (I keep a spreadsheet), though not all have gone through the testing process, I’d say there were at least 300 who did. Of those, I think I’ve hired five (off the top of my head without looking at the spreadsheet). And there were a lot of English majors in those applicants ;) It’s just not an easy job and it takes a really amazing person to do it.

    If you’re interested in “testing” just for fun, email me and I’ll send you the manuscript.

  5. 5
    Lucy says:

    “Lord Dinnae Ken” will have me laughing for days.

  6. 6
    shaina says:

    um, my question is, HOW DO I GET TO BE ONE???????

  7. 7
    Cori says:

    That’s quite an analogy you’ve got going there, SB Sarah. Also, the comment notifier word is eviling at me. Why doesn’t it believe that I am human?

  8. 8
    Janice says:

    I am so confused by the last sentence of this post.

  9. 9
    Wry Hag says:


    I’ve placed books with five or six different epubs, including Samhain and EC, and it’s obvious there’s a qualitative difference among editors—even those within a given company.  I’ve dealt with stellar to near-stupid.  Maybe it’s a matter of “you get what you pay for”.  Beats me.  I don’t know how to account for the uneven output.


    Helluva hallucinatory sentence, that last one.  Or dream sequence.  Or Joycean stream-of-spewciousness.  In any case, I want some of what you injested just before you wrote it.  (Pay ya, too.)

  10. 10

    I have – a lot – of publishers. And the quality varies, it really does. Not just house to house but editor to editor. I’ve been around a few years now, known a few editors and I can’t fathom it.
    My copy is fairly clean (or so I’m told) and I try hard to keep it that way because then the editor can really concentrate on the iffy bits and help me make a better book, not just a better spelled book.
    Copy editors are wonderful, really, they notice stuff that has been through 3 edits (eh, Angie?) and neither the author or her editor has noticed, and when you do, it’s hammer head against the nearest wall time.
    I remember one book of mine which had a misplaced apostophe on the first page. This was a book that had been through 3 hard edits and a copy editor. It got stellar reviews and yet all I could remember was that bloody apostrophe! I saw it as soon as I opened the file when it was sent to me.

  11. 11

    I know some readers aren’t bothered by historical inaccuracies, but they drive me crazy!  I’m not talking little things, like whether a lady in 1818 would have been wearing a long corset or a short corset, but the Regency romance that included a visit to the Eiffel Tower, or the historicals that claim all you needed to get divorced in the 19th Century was to say you wanted a divorce.

    Are readers required to offer credentials if they’re reviewing historical romance? 

    And ranting aside, I enjoyed reading this article.  Thank you for getting the interview, SB Sarah.  It was informative.

  12. 12
    darlynne says:

    If the SBs ever look for a new or supplemental title for Good Shit vs. Shit to Avoid, my vote goes to “Heinous and Mediocre” followed closely by “So Bad It Is An Offense to Mankind.” Or either of them could be new ratings for books that don’t qualify for an F. I really enjoyed your M.A.E. She (oops, shouldn’t assume) is quite wonderfully snarky.

  13. 13
    Ann Bruce says:

    I wanna read the snark from the report reader reject pile.  Any way MAE would be willing to share some of those?

    I don’t know about other author’s editors, but the ones at EC are seriously overloaded.  I love mine and I think she likes me, but that’s because I’m ruthless with my manuscripts so they’re fairly clean before my editor sees it.  That way, instead of focusing on dangling participles, she can make comments like “I’m not sure how they got into that position.”  (Not that she’s ever made that particular comment.)

  14. 14
    Ann Bruce says:

    Oh, moral of the story: be kind to your editors and be ruthless with your manuscript.  In the end, it’s your name on the cover.

  15. 15
    Pai says:

    How does one go about applying to be a Report Reader?

  16. 16
    fiveandfour says:

    The last sentence of that interview is made of awesome.

    I’ve been finding it interesting that it seems as though I see more errors now than I used to; my assumption was that spell and grammar check would catch a lot of things and make it easier.  Maybe too easy?

  17. 17
    jessica says:

    Who is Cassie Edwards and why does everybody seem to hate her?

  18. 18
    Keira Soleore says:

    Sarah, that last paragraph was fantastic!!!!

  19. 19
    Pai says:

    Jessica—read some of the ‘F Grade’ book reviews here; Edwards’ novels are featured in several. Plenty of snark-tastic details are provided there.

  20. 20

    “I’ve been finding it interesting that it seems as though I see more errors now than I used to; my assumption was that spell and grammar check would catch a lot of things and make it easier.  Maybe too easy?”

    Spell checkers won’t find words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly – like “peek” and “peak” or even just things like “thought” and “though”. The only way for me to pick up things like that on my own work is to read out loud because then my eyes don’t just gloss over what I *think* I wrote.

    And yes, at the end of the day, it’s my name on the book, not my editor’s.

  21. 21

    Jessica—you can also read some “F” reviews of Edwards’ books at All About Romance, but they won’t make you spew Coke out of your nose like the reviews here.

    No one here hates Ms. Edwards, we’re just puzzled by the whole publishing phenomenon that keeps her books in print.

  22. 22
    Jules Jones says:

    fiveandfour: one of the problems with the spool chucker is that it’s led many people to believe that editing consists of checking the spelling and grammar, and thus all you need to do now that we have word processors is run the manuscript through the electronic checkers. The error of this view is shown by the existence of nicknames like “spool chucker”…

  23. 23
    MplsGirl says:

    Thanks, SB Sarah! This interview was great and reminded me of my intern days.  When I was a publishing intern we were encouraged to complete readers reports for mss from the slush.

    Many (dare I say, most?) small and indie publishers use copyeditors; most of us freelance out copyedit work. My house has a “stable” of copyeditors who can work with our type of content. We also have an in-house copyeditor; she does proof merges, among other things.

    Copyediting is expensive. We just received an invoice on a book for copyediting that came to more than $9,000. This is an exceptionally expensive project on a specialized topic. On an average book we pay between $1500-$3000 for copyediting; then we pay another freelancer for the proofreading of galley pages. We proof second and third pages in-house.

    I once worked at a house with a managing editor who had a five mistake rule—five or fewer mistakes was her threshold for an acceptable book. She always assigned an intern to proofread a book after it arrived from the printer to both give interns some proofreading experience and to verify the five mistakes threshold.

  24. 24
    fiveandfour says:

    one of the problems with the spool chucker is that it’s led many people to believe that editing consists of checking the spelling and grammar

    I think this is probably the heart of the problem: people perhaps don’t mean to rely on word processing programs to catch errors as much as they do, but because that safety net is there they don’t watch their step quite like they would without it. 

    Speaking from experience with using a typewriter one minute and a PC the next, I can say I’m far more conscious of each and every letter and word, not to mention what I intend to say and how I intend to say it, when typing on a typewriter where it’s a painful process to correct errors or misstatements.

    Of course, I think it’s also possible that past writers made just as many errors as are made today and it was the process of re-typing that helped to catch them.  There’s nothing like a manual process that’s painful to start over/repeat for getting people to pay attention to what they’re doing.

  25. 25
    Baconsmom says:

    Add me to the list of people who’d like to apply to be a reader. Or a copy editor, if anyone will test me without a college edumacation.

  26. 26
    TracyS says:

    I’d love to be a report reader.  Being paid to read books? What could be better?!

  27. 27
    Ruth Bygrave says:

    Please, me too. I would be very pleased to get into proofreading/copy editing/slushpile combing.

    Regards, Ruth

  28. 28
    Randi says:

    I’m thowing in my vote to be a report reader! How does one go about doing such a thing?

  29. 29
    taybug says:

    Okay, SB Sarah, what’s with the JISMJ blog?

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