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"Dear -

I am writing to thank you for submitting your manuscript, `--', and acknowledge receipt of your reading fee. We have had it inspected by an experienced publisher's reader, and are glad to be able to say that her response has been very favourable. I enclose a copy of her reader's report.

I am therefore delighted to be writing to discuss terms for the publication of `--'. We would be happy to produce an initial print run of 200 copies, in semi-hard, illustrated covers. As you may know, many publishers are working on a partnership basis with writers in the current climate, and we feel that this would be especially suited to your work. We therefore will need to discuss your own contribution towards printing, paper, artwork and binding. I would be delighted to discuss this with you further on the number above, and look forward to being part of what will be a most rewarding project.

Yours sincerely,

Loretta Taylor,

Editor-in-Chief, Hardie & Eliot Publishers."

My job this week is to fill the gaps in this letter and the reader's report. And also, because Loretta has decided I'm trustworthy, to glance through manuscripts, pile together the pounds 50 cheques sent to cover reading costs, and divide the screed roughly into fiction, autobiography and special interest. Work is short again this week, and I've been lucky to secure a berth in this room overlooking a half-let shopping arcade, even if it is in Croydon.

It's just that I'm having trouble with my conscience. Hardie & Eliot is a vanity publisher, and makes profits on the back of everyone's wish to leave their mark on posterity. Loretta is editor-in-chief, publisher, copy editor and marketing manager. It's not that there's anything illegal about this. Manuscripts are, indeed, read by an experienced publisher's reader - Loretta - and there's no law against a response always being favourable. But the morality factor makes me squirm. After all, while I disapprove of this company exploiting people's vulnerability, I'm going along with it because I'd rather earn this week than not.

Advertising manager Loretta spends a couple of hours a week picking prime slots in which to run her small ads: "Publisher seeks new authors". Marketing manager Loretta talks up a storm when the new authors call in, reels them in like fish. Reader Loretta skims books to find a basic story (usually in the covering letter, anyway), some central names, a couple of themes, jots down adjectives for me to type into the report. And editor-in-chief Loretta gives the punters that all-important job title to boast about in the pub.

Loretta herself, I quite like: an English graduate turned entrepreneur, she indulges in the most blatantly self-serving self-justification. "Look," she says when she catches me grimacing at the thought of some poor fool believing that four grand is a fair price to pay for seeing his memoirs input by me, "I'm making them happy. They get to sign the flysheets and have a lifetime supply of Christmas presents". I don't really know what to say, for these people are, after all, providing my daily bread.

Loretta fills in another reader's sheet: "Monique Van Damme and Tiger O'Mara; attractive and convincing; VAT officers in the seaside resort of Scarborough". "You know, it's a valuable form of therapy," she says; "Everyone is convinced that they have a book in them. I help some of them see that dream come true." Loretta turns to her next task, a history of East Anglian mains drainage by a man called J W Smith. "By the way," she says, "Can you save all the names and addresses? Colin at the Excellence Academy of Creative Writing pays me three quid a time for those."

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