Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Manuscript Assessment Services Revisited

In my first ever post, which feels like it was written a million years ago but was actually written in February, I lamented the fact that I was waiting for a professional assessment of the Ghost of Ping-Ling, and my wait seemed to be going on forever. It did finally come, about four weeks after I wrote that post. Was it worth it? At the time I thought it was. The assessor made some helpful comments and I acted on them, and I think the book is better for it. But now I think I could have achieved the same result without spending anything like the money I did, and in a fraction of the time.

If you pay to have someone assess your manuscript, it costs approximately $500 for 80,000 words. For that you get a 10-20 page report, detailing everything from plot holes to weaknesses in dialogue, character, grammar etc. You get ONE person's opinion, and they may or may not understand/appreciate/like the genre/style of what you have written.

Looking back over my assessor's report, there were some good and helpful things, like I said. But there was a heck of a lot of bumf as well. Many comments were made that were plainly subjective, objections were raised that demonstrated that the manuscript had not been read with particular care, and occasionally things were said that were so left-field I still don't understand the point that was being made. In fact, there was nothing helpful mentioned that wasn't also identified by friends who read and made comments - and their comments were free (except for bribes like bottles of wine etc).

Another interesting thing: the assessment service I used advertised that if a manuscript was considered "publishable" they would include a letter of recommendation to be passed on to agents and publishers. Of course, now that I read publishers and agents blogs, I discover such letters make not the slightest difference, and get thrown out along with the envelope they came in.

End result? In my (humble) opinion, these assessment services are a complete waste of time and money. It's far better to trust the opinion of friends, and to use online crit-groups like Online Writer's Workshop, which costs hardly anything and exposes your work to lots of informed readers, not just one.

You live and learn. What a difference five months can make.


  1. Hi Peter, I'm so glad you posted on this topic. I'm going to pay for a critique of my first thirty pages, but I'm using a critique service offered through the NC Writers' Network. As soon as I get my critique back from them, I'll let you know what happened so we can compare notes.

    I'm like you in that I've found OWW to be a wonderful experience, and I don't mind the annual fee. I really think the members of OWW prevented me from submitting my manuscript for publication before it was really ready.

    Speaking of OWW, I'm going to be zooming in on those new chapters you posted this evening -- BWAHAHAHAHA -- ahem -- sorry, I don't know what came over me . . . *smile*

  2. A comment! Wow! :-)

    Hi Teresa,

    I read your entry yesterday about analysing critiques - sounds like we're chewing over the same kind of things (I was going to add a comment, but I haven't signed up for Wordpress).

    I think the two equal dangers of criticism are

    1) assuming that everything a critic says is correct.

    2) assuming that everything a critic says is wrong.

    The tough thing is working out what to take on board and what to leave. My suspicion is this gets easier with time.

    Good luck with the 30 page critique - I'm interested to hear how you find it!


  3. Hi Peter
    just came across your blog. This may be old news to you now, and as a full-time ms assessor, mentor, editor, and author, obviously I'm biased. I always remember a comment made by a senior editor at Algonquin, that any editors are only right 50% of the time.
    Of course you can improve your own ms and not pay a cent, except for many hours of your own time. You can also publish your own book and distribute it yourself, put in your own plumbing, build your own car, etc. If you find a good assessor, you can learn some of what you need to know about your ms in a shorter timeframe. Hopefully you've chosen someone who has experience in writing and assessing, who is reasonably up on the requirements of your area, and someone you can query further for necessary clarifications. As you know, writing is not a science. There are as many ways to redraft your ms as there were to write it. It's a bit like finding a doctor or mechanic you can trust and work with.
    I wish you the best of luck with your writing, and the heat. By the way, 16 weeks is not long to be waiting. Allen&Unwin had one of my clients (romantic suspense)waiting 14 months before the final rejection. She gave writing up for awhile but I think she's getting back onto another work (crime).
    Well, better get back to work. I'll pop in and have a read every now and again(not much time for that), now I've discovered your down to earth blog. My mum (also a writer) used to say all you need to succeed in anything in Australia is perseverance.
    Tom Flood
    Flood Manuscripts

  4. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment!

    I still maintain that it's an awful lot of money to pay for one person's opinion, even if that person is well-versed in the industry and in writing in general (and really, there's often no way of knowing if this is actually the case). I'd rather put my money into a subscription for an online crit group, where your writing will be viewed and critiqued by many people of varying backgrounds, tastes and abilities.

    Of course, you're absolutely correct that if you find the right person - someone who clicks with your style or writing and your genre - it could well be a partnership worth far more than the money paid. But there's no guarantee this will happen, and you only find out after you've forwarded the cheque.

    Just my opinion, of course! I know others feel very differently.

    Again, thanks for stopping by!