The First Reader

Your first reader in a literary agency could be the person to decide your manuscript’s fate when it comes to being accepted for representation or rejected. Impressing that person is essential to your success. Just as we talked last week about the importance of your manuscript’s first page, it’s also important to understand what might go into your first reader’s judgment of your manuscript.

Who?

The first person to read your manuscript may be either an intern or an agent, depending on the agency you submit to. Many agents have interns or agent assistants who read slush pile manuscripts, but as we’ve said before, these people are trained to recognize quality that fits each agent.

The person reading your manuscript for the first time might be a salaried assistant…but he or she could also be an overworked, unpaid intern. Either way, it’s important not to bore that reader or waste his or her time. Ensuring that your query is polished and your submission follows all guidelines is a great place to start. After that, the process has begun and things are out of your hands.

How?

When you send an agent a query and submission, whoever receives your email will glance over it quickly. Since agents and their assistants and interns are very busy, they sort through submissions efficiently.

Your first reader will choose which submissions to open or ignore based on the agency’s guidelines, as well as their own personal interests. If your submission fits all guidelines and is accompanied by a great query, it will likely be opened and read. It’s important to remember, however, that many agents don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts at all. Your expected “first reader” may not actually read your manuscript if you’ve sent a submission outside of the agency’s policies.

Why?

As you consider your first reader, remember that subjective taste may impact your manuscript’s acceptance or rejection. Don’t become dismayed if you are rejected by many agents along your road to publication. (A post later this month will specifically address rejections and how to manage and move on from them.)

If you are rejected, you might get an explanation of why the agent didn’t want to move forward with your manuscript. Likely, this will be a brief description of why the manuscript needs more work or why it doesn’t quite fit the agent’s list. Sometimes, an agent might read your manuscript and like it a lot, but not feel that it’s ready to be agented. In that case, the agent may ask you to revise and resubmit before taking you on.

If you don’t receive an explanation of why you were rejected, however, that wouldn’t be abnormal at all. Many agents send form rejections, unfortunately (again, they’re crunched for time), but the good thing is that you’ve had eyes on your manuscript and you can keep submitting elsewhere.


Overall, your first reader at an agency is very important to your manuscript. However, there will be a lot of “first” readers. Each agency will have one. Your manuscript landing on the right desk at the right time in the right iteration is key to finding an agent. Impressing that first reader is just one of the first steps.

Keep at it, and I’ll be back next week for March’s monthly mini-post! If you have time, please fill out our community survey to help me continue to improve the site and post content geared towards your interests! Thank you!

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