Books, Culture and Society

What to Expect From a Manuscript Evaluation

If you've written a manuscript (fiction or non-fiction) and are about to get a professional evaluation, check out these tips to make sure that you get the very most from the evaluation process.

What to Expect From a Manuscript Evaluation

Harry Bingham is a bestselling novelist, He also runs The Writers’ Workshop (http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk) which helps with manuscript evaluation (http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/manuscript-evaluation-what-to-expect/) and finding literary agents.

Manuscript evaluation is the art and science of giving tough, constructive advice on a draft manuscript (typically, but not always, a novel). What you should expect is:

1) An expert reviewer. The only reviewers worth their salt are (a) professional authors who have published with major publishers, or (b) commissioning editors at major publishing houses (typically fully or semi-retired, as they won’t have time otherwise). Authors are generally more valuable when writers still have technical skills to learn (that’s 98% of writers, by the way). Commissioning editors come into their own when writers are nearing publication quality, but need to tune their manuscript for the market.

2) A long, diligent editorial report. A good consultancy should guarantee a minimum length report (typically 3000 words), but reports should be as long as they need to be, not as short as they can be. If an editor comes back with 10,000 words of advice, that’s a strong sign that they’ve really taken apart your book in intricate detail. What matters is that the evaluation of your manuscript is thorough, honest and constructive.

3) A willingness to be brutal. There’s just no point paying for a service where your editor will shield you from harsh truths. Sure, it’s nice for the ego to be flattered, but it’ll do nothing for your publishing career. So you want to make sure you work with people who are prepared to be tough.

4) Knowledge of your market. If you’re writing Young Adult Urban Fantasy, then you don’t want a reviewer who only writes literary fiction. Obviously. Make sure who you’ll be assigned beforehand – or ask to see the biogs of those on the editorial team.

5) An expectation of dialogue. You need to be able to talk with or email with your editor to follow up on their manuscript evaluation. What did they mean by X? Would it be all right if you addressed point Y by doing Z? That kind of thing. There shouldn’t really be any preset time limit on that discussion. It just needs to be done right.

6) Links with literary agents. No, don’t get all excited. Those links with agents are only going to matter IF and WHEN your work is strong enough to sell. That point may not happen in this lifetime … but if it does, then you want to work with a consultancy that can deliver the goods. That means strong, demonstrable links with leading agents. Again: if in doubt, ask. It’s your money and you have a right to know.

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