I read a bit over four hundred manuscript pages today.
That's not a particularly large number for me. I can double that number in a single day if I'm really cooking. I've never yet hit that magical thousand-page mark, but it has been within reach plenty of times.
Four hundred pages is a good, steady pace on a day when I don't have a lot of production or scheduling or other balls in the air. Four hundred pages is 30 or so short partials with synopses and cover letters. Or one full novel. Or a couple of long novellas. No editing, just reading.
Four hundred pages barely puts a dent in my inbox. Four thousand pages, now that might be noticeable. Forty thousand might get me caught up, for the moment. But four hundred? Bah.
How many pages of raw work would you all say you read over the course of a year? Count your pages. Your critique partner's pages. Classmates, online groups, any pages that are not finished, published pages. Do you get above ten thousand? I'm not trying to be all "my dad's bigger than your dad" here, but I do want to illustrate a point.
There were some comments made behind the scenes recently to the effect that Alicia and I are hypersensitive to very fine nuances in prose. Thank you. I assume it was intended to be a compliment because, after all, it means I'm good at my job.
When you read as much as we do, and when so many of those pages are raw pages which we are charged with fixing, it becomes almost automatic to notice certain things. Verb density. Sentence structures. Word choices that undercut or enhance or lie like dead fish on the page. Experience teaches us that if we spot these things in the first few lines of a text, we'll find them all over the manuscript.
And, to be truthful, you don't even have to look hard to spot these things, both the good and the bad. A trained eye sees them as quickly and easily as a hot pink Hummer parked in a driveway.
Of course, we also want to evaluate your characters and plot and conflicts. But, you know, we usually have to read more than three lines to do that. And the problem is, as we're reading enough to get to the point where we can make some judgments about your characters and plots and conflicts, we have to read through the hot pink Hummers. And the banana yellow Cadillacs. And the flawless silver Bentleys with upholstery that smells like money.
The funny thing about doing all these openings here on the blog is that I've become very conscious of how quickly my eye absorbs things from the page. When I'm writing a post about an opening, breaking it down for you all, I feel like I'm dropping down to a very slow pace so that I can record the impressions and judgments which are typically formed instantaneously.
In other words, I don't pick up a fresh submission and read the first page with any conscious intent of decoding the sentences. It just happens. It's almost intuitive.
Do I read a submission the same way I write about openings here? Yes and no. Yes, because these posts are representative of the things I notice. And no, because I don't stop reading to consciously think, "Oh, great use of comparative language there!" Or, "Aw, gee, too bad about the present participles." I just read until I reach the point where I may stop reading because I've read enough.
This is also why I usually have two sections in every post about openings, the first impressions and the fine breakdown. I want to give the experience both ways, the fast way where we read all at once and form judgments, and the precise way where our minds are in the background ticking off points as we go. Alicia's presentation is different, but you know, we're doing basically the same thing.
I don't know if it's at all useful to explain this, but maybe it will add some perspective.