Professional Speed Reader?
June 7, 2010 2:42 PM   Subscribe

I read really fast. Can I make money with this skill?

Ever since I was a kid I have been able to speed through books. It dawned on me when I was about 7 that I was blowing through a whole stack of Baby-Sitter's Club books in one day. I had teachers who simply didn't believe that I could read that fast and made me take tests on the material. I've always done very well on the reading comprehension section of standardized tests.

When I think about my skills, this is the only one that stands out to me as truly unique, since I've never met anyone in real life who can read the way I do (though I've read about them online). I know reading ability is something of a passive skill on its own, but I also frequently enjoy writing summaries of things that I read.

Except for a brief stint teaching, I've never had a job that required reading ANYTHING, so I don't have any professional experience. My question is, can I leverage this speed reading ability into some kind of career tactic or part-time money making opportunity?

I've thought about the following: script reader (script coverage work seems to go to interns), book reviewer (I don't know how to actually get paid without any credentials as a writer, etc.), and proofreader (also no credentials).

Just a note: I'm not specialized in any sort of technical field or law, so I can't speed read my way through industry-specific documents. I also can't speed read good poetry or really deep philosophical texts. I don't have a photographic memory, just fast eyes I guess.

Does anybody have any experience as a script reader, book reviewer, etc.? I'm open to part-time, full-time, and any and all ideas.
posted by funfetti to Work & Money (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It's a great gift or knack, but everything I think of you're going to have to put WITH something to monetize it. How is your retention and understanding of technical reading? Law school comes to mind, if you're at a state in life where you can take it on. Proofreading is a legit, but narrow, career field, but perhaps requires an English degree, I dunno.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:50 PM on June 7, 2010

I've thought the same thing as you on this, but these days it's hard to get paid as a book reviewer. (I always thought I should be the one who gets assigned to review the Harry Potter book the next day, but back when I worked in small town media, no dice.) There aren't a whole lot of things out there that require someone to read it and report back ASAP either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:54 PM on June 7, 2010

Law school comes to mind, if you're at a state in life where you can take it on.

I've been to law school, and it's one place where you have to read really slowly. I've always been a slow reader so I can't speak from direct experience, but I imagine that as a speed reader you'd need to sort of re-teach yourself how to read if you went to law school.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:56 PM on June 7, 2010

You may be able to find paralegal type work in document review. My beef with this is that clients are billed hourly, so if you read super-fast you get paid the same as the guy who reads super-slow if you're doing the same work. (I spent a summer doing paralegal work in college to see if I liked law enough to go to law school; I would get through 3-4 times as much material as the other summer intern in 8 hours, which could be frustrating.) But your work will be highly valued if you are fast and accurate and cheaper than a first-year lawyer. A lot of document review isn't particularly specialized; you're reading through e-mails and interviews and other documents and perhaps sorting them into categories, or coding them for particular items of interest, or highlighting, or creating summaries.

There is a contract market for this kind of work; I think you could possibly also build a freelance business with small- and medium-sized firms that sometimes need extra eyes for a large litigation but don't have enough of the work to maintain the staff in house, and may not have enough work to want to pay an established contractor.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:58 PM on June 7, 2010

(Oh, and mostly the contract companies that do document review are in large cities -- or overseas. While documents can be sent out, electronically or otherwise, I do think there would be a market in smaller cities for someone local who would be cheaper, able to work on-site, etc.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:59 PM on June 7, 2010

It depends on what you're doing when your reading the text.

Proof-reading (I would imagine) requires you to not auto-correct mistakes in your head to aid comprehension - which I find is quite common. You're reading something relatively quickly, there's a small mistake and your brain goes "well, I know what they're trying to say" and skips over it. If you're spotting all the mistakes, then you could utilise your skill this way. It would also require you to not work out the meaning of a sentence - instead of being all "oh, this is what they mean" I imagine you'd have to suggest a better phrasing. Again, if you can do this, maybe you could get into that.

One area you could start in would be proof-reading dissertations, especially those of foreign students.

Book-reviewing (I would imagine) depends only about 20% on the reading part, 40% on the analysing the book part, and 30% on the writing a good review part. So if you can form an opinion on a text and then write a solid review delivering that then I guess that you could possibly start a career doing that if you can form an opinion.

Maybe you could approach a local paper or magazine, and also start a blog?

As for stuff like law school - reading quickly helps, but really the trick is comprehension and working out how something fits into what you already know. It's an excellent part of the toolkit, but it's not the only element. It's handy not because of the subject itself but because of the shear amount of reading that you have to do.

Did you spot the various errors in the above?
posted by djgh at 3:01 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Same here - could chew through,and enjoy, a Nancy Drew in fourteen minutes when I was nine-ish, timed myself once when I realized I was running out of books really fast.

Reading fast has helped me in a general way - I work with technical things, and being able to read and understand really quickly has helped me in learning new work-related things and keeping abreast of changes in the industry (being able to read several articles on the bus ride home, for example).
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:02 PM on June 7, 2010

I have experience as a script reader, and it's basically got nothing to do with reading fast. I mean yeah, you can't do it being the world's slowest reader, but the key is your assessment of the script, not how fast you read it. If you're motivated/interested/skilled in story, character, tempo, etc., then you may want to look into it. But also, do you live in LA? Or maybe NYC? If not, forget it. And also do you not need very much money? Because it doesn't pay very well. Also, you won't be treated particularly well, and I'd keep away unless you're planning a career in the entertainment industry.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:12 PM on June 7, 2010

What about a clippings service? Granted, I don't think it pays tremendously well but one of my friends used to get paid to read the newspaper every day and mark every mention of a particular company, issue, etc. I'm sure with keyword searches there's less of a human element but not everything can be digitised yet!
posted by ukdanae at 3:15 PM on June 7, 2010

Re clipping services - I used to work in media monitoring and speed reading doesn't come into it - it's all digitalised to cut down on staffing costs and most of us who worked in that field are now out of jobs!
posted by ozgirlabroad at 3:27 PM on June 7, 2010

I'm a very fast reader, too. The only field that it ever seemed a benefit in wasn't particularly well-paying: I worked for a while reading and grading essay questions for standardized tests. It was kind of fun, but also kind of exhausting and depressing. So, uh, yeah, don't go that route, though reading quickly will definitely make you more attractive in that industry.

How's your writing speed? If you can produce coherent and compelling reviews or summaries, you may be able to find a good niche for yourself producing a newsletter on genre fiction for local book clubs, or something like that.
posted by lriG rorriM at 3:48 PM on June 7, 2010

Response by poster: Law school, while feasible, doesn't really excite me. I've thought about it as a vague option but I really don't think it's for me. My academic interests are unfortunately stuck in humanities and education (which is why I haven't gone back to school).

The paralegal work, however, sounds interesting. I'll check into that.

Things I forgot to add: I am in L.A. (hence script reading), I'm only in my 20s so grad school or training is an option, I have a B.A. in Digital Media (web design) but little experience in documenting code and no experience in engineering.

Another thing I've thought about is indexing, but I don't know exactly what the process entails.

Re: proofreading, I totally understand what you're saying about glossing over errors for speed! I definitely do that sometimes, but I also get really bummed when I read a paper that is incomprehensibly bad, or one that is written well except for a few glaring. I would definitely need to learn the style guides and probably take an English class or two to brush up on grammar. I am willing to get legitimate training in something that I'd love to do.
posted by funfetti at 3:50 PM on June 7, 2010

Response by poster: ^ *Except for a few glaring errors. So much for proofreading, we can probably cross that off the list right now!
posted by funfetti at 3:52 PM on June 7, 2010

Research assistant. I've done it for a few different authors, none of whom were working on subjects I knew much about, and ability to read quickly is of great use.

I would skim through large amounts of books, old newspaper articles, etc. looking for things I knew were somewhat related to their subjects. For example, I read the personal letters from one historical figure to another, hoping they would gossip about a third person; the third person was the subject of a biography my employer was working for.

I've worked as an indexer, and being able to read quickly wasn't all that relevant (in my limited experience). It's useful but not vital.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:08 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

No one in publishing likes indexing, so there's a fair amount of freelance work available. But indexing has two things working against it. (1) It's a print art, and to the extent that things are no longer made into books, it's dying. (2) People think they can automate the process. You can search a PDF for keywords, right? Let's write a program to create an index! Those indexes are not usually good, but in many cases they're good enough (after some in-house editor spends a day to make them passable).

I find proofreading to be extremely visual. Things have to look wrong. Having a memory that is photographic enough to know how things looked right on the page before is very useful. But that might be just be me.

There are people who are paid to write abstracts of articles. I'm not very familiar with this field, so I don't know if they can paid per an article. But if you can read fast, and summarize fast, that might work. But research assistant sounds like the best option so far.
posted by ifandonlyif at 7:23 PM on June 7, 2010

Standardized test scorer
posted by zepheria at 9:07 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you know another language? You could charge a good amount to do translation work in various fields.
posted by querty at 9:59 PM on June 7, 2010

Politicians, political parties, think tanks, lobbies, and watchdog groups employ legislative researchers under various job titles to zoom through bills, hearings transcripts, and other records in search of what's important to them. All analogous to what a paralegal might do, but with politics and political strategy shaping the filters more than law and doctrine.

I know a congressional staffer who initially broke into this by volunteering for a congresswoman to distill a stack of material into briefing papers on a policy topic of mutual interest. If there's an issue you care about a lot and a politician who does, too, you could pursue that route as well.
posted by gum at 3:47 AM on June 8, 2010

When everyone above mentions script reading, what is the purpose of that? To find the next great blockbuster? or some other reason?

I'm asking because I've been watching Mad Men, and the advertising agency needed someone to read scripts to see if there were opportunities for the advertising clients to purchase related ads or do product placement. If this is different than what you all mean when you say script writing, then I'm suggesting it to the OP. Of course that was in 1960 and I don't know if advertising agencies still need that type of work.
posted by CathyG at 9:11 AM on June 8, 2010

when you say script writing

script reading
posted by CathyG at 2:35 PM on June 8, 2010

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