15 September 2010

Professional Manuscript Assessors: Part One

by JJ McConnachie

Professional manuscript assessors abound in the market.  Essentially the deal is that you pay someone to give feedback on your novel.  It may be something worth considering if you are an unpublished writer looking to submit your manuscript to agents and publishers.

The first question to consider is whether or not you should get your manuscript looked at by a professional at all.  If you haven’t had something published before, this may be a good idea.  I asked an insider, the wonderful Cassandra Marshall, freelance editor and literary agent intern, for her opinion:

“If they've got their MA in writing, are active with critique partners/writing groups/etc, are friends with other publishing authors, or have exhaustive experience in a related writing field, they may already know what they need to know.  On the other hand, someone that comes from a completely different background and has no experience/connections might benefit a little more.  Maybe someone knows they are lousy at commas or formatting… Maybe they're perfectly decent writers but just want to know if their ideas or pacing is up to snuff.”

Getting a professional’s opinion on your work can steer you in the right direction or away from a horribly wrong one.  Mary McCallum, manuscript assessor and author of 2008 Montana NZ Book Award (Best First Book of Prose and Reader’s Choice) winner, THE BLUE, says, “manuscript assessments are valuable for any author because it casts another eye over the work and interrogates it.  When you’re in the midst of writing, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees.”  It can’t hurt to get the advice of someone with appropriate experience.  In the end, it is all about giving your manuscript the best chance possible.

Check that the person you are handing your work over to is reputable.  Don’t just rely on their website.  Ask for references or find recommended people through word of mouth.  There’s no point in wasting your money unnecessarily.  Casandra Marshall also warns of literary agencies that refer you to expensive in-house editing and assessments.  Be sure it’s not just ploy to take your money.  Do your homework first.

Choosing the right person to critique/assess your work is essential.  There are a few different types of professional manuscript assessors in the market.  You could find someone who works in the industry (eg a professional editor), or someone who has had a few published books under their belt.  Or, if your lucky enough, and can afford it, a combination of both.  What type of person you choose depends on your personal taste and your type of manuscript.  Both have their own set of skills that could be useful when looking at your work.

Lee Pletzers, urban fantasy/horror writer of novels including THE LAST CHURCH and THE GAME, suggests that finding an editor may be more important than someone who assesses.
“Self editing just doesn't cut it any more and what could an assessor tell you that an editor couldn't?  I think you will find that most freelance editors will assess your manuscript as they edit it.” 
With this in mind, it may be worthwhile looking for an assessor who doubles as an editor.

JJ McConnachie discovered writing about 2 years ago when she realized her musical talent was limited to jamming a few songs on a guitar and decided to leave it that way.

Part Two of Professional Manuscript Assessors


  1. I've seen comments go both ways on this, but the one that's sticking with me is from an agent (or maybe more than one) that asked something along the lines of: Are you going to hire a professional manuscript for every book you write? I want to see your writing and what you can produce.

    Sure, it can be a great advantage, but make sure your subsequent novels can live up to what you're putting forth.

  2. I think hiring an editor or manuscript assessor can be a great learning experience -- and it should be treated as such.

    I have done it a few times and each time I make sure I learn from what they say - not only what to do, but how to notice it myself for future manuscripts.

    I also make use of tools like the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. I've learned a lot from its reports on my manuscripts.

    As long as you learn from the feedback, then all information is good :-)

  3. I've never tried it myself...what is the difference between critique groups and manuscript assessors in anyone's experience?