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How to make the most of a manuscript assessment

If you're thinking of investing in a manuscript assessment, be sure to read Sam Boyce's advice before you do.

Audience: Writers

Last updated: 06 June 2022

A line of coloured pencils

Manuscript assessment services are a growing trend, offering an experienced eye on a finished draft to see if it passes industry muster. If you’re preparing to self-publish or submit to agents, an assessment is an attractive resource in a competitive world. But it comes at a price – so how can you make sure it’ll be worthwhile? Here are five tips for getting the best value from professional feedback.

Be sure it’s what you need

A manuscript assessment is a detailed written report, focussing on strengths, weaknesses and recommendations. Some services offer a follow-up phone conversation or the option of a second read for feedback on revisions. But communication is generally one way: it’s up to you to interpret the comments, address the problems and judge the effectiveness of your solutions. For writers who thrive on supportive dialogue, mentoring might be a better choice, and many consultancies also offer this. Or, if you’re already confident in the work but know it needs a lot of polishing, you could hire an editor instead: the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (this link will open in a new window)website is the best place to search.

Choose well

If you decide on an assessment, you need to know your work will be read by someone who understands your genre and market. This is the crucial criterion, and there’s no sense in compromising. Bigger consultancies use readers with varied specialisms – if a suitable match isn’t evident on the website, you can ask. Individual consultants have detailed profiles online, and are happy to answer enquiries. Keep looking till you’re convinced. And if anyone claims the power to make you a Kindle bestseller or guarantees you an agent, just run away.

Articulate your aims

Professional readers aren’t psychic, alas. In the absence of information, they’ll rely on their own assumptions and preferences – whereas what you want is feedback specifically tailored to your aims. So before you take the plunge, practice spelling these out. Define your genre and sub-genre; state what the work is essentially about, what effect you want it to have, and where you see it fitting in the market. You don’t have to sell your manuscript – it’s not a pitch. But you do need to be able to describe, as clearly as possible, what you’re trying to achieve. If you find you’re not at the stage where you can do this, it’s worth investing a little more development time before you pay for an assessment.

Polish it up

This might seem counterintuitive: if you know you’re going to revise the manuscript, isn’t polishing a waste of effort? Not at all. Any professional reader will feel obliged to point out surface blemishes – and a mass of persistent glitches could distract from the work’s strengths and its deeper problems. Get a skilled friend to give it the once-over first: that way, the feedback you pay for is more likely to be the input you need.

Prepare yourself

A surefire way to increase the value of feedback is to put yourself in the right frame of mind to receive it. Sending your work off for judgement can be terrifying, and it’s easy to start fantasising while you wait. Maybe they’ll tell you it’s perfect! Maybe they’ll have a secret magic formula to fix everything! Maybe they’ll diagnose zero talent and you’ll never write again… If you’re prey to unruly thoughts, put the phrase ‘growth mindset’ into your search engine, and start cultivating one without delay. Getting professional feedback is a milestone in your development journey: enjoy it!