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The Importance of a Manuscript Assessment

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August 29, 2016

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Let me guess, you’ve just finished writing your novel after spending the past year pouring your soul into it—writing it, then editing it again, and again, and again. You think it’s perfect, an absolute masterpiece that will be hailed alongside the works of Agatha Christie and J.K. Rowling. There’s nothing left to do now but publish it, right? Wrong. A writer can’t objectively edit their own work because they’re too close to it, and are blind to their own flaws. This is where a manuscript assessment comes in.

What is a manuscript assessment?

A manuscript assessment (also known as a critique, appraisal, or a structural report) is where a professional editor/assessor reads your manuscript as a whole, paying close attention to your story’s structure, character development, plot development, pace, setting, consistency etc. The assessor will give you a written report on what’s working and what needs improvement. Basically, it’s instructions on how to make your novel the best it can be.

What about family and friends?

Perhaps you think your manuscript is perfect and doesn’t need an assessment because your family and friends have read it and told you you’re a writing genius. Well, I hate to break it to you, but family and friends are unreliable sources. This is mainly because they probably don’t want to hurt your feelings, but also because, unless they’re an editor, they haven’t been trained to read a manuscript critically. This means they may miss things such as characters who lack depth, or overuse of passive voice—the types of things that generally determine whether a manuscript is ‘just okay’ or ‘totally addictive’.

What about copyeditors and proofreaders?

Maybe you’re paying to have your book published, and the publishing package you’ve purchased includes a copyedit and proofread of your manuscript, which you think is enough. Yes, having your manuscript edited is a crucial step, but it’s not the same as an assessment. A copyeditor and proofreader’s job is to focus on strengthening your sentences and correcting grammatical issues. In other words, they look at the manuscript piece by piece rather than as a whole, so you’ll have polished sentences, but your story might have pacing issues and plot holes.

What if my work really is perfect?

Some of you might still be reading this and thinking you’re the exception. You know your work is perfect and think paying an assessor will be a waste of money because your report will come back with one sentence: “This is an absolute masterpiece; don’t change a thing”. Well, the cold, hard truth is that that never happens. No work is ever perfect. I admit to being arrogant once and thinking my manuscript was perfect. I sent it off to an assessor expecting to receive an email back telling me how good my manuscript was, and that the assessor had forwarded it on to every literary agent and publisher they knew.

That wasn’t the case.

My world crumbled when I received my assessment. My manuscript was bathed in red ink and my report was seven pages long, informing me that my characters were flat and my world needed more development—plus there were about a hundred other issues that I needed to address. I was crushed. I’d worked so hard on my manuscript, it just couldn’t be true that it still needed so much work. Once I recovered from my shock, I re-read my assessment and it was as if the assessor had gifted me with new eyes. I suddenly saw all the flaws they were talking about, and I couldn’t believe I’d missed them. How had I been so blind? That’s what a manuscript assessment does: it gives you fresh eyes, so you suddenly see that your protagonist has no depth, or that your plot has no direction, or even that the island your story is set on was growing coconut trees at the start, and halfway through your story they changed to palm trees.

Assessments are for serious writers

At the end of the day, the choice is yours if you want to pay for a manuscript assessment. But if you’re really serious about being a writer, then an assessment is worth every penny. You’ll not only get instructions on how to make your manuscript the best it can be, you’ll also discover what your writing flaws are such as overuse of passive voice, wordy sentences, telling rather than showing etc. Once you know what your writing flaws are, you’ll be able to avoid them and become a better writer.

If you decide to have an assessment performed on your manuscript, Aurora House offers this service. Information can be found here If you’re still not sure about paying for an assessment, Aurora House also offers an assessment of your manuscript’s first two chapters, or 5000 words, which will help you decide if you should pursue a full assessment. This service costs $80, and you will need to submit a synopsis, plus the contents (all chapter titles), and word count. If you would like more information about manuscript assessments, please contact Aurora House through the contact page:

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