Seasons of Reading

dawn frederick

I remember at the age of 18 finally getting my first bookstore job. It was quite the process, with many applications, but finally a bookstore opened its door. Of course this was a game changer in my career choice, of which I’ll always be grateful that Kim the bookstore manager gave my young adult self an opportunity.

I imagined the life of a bookseller was lots of time to read while at work. I learned fairly quickly that wasn’t the case, as the care and keeping of any bookstore requires lots of time and figurative elbow grease. Maybe some stretching too, as moving books around all day is quite the workout.

When I became a literary agent, I assumed I’d have even more time to read. It was a wake-up call to learn agents do quite a bit of work beyond reading new ideas. By this point, I realized that anyone who works with books (let alone words) will find themselves lacking enough time read for pleasure and professionally. (This may be the reason we all have so many unread books on our shelves.)

Being an agent and owner of a literary agency, the challenge is even more present. I had the experience this past holiday season where 88 partial and full manuscripts needed to be read due to a self-imposed deadline of December 21st. I started this task the week before Thanksgiving. I won’t go into details on just how much time or energy it took, but the burn out was tangible by the time I finished reading the last book idea. While I love a good book any day, reading that many ideas in a month resulted in serious brain freeze. This was not pleasure reading any longer, I was reading books with a professional eye, needing to read them at a brisk pace no less.

This is the challenge in the life of any agent or editor. We began these careers because we loved books, but also need to ensure we do our jobs properly. It’s a delicate balancing act and a constant reminder that we remember our roots in books on a daily basis. Both the writers and readers will benefit if this stays at the front of our minds.

In order to keep our heads in a good place, there has to be time to read books for pleasure—where there’s no personal involvement other than to enjoy reading a good book. It’s always nice to get some air, to step back, and read for fun, so that we can hit the reset button and appreciate our roles in the life of any book.

I now have a policy of stepping back from reading requested materials and reading books for fun; in categories I represent, as well as categories I don’t work with. This choose-your-reading-path always makes it easier to read requested materials later on; if anything it helps me engage with my authors more. When I took up this practice two years ago, I noticed my perspective as an agent benefited my authors. It carried over into the books that interested me, but also added new layers in how about I go about selling my authors’ books. I tackled the requested materials with an energy that helped me see these new ideas through clearer lenses.

After December 21st of last year, I took a two week break from any reading. My eyes just hurt from the strain of reading for so many hours leading up to that day. I slowly but surely started picking up books again by mid-January. Now I’m almost back into my monthly book average of books read for pleasure, ironically my head feels clearer than it did at the end of 2018. Just even reading three books over this past holiday weekend resulted in reading some requested materials from 2019 afterwards. It was nice to see that energy return, without the eye strain or stress of trying to read so many ideas in a narrow window of time.

It’s important to remember that every agent generally will work with categories they’re well-read in. This always provides a valuable perspective of what’s working for today’s narratives, as well as what isn’t working. As a writer, agent, or editor, it should a secondhand nature to read for pleasure, while bringing a professional perspective for new ideas we consider for publication. These seasons of reading are a vital part of the life of a writer or publishing person. So go with the flow, however your personal reading seasons are structured, and never feel guilty about reading a book for fun. This is why you’re here today, this is why we’re all here.