Good morning, everyone! I’m now home from Russia and with only five bruises to show for it – I severely underestimated how chaotic Moscow is. But at least the physical pain, travel sickness and exhaustion distracted me from worrying over my manuscript assessment. I spent so long wondering whether it would even be useful, whether they would shoot me down and tell me to give up writing as a bad job or if they would just have nothing interesting to say. As it turns out, I found the report quite useful, but manuscript assessments aren’t for everyone, so I wanted to share my thoughts and help you decide if it is something you want to invest in.
This topic may be new to some readers, so let me give you a brief explanation. A manuscript assessment is when you hire someone with relevant experience (usually as an editor, author or agent), to read through some or all of your manuscript and give you feedback on how it can be improved. The criticism can cover many areas depending on what you are looking for, including, plot, character development, flow, structure and even marketability. But before you jump into it, there are a few things to consider such as…
Even a cheap assessment is expensive and the more experienced your reader, the more you will have to pay. Mine was about middle of the road as far as price goes and it cost me £375 (equivalent to $637 at current exchange rate). For this price, I got a full manuscript read from an author who is published in the same genre as me. She wrote a seven page report which raised around 25 points which she would like to see changed or improved in my novel.
Even as a one-off cost, it’s completely understandable if you aren’t able to afford a full read. But my advice would be to not hunt for bargain basement assessments – you will get what you pay for. Instead, maybe consider buying a partial read. You could send off the first couple of chapters of even just a synopsis to give your reader an overall feel for what you are writing. They won’t be able to give you a scene-by-scene breakdown but they could give you useful insight into what to improve in your writing style or plot.
Choosing a Reader
If you’ve decided that you would like to buy an assessment, the most important thing is to choose a reader you trust. There are plenty of people out there offering assessments and while most of them are completely above board, there are some who are just looking to scam you out of your hard-earned cash so make sure you double and triple check your reader’s credentials before hiring them. If you are especially worried about this aspect, there are some manuscript assessment services which will help you find a reputable reader to work with. Personally, I chose to go with a group called The Literary Consultancy here in the UK. They have a great reputation and were able to find a reader who matched my style perfectly. But that’s not to say that you couldn’t use a freelance reader – just remember to do a background check first.
Aside from this security aspect, there are other things to consider when choosing a reader. What is their background? An author is more likely to give you advice on the flow and style of your story, an agent or publisher may be in a better position to talk about marketability. What genre do they work with? You want someone who is experienced with a similar style to yours. What country are they based in? The publishing industry works differently depending on where you live, so you want to make sure their knowledge is relevant to you.
Accepting and Using Criticism
When you’ve put your heart and soul into creating a manuscript, it can be difficult to accept criticism, especially if it means making a fundamental change to your plot or characters. But remember, your reader is offering you this advice because they want you to succeed, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. If you are having trouble dealing with criticism – and many people do – you could consider joining a creative writing group where you can share smaller portions of your book for review in a supportive environment. I found this was one of the most useful aspects of my university course. At first, I hated hearing people’s feedback – I felt like they were tearing my stories apart. But after a few months, I saw my work improving as a result and I came to crave their input.
Even when you are in the right mindset to receive constructive criticism, remember; you have the ability to veto advice if you completely, wholeheartedly disagree with it. But my advice would be to avoid completely rejecting criticism if you can. Most of it has at least a grain of truth to it, even if you don’t go as far as your reader suggested. For example a while ago, my reader suggested that I start a blog to stay engaged with the literary community. I completely dismissed it at first, but now I’m starting to like it!
For me, these are the three main items to think about when considering manuscript assessment. And as for the results of my own read, they tell me I’m off to a flying start, but there’s still work to be done. My fingers are aching just thinking about all the typing I have ahead of me.