Saturday, January 3, 2009

Manuscript Assessment


The point of manuscript assessment is to ascertain whether or not your manuscript is publishable and in a fit state to be pitched to the marketplace. The assessor reads the work critically, provides a detailed report on what does and doesn't work, and makes suggestions about how the mansucript might be improved to this end.

Choosing an assessor is daunting if you are not familiar with who's who in the business. It is an expensive undertaking, even soul destroying when you get a response you don't like. Preferably, your assessor will be someone who has worked in publishing, or more likely, will be an author working for an assessment service that farms your MS out to an expert in the genre.

Note also that literary agents do not act as MS assessors. They will only read your first few chapters and will only solicit the rest of the MS from you if they think they can sell it. They do not provide you with a report or any feedback. If you are asked for money by a literary agent to read your MS, you should steer clear.


The report will start with a description of the work so that you can guage whether or not the reader has understood it and read it according to its major themes. From there it will continue with a detailed analysis of the major problems with the work that would prevent it being picked up by a publisher or agent, and an analysis of the work's position in the marketplace. The report is impartial. It refers only to the work and is drawn from experience in the industry. Reports are not designed to boost ego, they are designed to help you get your manuscript into the best possible shape before you send it out into the world.


You consider the information carefully and use it to give you an edge over your competitors. In addition to the report, you may receive tailored information and advice about how to proceed towards your goal of publication. Considering the time that involved in reading a MS and writing a detailed report, assessments are reasonably priced, but you do get what you pay for. If your assessment is hald the price of another, chances are it will not be very detailed.

Before you consider applying for assessment, consider the following questions:

1. Is the manuscript ready for appraisal?

Your manuscript needs to be correctly formatted for submission (as you would prepare it to send to a publisher). It must be printed on one side only of A4 paper, in 12 point type (I prefer Times New Roman), with a header at the top right hand corner of the page containing the title and pagination. The title page should include the title, your name and the word count and your contact details.

It will have been read by several friends and relations and is ready to be read by a stranger.

2. Is there an audience for your work?

Publishing is a very competitive business and sales are the major consideration for the corporate publishers. A manuscript has to have market potential. They want to know that it is not only readable, but sellable to an identifiable audience. Does your book have one? Do you know which publishers' imprints would best suit your work? Can you name a list of authors whose writing your work most resembles? Are you sure of its genre? Can you explain why people would pay money to read your book?

An assessment can help you determine whether or not your manuscript has commercial potential and advise the best approach to make to a prospective agent or publisher, but you need to be ruthless with yourself here – can you articulate why the world needs to know your story?

3. Can you accept criticism?

There is no point in submitting your manuscript for appraisal without being tough enough to take on board constructive criticism. An assessment will provide you with a detailed report which is designed to give professional and honest feedback on its strengths and the areas that need improvement. Do you see criticism as a positive step towards improving your craft? If you've answered yes to these three questions, then your manuscript sounds ready for assessment.

However, all the advice in the world will not help if you do not know how to act on the information you are given. In my experience as an agent, we received many manuscripts that had been assessed, but the writers had either failed to or were not capable of fixing the problems identified by the assessor.


  1. Some useful information there, I am in NZ and came across the NZAMA site and this site which seem useful to those of us on this side of the ditch. I assume there is a similar group over there?

  2. Yes - there are many assessment services in Oz. The Australian Literary Agent's Association publishes a recommended list. Assessors are not bound by any association code of conduct of their own.