A reader is someone, usually freelance, who is hired to read submissions and give us "reader reports". A reader report is a summary of the book, and a bit of critique. This can range from a three page rant on the ridiculousness of the characters, to a succinct three lines....Three lines? Does Ms. Genoese mean to say that after you go to all the trouble of polishing your manuscript and sending it to her, it's quite possible that all she'll ever see of your brilliance is a measley three line summary?
Not all editors use readers, but you're never going to know who's doing it and who isn't. Writers often feel cheated when they learn their work has been read by someone other than the editor to whom they sent it, but Ms. Genoese explains why she can't read every submission--even the ones she has requested:
Unless someone is an author we're already working with, chances are good that a full ms. is going to get sent off to a reader. Some editors use them more than others, of course. The bare truth is that editors have a lot of freaking things to read, and those things are more important than submissions.
Yes, we value submissions. That is how we find new authors to publish. But we really do have to focus our energies on the stuff we have under contract already, the stuff we're going to use to make money for our company. Readers are really helpful as sifters. We have so many submissions -- forget the slush for a second. Just looking around my own office, I have more than twenty full manuscripts that I requested! Other editors have more (some have fewer), but either way -- I can't read all of those within a month of when I requested them and edit the five novels on my desk and do deals for two more books and -- well, etc.
A professional reader (or an editorial assistant) knows what her editor is looking for, or she wouldn't have the job she does. If there's any chance that an editor might like a submission, surely the reader is going to urge the editor to give it a look. So maybe this system isn't as unfair to writers as it sounds.
I have sometimes been accused of "discouraging" aspiring authors, but the facts are these: Very, very few of the people who submit manuscripts will ever be published, no matter how long they keep at it or how much they ache for it. Even talent isn't as big a factor as many seem to believe. You may be writing great stuff but missing the current market by a mile. And practice does not always make perfect. Even the very best how-to-write books and workshops and critique partners can't guarantee you'll get published. Just like taking violin lessons and practicing until your fingers bleed can't ensure you'll make it to Carnegie Hall. Maybe you just don't have what it takes.
But here's the good news: Lots of editors have kicked themselves for failing to recognize the Next Big Thing when it sat on their desks. That means no rejection should be taken as the final verdict on your work. So you've submitted your project to seven different editors. Why stop now? How can you know the eighth submission won't result in a sale? But even if your story truly stinks, that doesn't mean your writing does. Maybe you'll sell your next story. Or the one after that.
If you want to sell a novel, you're going to have to put your heart on the line and risk seeing that sucker stomped flat. And it probably will get stomped flat. Again and again. But you can't win if you don't play, so don't give up!