I took the plunge and sent my manuscript off for an appraisal, and was very surprised at how quickly it was returned (just a couple of weeks). I got it back this evening ... and have to admit that I'm still reeling.
I expected to be told it was too long, and that was confirmed. The reviewer easily picked it up as a "stream of consciousness" work, and much of the criticism followed from that. The manuscript itself was returned with the reviewer's annotations, and I suspect that will turn out more directly useful to me than the 10 page report which, given the conclusion, could perhaps have been much shorter itself.
One of the curiosities in the annotations was how harshly the typos were commented - comments to the effect that it looked like the work had never been reviewed/edited/checked. (It certainly had been checked, many times by me, but also in detail by a few other people.) I haven't counted them out exactly yet, but I think the reviewer noted less than 20 typos in this 165000 word manuscript (a mix of missing words, extra words and missing or extra apostrophes). Is 1 error per 8000 words really so bad in a manuscript that has never seen a copy editor?
I got the impression that the story took a different path to what the reviewer was expecting - in the reviewer's summary they described one theme that was never intended to be there, in fact it was something I had deliberately wanted to avoid (which could be why it was not well developed). That in itself is a worry: did I really give the impression of such a theme in my writing, or is the reviewer planting their own conceptions on the story? None of my other readers had comments on this aspect.
A major criticism was that the story telling was too comprehensive, that it needed to be more suggestive, to leave more to the reader's imagination. Thanks to having the annotated manuscript I can see where the reviewer has highlighted some of the worst areas of this, and so this much at least I feel is very useful and something I can work on.
There were also criticisms about not writing enough for the reader (to "lock in" the reader) - and for not knowing who my readers are intended to be (young or old, male or female and so on). That latter part is definitely true. The book was never targeted at anyone but myself - I only started to look at publishing when I got to the end and decided it had come out well, or so I thought.
Okay, so none of that phased me a whole lot, it's the sort of stuff you are looking for in an appraisal. What really knocked me back was the conclusion: that the story probably wasn't worth even rewriting from scratch, that I should move on to a new project. The reviewer did attempt to soften this by saying that my writing showed enough promise that I should continue to develop my skills.
So it looks like it might be too soon to give up my day job.
But I'm not giving up. I am going to try and take what I see as the most constructive elements of the appraisal and improve what I have. The start definitely needs work - I've already tried a few times, but I will have to try harder - and I do have to look at cutting back where I am too verbose, but I don't feel that a total rewrite is necessary. Despite the appraisers conclusion I feel that the story does have merit (I certainly hope so, since it forms the start or a larger, more ambitious, story).
I'm not really sure yet how I feel about the appraisal in terms of money spent. I may have to spend more time letting it sink in. I was expecting criticism, and some of it will be useful, but I wasn't really expecting to be told that the story wasn't worth working on further. I've read widely enough that I don't see this as either true or fair.