To Assess or Not to Assess, That is the Question

This is a copy of the first article I had published when I was using the pen name Karen Lee. It appeared on The Scriptorium in June 2003.

You are an unpublished writer and you have spent months, if not years, writing your first novel. Not only have you finished writing the novel but you’ve revised it till you know the story word for word.

When you first started writing you just wrote whatever came to mind, not really worrying about sentence structure or good grammar but as you progressed with your manuscript, you also grew as a writer.

In the process of creating your masterpiece, your initial idea of just writing a story changed to wanting to be a published author. So you started researching the writing industry. You visited every website on writing that you could find on the internet, you borrowed every book available at the library and you joined writing groups so that you could “talk” to other writers and learn from them.

You’ve invested a lot of time and energy but you still have doubts. You doubt yourself and your ability. Why? Some people prefer to edit their own work or ask friends and family to help them out. Whilst this is an option, family and friends often don’t want to hurt your feelings and say how good the story is but little else. If they do make other comments – listen to what is being said and don’t get hurt and upset by their comments. Remember, you asked for their opinion. They may not always be right in their judgement but often it may mean that something needs to be clarified in your writing. Yet you still have doubts!

To have doubts like this is not uncommon but what can be done about it? When I reached this stage I decided to have my manuscript assessed by a professional editor, someone who didn’t know me and I could trust to tell me the truth. All right, the alarm bells are ringing in your head and I hear you mutter that this is not something that is advised by the published authors. It may be true to say that when you sell a manuscript, the publisher will have it professionally edited. That’s fine but first you have to sell the manuscript! You have no hope of doing that unless your work sparkles and stands out from the crowd. To do that you must have confidence in yourself and your work. So if you have doubts, your chances are already lessened and you could be lining yourself up for countless rejections.

Once I decided to have my manuscript assessed, I was concerned about all those scam stories I’d read. How was I going to know who could be trusted, which company was reputable? I must caution you to beware of the many scammers out there just waiting to get their hooks into their next victim. My advice is to research the industry fully, ask at any or all of the groups you belong to for recommendations, approach your local writers’ centre and then research some more.

Naturally, this service costs money and can be considered expensive but having your work assessed will confirm whether or not your manuscript is ready to be sent to a publisher or literary agent, or if it actually needs more work. If the appraisal is carried out and the assessor finds your manuscript to be of an acceptable standard, they will issue you with a certificate stating as much and this will help, but not guarantee, your work when it is being considered by the publisher or literary agent.

I settled on a man whose name kept popping up everywhere I went and I liked what I read about him. Then I drafted an email and sent it not only to him, but also to my second and third choices. I received a reply that same day, which was encouraging. He was polite, professional and upfront. I took up the invitation to phone him and we spoke for some time about what my requirements were and what he was willing to provide.

Having ensured that I was going to get what I wanted, I posted my manuscript and sat back and waited. Not only did he acknowledge receipt of the manuscript by sending me a brief email, he kept me informed of his progress which made the waiting time of six weeks easier to bear.

Then I received a large padded envelope and my heart stopped. This was the day I’d been waiting for. I locked myself away from my family and slowly opened the envelope.

Reading through the report was an eye opener for me. I was told which characters were weak and needed work, which characters could be deleted altogether and which characters he’d fallen in love with. I was told how my plot could be strengthened and he even suggested a small subplot that would improve the overall story immensely. He said my strength in writing dialogue and keeping the pace was outstanding. I was advised to use certain words less often and reword or shorten weaker scenes. He suggested alternative titles that he felt would be more striking and he advised me as to which market I should be approaching.

The assessor’s report was very thorough and as I read through it, I knew that what he said was correct.

Having your work assessed isn’t right for everyone but for those who are unsure of themselves it can be a great experience. Looking back I know that, although it cost me money, I learned a lot from having it done and now have the confidence in myself and my revised manuscript to send it out to agents and publishers.

Don’t think of it as a waste of money, think of it as a learning experience or better still an investment. You’d pay for a writing course and think nothing of it. You pay for numerous writing books and think nothing of that. So why not pay for an assessor and know exactly where you’ve gone wrong and where you excel?

by Karen Lee ©

About the Author:

This is Karen Lee’s first published article. She has also completed three fantasy novels and two short stories, and is currently searching for the right publisher. Karen lives in sunny Australia and enjoys life with her family, along with her time spent writing.