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Old 04-06-2012, 09:42 AM   #1
gmw
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Manuscript assessors (as opposed to editors)

I've been reading here about the importance of editors, and I can't disagree, but doubt if I can justify the cost on my first book ... or not until I feel more confident that the book might be worth it. That confidence is one of the things standing between me and trying to publish. One type of service that I've read about is manuscript appraisal or assessment.

In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, here's a link to a list of commercial services available in Australia - I hope that's okay to post on this forum, it's not an advert, just a list where you can see the sort of things on offer here.

The thing about an assessment service is that the cost is much closer to affordable. I was wondering if anyone else here has used such a service and whether they found it worthwhile?

The follow up questions to that are probably much the same as they would be for editors: How did you go about choosing such a service? At the moment, to me, it really seems like a shot in the dark, and while it costs less than a full editing, we're still talking about significant money (as I would expect if the service is to be any good).
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Old 04-08-2012, 05:02 AM   #2
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Hi!
I approached a reputable manuscript assessor and got valuable feedback. Yes, it is pricey but honestly if one's serious about writing it's money well spent. Furthermore, one owes it to oneself to get an unbased view of one's work to enable one to fix it if it's going to be in the public domain. I didn't agree with all that the appraiser said (it was a thoughtful, lengthy and detailed appraisal and showed that the reader had read and understood what I was trying to do)but a lot was valid and fair comment and provided excellent suggestions on how it could be fixed. (I remember I wasn't exactly thrilled when I first read the appraisal but after I'd calmed down, I saw it made sense!) Several re-drafts followed ( I didn't re-submit to the appraiser) before I went live. I think it was worth it. As to the cost, I just had to re-calibrate my priorities! I googled and got some names,looked at their websites and their success stories and made my choice. There's really only a handful that can reasonably be trusted.
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Old 04-08-2012, 06:12 AM   #3
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I've been reading here about the importance of editors, and I can't disagree, but doubt if I can justify the cost on my first book ... or not until I feel more confident that the book might be worth it. That confidence is one of the things standing between me and trying to publish. One type of service that I've read about is manuscript appraisal or assessment.

In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, here's a link to a list of commercial services available in Australia - I hope that's okay to post on this forum, it's not an advert, just a list where you can see the sort of things on offer here.

The thing about an assessment service is that the cost is much closer to affordable. I was wondering if anyone else here has used such a service and whether they found it worthwhile?

The follow up questions to that are probably much the same as they would be for editors: How did you go about choosing such a service? At the moment, to me, it really seems like a shot in the dark, and while it costs less than a full editing, we're still talking about significant money (as I would expect if the service is to be any good).
I think you need to get the opinions of a wide section of people that you know and trust to see if your work is any good or not. Obviously your not looking for sycophants, but friends who will give you an honest opinion. There's not much point spending money out on assessors if you know before hand that your work is not good enough. After all it’s not in an assessors interest to tell you your writing is rubbish.
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Old 04-08-2012, 08:55 AM   #4
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SerenaFairfax: Thank you. I posted here looking for experiences that didn't come directly from an assessor website, so your post is most appreciated. The reactions you describe match very well with what I have seen on the couple of assessors sites that I have looked at seriously, it's good to have those confirmed. I do think the money could be well spent ... if I can get the right person. One of my concerns is knowing how even (what I think are) very good books get very different reactions from people, so I worry that I might get an appraiser who simply can't stand what I've written. I guess the hope is that a true professional won't react that way (but I have difficulty believing that to be really possible).

Justin Nemo: Thanks for your post. My first book has been seen by only a relatively small number of people so far, but quite a wide range nonetheless - if I was part of a writer's circle or some such then perhaps I might have more options. What interests me in Manuscript assessment is getting input from someone with real experience in this sort of thing (the assessors I've looked at are also editors), it seems like a sort of cut-price way of getting any idea how close the manuscript may be to good enough - to get the sort of feedback/opinions that you can't really get from "ordinary" readers.
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Old 04-08-2012, 09:41 AM   #5
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Justin Nemo: Thanks for your post. My first book has been seen by only a relatively small number of people so far, but quite a wide range nonetheless - if I was part of a writer's circle or some such then perhaps I might have more options. What interests me in Manuscript assessment is getting input from someone with real experience in this sort of thing (the assessors I've looked at are also editors), it seems like a sort of cut-price way of getting any idea how close the manuscript may be to good enough - to get the sort of feedback/opinions that you can't really get from "ordinary" readers.
I can see what you are saying, but at the end of the day it is ordinary readers who will be buying your book. Didn't they have a section on MR somewhere, where you can submit your work for review by other writers?
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Old 04-08-2012, 12:11 PM   #6
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I can see what you are saying, but at the end of the day it is ordinary readers who will be buying your book. Didn't they have a section on MR somewhere, where you can submit your work for review by other writers?
Not sure about review on MR ... but then that wouldn't be too much different to just putting it up on Smashwords or whatever, it would effectively be public. (There is a writer's circle on the Internet where you can do that sort of thing in relative privacy, I saw a link to it on another thread here recently.) Also other writers are not necessarily going to review in the same way as a professional assessor/editor. My preference is to make the book as good as I can before making it public. To me, once the book goes public it must be effectively frozen - other than fixing typos. It's too late then to rewrite parts that don't work well, or to fix the sort of errors that careful outside study can find. (Unlike the software I write, that I can issue in beta versions, although even with that there are constraints.)
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Old 04-09-2012, 06:24 AM   #7
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GMW - The mss appraising outfit I chose was careful to assign me an assessor who was accustomed to assessing my kind of book.The outfit has a reputation to maintain and I imagine the assessor would have been honest enough to pass it to someone else to appraise if she didn't like my kind of work/writing. That's how that particular outfit works and you should always ask it that sort of question before committing yourself.
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Old 04-09-2012, 09:28 AM   #8
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SerenaFairfax: Thanks again. This sort of thing may be the deciding factor between the two I was looking at. One sounds like an individual, ie. no choice, though I like the sound of them in other ways, the other is a larger outfit that apparently delegates to people matching the type of work - but their delegation remains anonymous. Their reasons for keeping the assessor anonymous seem reasonable, but was a little disconcerting when I first read it.
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Old 04-09-2012, 10:11 AM   #9
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I'm certainly not arguing against editing, but you still have that no-accounting-for-taste problem. A few cases in point: I recently finished and enjoyed the novel Swamplandia!, then checked the consumer reviews on LibraryThing. Readers were all over the place, some of them rating it as barely readable and others blowing their trumpets over it. Similarly, Janet Evanovich. Hugely popular, but 15 pages made me want to toss her book into the yard.

I'm not sure a single appraisal really does the job. Clearly ten would be too expensive. In the end I wonder if you have to look inside yourself and ask honestly, Is this the book I want to publish? Then do it and accept the praise along with the jeering. The good news is that it's not open-heart surgery on toddlers. A questionable chapter probably won't kill anybody.
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Old 04-09-2012, 10:20 AM   #10
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I think we fall in to a danger zone here of over anyalizing things. I look at book reviews of books and see a full range of 1 to 5 stars on every book that is popular. Whether its popular like Harry Potter (For example Book 2 has 3/5 rating with over 1000 reviews, with nearly 50/50 split of 1 and 5 star) or unknown like myself (3.5 avg on Amazon with 29 reviews).

I think the goal is write what you enjoy writing, have it edited, and toss it to the wolves. Some will love it, some will hate it... the real problem is getting the people that will love it to know it exists.

At least that is my take on it.
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Old 04-09-2012, 10:25 AM   #11
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I wouldn't bother asking friends/relatives, they're too afraid of upsetting you. You would be better off finding some other writers to give you honest opinions. There's probably something dedicated to that, but there's no shortage of writer groups on Facebook. Sometimes people ask in here too, but I don't know how much of a response they get.
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Old 04-11-2012, 09:09 AM   #12
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http://critters.org/

Primarily genre fiction, arguably works best with shorter pieces and there's a quid pro quo approach, so you would expect to critique a dozen or more works before hearing any feedback on your own work. The work is never posted to the public web so you can be fairly certain (can never be 100%) you're not going to jeopardize first publication rights etc., which you may do if you simply post on a forum.
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Old 04-13-2012, 03:31 AM   #13
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GMW
The mss apparaisal company told me the name of the appraiser my work was assigned to and the kind of work/writing he or she appraised and her/his credentials. Friends/relatives are not a good idea, neither are book groups or forums. I don't think the size of the appraising company matters but whether you feel comfortable with it. As for book reviews, well, one man's meat is anther man's poison. One's bound to get fiercely opposing views but that's what it's all about and you just have to develop a skin like a rhino and accept the brickbats with the bouquets.
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Old 07-30-2012, 10:56 AM   #14
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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.
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Old 07-30-2012, 11:19 AM   #15
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I think you need to get the opinions of a wide section of people that you know and trust to see if your work is any good or not. Obviously your not looking for sycophants, but friends who will give you an honest opinion. There's not much point spending money out on assessors if you know before hand that your work is not good enough. After all it’s not in an assessors interest to tell you your writing is rubbish.
I agree. However, a writing group might be your best initial bet, unless you have very honest friends!

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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?
IME, most proofreaders would consider that a very good rate for something that's actually been edited; it certainly wouldn't be something that is likely to sway a publisher.

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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.
Remember, it is only one person's opinion, and many of our best writers got heaps of rejections initially. If, after looking at it objectively in a few days, that the book still has promise, then take what you believe is correct from the review and try again. Personally, I wouldn't pay for an assessor - try a literary/publishing agent, and see what they say.
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