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Thread: "A manuscript assessment agency"

  1. #1
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    "A manuscript assessment agency"

    Has anyone had a "manuscript assessment agency" assess their manuscript before submitting to a publisher?


    (Harper Collins says they will accept unsolicited and/or unagented manuscripts which have been recommended by this type of agency, on their website)
    http://www.collins-crime.co.uk/FAQ/default.aspx

    I found two such agencies: http://www.manuscriptagency.com.au/ and http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/

    ...They charge hundreds of dollars to read and assess the marketability of one's manuscript, and write up a report. ...Is this some sort of financial test to see how seriously one wants their manuscript published?

    I also found a similar reference to an assessment agency at Random House: http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/faq.htm

    Is it worth the time (twelve or more weeks for one of the ones listed) and money (around $500 fee for an assesment of my manuscript)?

  2. #2
    Feel the power! J.S Greer's Avatar
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    I wouldnt waste the time or the money. $500 for someone to tell you if youre publishable? There are folks here who can do the same, and it will only cost you a rep point (most dont even care about those.)

    Random House UK isnt exactly the same Random House, so Im guessing they may handle things differently.

    I could be wrong on both counts(someone will come by and set me right if I am), but I'd save my money.
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    Thanks. I can afford rep points!

  4. #4
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    UK

    Manuscript assessment is a common thing in the UK. The system simply works differently there, and many UK agents also want an assessment before they agree to look at a manuscript.

    In the US, it doesn't work like this, and there's simply no reason to ever pay for an assessment.

  5. #5
    Shiny! SuperModerator Dawno's Avatar
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    I believe one of our members, Aruna, has some experience of this - you should send her a PM.

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    Thanks JamesARitchie, I'm glad to hear I won't need to go to such an expense to even have a publishing company look at my manuscript. I don't know how writers can afford to pay for these overseas! No wonder we (the US) are getting so many of their wonderful writers.

    ...and thanks Dawno!...I hope Aruno didn't have a bad experience with this sort of thing.

  7. #7
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    I'm actually kind of surprised by that statement on the Harper Crime site. I've been told by an agent at a big Australian agency (where manuscript assessment companies are even more common than in the UK) that he and his fellow agents pay no attention to assessments--partly because many assessment companies aren't qualified, but also because the only person who can reliably assess a manuscript's publishability is the person who's assessing it right this minute. In other words, he and his fellow agents preferr to make their own assessments, rather than relying on someone else's.

    Big publishers like Harper give favor to agents--that's just the way it works. Manuscripts from unagented authors are given bottom priority, and the people sorting through them aren't likely to be editors--they'll probably be interns or assistants who can't make or recommend buying decisions. In other words, no matter how good your manuscript or how positive your assessment, there will always be an author with an agent in front of you, and that author will probably always get more serious consideration than you will.

    If you feel you might personally benefit from a manuscript assessment, you might consider buying one from a qualified service (some people here have had positive experiences with manuscript assessment services). But I wouldn't advise buying one just in order to be able to submit to a big publishing house.

    - Victoria

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    Thanks Victoria!

    It gave me pause when I saw the reference on Harper Collins (and yes, they clearly state their preference for agented submissions). Their reference to having an assessment made sort of smacked of the type of things some vanity and POD presses try to push their writers into, and made me want to do a little checking to see if they are getting anything in return for this recommendation.

  9. #9
    Critical Member The Lady's Avatar
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    I entered a novel writing comp. run in conjunction with Faber and Faber about two years ago. I got shortlisted, and along with a nice, encouraging, non specific letter, they recommended The Literary Consultancy as a place to get constructive feedback on my work.

    I've checked out their website and I've also spoken to somebody who got her work critiqued by them. She got nothing more than honest to goodness feedback. (Her story seriously lacked conflict and I don't know why she wouldn't let us just tell her that, but anyway she finally believed it from them. I don't know what else they told her other than that.)

    Because it was recommended to me, I checked out their web site pretty seriously. They make no promises. All they say is that they have established relationships with several agents and if they find your work good enough, they will, with your permission, forward it to one of them.

    They didn't forward that other woman's work so I assume they mean it when they say they are fussy about who they recommend.

    I know I get a lot of good feedback on crit sites and I have learned so much from them, but you hear so much about the nearly theres, in terms of a book almost being good enough but not quite. So I guess what I'm saying is, I'll run my book by a reader or two, but I can afford the service, and I'm certainly going to give these people a shot at helping me improve my book. Who knows, maybe they'll be able to tell me nothing I don't know, but I'll give them a shot once. I've spent money in far stupider ways.

    Oh and I don't think writers get it done to put on their query letter. I think they do it to make their book better and then they keep quiet about it. Obviously if they give you a recommendation to one of the publishers who say they accept publication from these agencies, well that might be different.


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    The Lady, Please let me know how the company treats you.

    I think a free assessment would be wonderful, and if I respected the opinion of the person giving the analysis, I'd find it wonderfully helpful. It concerns me that a publishing company would refer anyone to an agency that would charge hefty fees for an essay regarding the marketability of a manuscript, and in turn accept the manuscript submission. Perhaps HC's making this suggestion to authors was only meant to discourage unagented submissions?

    Mr. Ritchie pointed out that these assessments are used by UK publishers, but it seems to be slipping into the US (to a small degree) as well. (see below)

    Fearless Books, a publishing company, is going this fee-based assessment route themselves. This link takes you to their site, where he explains how he will help authors. http://www.fearlessbooks.com/Critiques.html

    (I checked the list of AW publishing companies and couldn't find any reference to them, - but could have overlooked them - and I don't know of anyone whose submitted material to them.)

    Will this be the norm in the US soon, because so many publishing houses are now owned by overseas-based and affiliated companies?
    Last edited by Amy K. Jones; 02-02-2007 at 04:00 AM.

  11. #11
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Fearless Books isn't a commercial publishing company. It looks to me like a company that offers a variety of publishing-related services--self-publishing, ghostwriting, editing, packaging, and critique services.

    - Victoria
    Last edited by victoriastrauss; 02-02-2007 at 04:11 AM.

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    My point was only that they are a US based publishing company offering such fee-based critiquing services. I cannot attest to whether they actually produce anything commercially. They say they do. (I wasn't trying to imply that they are as commercially successful as HC, if that is how it came across in my post.)

    http://www.fearlessbooks.com/index.html

  13. #13
    Bored at work fanatic FergieC's Avatar
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    I'm actually kind of surprised by that statement on the Harper Crime site. I've been told by an agent at a big Australian agency (where manuscript assessment companies are even more common than in the UK) that he and his fellow agents pay no attention to assessments
    It may simply be advice to authors, intended more to pursaude people to get an assessment which - in most cases - will find weaknesses, or reasons it's not publishable, before sending it to a publisher. For the small percent that do get a glowing critique, they may pay no attention to it at all.

    I definitely intend to get mine assessed soon, as it's been getting positive responses, but always with that but... I get the impression that in the UK a lot of agents rarely take on unsolicited material, but use these kind of companies as scouts. So if you get a positive assessment, or re-write to whatever guidelines they've given you, and they think it has enough potential to recommend to their agents, it's probably the best or only way to get a chance with many of them. Also, if they can suggest ways to make the MS better, that has to be a good thing. I'm at that stage where I don't know what to do with it.

    I haven't decided which one to use yet though - I've got a kind of short list of four that all look pretty good. I might drop them all an e-mail and see what they quote/say.

  14. #14
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amy K. Jones View Post

    ...and thanks Dawno!...I hope Aruno didn't have a bad experience with this sort of thing.
    I had an excellent experience, and it wasn't that the publishers asked for an assessment first. I found the assessment agency in a writers' magazine and I was lucky that it was a reputable agency. I turned to them primarily for help getting my mansucript into saleable form. I was a novice writer and had no other help avaialble.
    The woman who runs the agency liked it so much that after my revisions she sent it to a top UK agent, who sold the manuscript in a matter of two weeks.
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  15. #15
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FergieC View Post
    I

    I definitely intend to get mine assessed soon, as it's been getting positive responses, but always with that I get the impression that in the UK a lot of agents rarely take on unsolicited material, but use these kind of companies as scouts. So if you get a positive assessment, or re-write to whatever guidelines they've given you, and they think it has enough potential to recommend to their agents, it's probably the best or only way to get a chance with many of them. Also, if they can suggest ways to make the MS better, that has to be a good thing. I'm at that stage where I don't know what to do with it.
    y.
    The sentence I bolded is the advantage of using an assessment agency over a free critique service. Very often, the people who work there have actually been editors or authors and have networked with people in the business, and so might be able to gve you a referral - if they think the ms is good.

    I have never heard of UK publishers requiring a marketablilty assessment. I cerytainly wouldn't be in for that.

    The assessment agency I was with is Hilary Jonhnson. She also works with US authors, though I think that goes through an author called Caroline Upcher.
    Last edited by aruna; 02-02-2007 at 04:23 PM.
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  16. #16
    Bored at work fanatic FergieC's Avatar
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    The woman who runs the agency liked it so much that after my revisions she sent it to a top UK agent, who sold the manuscript in a matter of two weeks.
    That's a great story.

    Hilary Johnson is definitely one that I'm looking at - following your last recommendation, Aruna. But there are a couple of others I know would be good too. Decisions are so hard...I guess as long as they're reputable, they're probably all as good as each other. I've had a few writers and friends giving feedback on the full MS, but I don't think they're ruthless enough!

  17. #17
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Here are the sites:
    Hilary Johnson (UK):
    http://www.hilaryjohnson.demon.co.uk/

    Caroline Upcher (US)
    http://www.carolineupcher.com/bio.htm
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  18. #18
    Moderator In Name Only AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    I'm really of two minds about this. Here's my story.

    Five years ago I wrote the first draft of my first novel. I thought it was done and sent it to a bunch of agents. I got back vanilla "Not for us, good luck with your writing" responses from all of them, except one. I will always be indebted to Scott Treimel for telling me the story stank. However, he was kind enough to edit the first few pages to show me why. He wasn't obliged to do that. It was a tremendous favor that I didn't appreciate at the time, but I do now.

    That incident led me to do some serious re-writing. I got more rejections, but they were less generic. A few of them even pointed out (in a general way) where I was still having problems.

    I continued re-writing in between writing another book, and at every stage, I got better rejections until finally, I got a detailed critique from an editor at a major New York publisher. I rewrote and resubmitted and got back another critique telling me I had fixed some things, but not others. It also included a request to resubmit.

    At this point, I didn't want to resubmit without being sure I was correcting the problems they pointed out, so I hired a private individual (who's bona fides are impeccable) to do an assessment. I can see that the issues she raised are spot on and obvious once they were pointed out to me. I am now re-writing the book to that assessment, and hopefully it will be the last time.

    My point here is that if I'd hired an assessment after my first draft was done, I wouldn't have been in any position to make use of it. Either it would have been way over my head or it would have discouraged me so thoroughly that I would have quit. Either way, it wouldn't have helped. I needed to grow in my writing before a real assessment would do any good. All those rejections and re-writing helped me learn the craft. It took (is still taking) years, but what craft doesn't take a long time to learn?

    My fear is a lot of new writers will spend lot of money on assessments that won't do them any good because they don't have the skill to understand them. At that early stage in your writing, you can probably be best served by an honest beta reader and rejections from reputable agents.

    Just my two cents.
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  19. #19
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FergieC View Post
    I get the impression that in the UK a lot of agents rarely take on unsolicited material, but use these kind of companies as scouts.
    That's not my impression. Certainly there are some good assessment services in the UK, which can speed a manuscript on to an agent or editor in certain cases--as with what happened to Aruna (which, with respect, I think must be quite unusual). But it's not my impression at all that agents are looking to assessment services as a middleman.

    I can see that an agent who knows that a particular assessment service is solid, and run by experienced people, might trust the assessment's recommendations enough to take a look at the manuscript. But if the agent doesn't recognize the assessment service, there's no reason for her to trust it. This is the case in any middleman situation. For instance, an editor trusts the judgment of the agents she knows, either personally or by reputation. Agents she doesn't know are regarded with more caution/skepticism until they prove themselves--in part because the editor knows that there are lots of marginal and amateur agents out there, whose submissions will just waste her time.

    The problem with a system that requires a middleman is that it offers enormous potential for abuse. In Australia, there's wide perception (among authors, at any rate) that manuscript assessment services occupy an established middleman position, and that a positive assessment will get you over the transom. Maybe that was the case at some point, but right now, while there are some qualified services, there are also many unqualified ones that have sprung up to take advantage of the situation. This explains the Australian agent's comment to me. Where there's lots of abuse, the circle of trust really narrows.

    Again, and if you're willing to pay, I think that it's fine to get an assessment from a qualified service if you feel it will benefit you personally. For some of the situations that people have cited above--such as getting positive responses, but always with a "but"--it's a reasonable solution. But I don't think that anyone should get an assessment because they think that simply having an assessment to accompany a submission will improve their chances of getting represented or published.

    - Victoria

  20. #20
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    Assessments agencies

    Publishers do not pay attention to all assessment agencies, just as they pretty much ignore submissions from a fair number of agents. But publishers soon learn an agent is qualified when she consistently submits good, marketable novels, and they soon learn the same about assessment agencies.

    I'm not at all sure what I think about the system, but I can see two advantages for new writers.

    1. Because there are so many new writers trying to break in, writing has largely become a business of query letters. Good query letters can make agents and editors waste much time on bad novels, and bad query letters can mean a good novel never actually gets in front of a good agent or editor. The assessment system largely removes the need for a good query letter. When a top, proven assessment agency gives a manuscript the green light, agents and editors are usually willing to look at it based on this alone.

    2. Again, a numbers game. Agents and editors simply do not have the time to weed through everything out there. It just isn't possible. But by making top, proven assessment agencies the bottom rung gatekeepers, agents and editors can spend far more times on complete manuscripts, ones that at least stand some sort of chance at being marketable, and far less time on crap shoots that probably have nothing going for them.

    The disadvantages I see are: 1. Many new writers would have to spend hundreds of dollars only to be told, "No, this is not publishable, and we don't know how to make it such." 2. It's an extra step in the process. It may be a step that actually speeds things up for some, but it's certainly going to delay things for others. And the big disadvantage as I see it. 3. If a writer has written a really good, marketable novel, it doesn't seem fair that he should have to pay hundreds of dollars to have someone tell him this.

    But assessment agencies do seem to be a growing trend in the UK, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see them start moving into the US.

  21. #21
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    Glad to hear you had a good experience Aruna. (I was a little intimidated to send you a PM since I'm new, and risked evoking bad memories by doing so. Thanks for responding.)
    I had not considered not being able to really comprehend, or use, such an assessment (like Roger J. Carlson mentioned) but that is indeed a real problem. I spend so much time in edit-mode, I'm like a paranoid.

    A language teacher critiqued my book, at my MIL's request, but I was terrified to open the book (which was the form I sent it in, for the reader's ease) when the lady returned it.

    During the weeks she had the book, I became (unwittingly) convinced that I was a moron who'd never been warned of my condition. I assumed I'd find it filled with red ink, so, in a fit of paranoia, I asked my husband to look first, to make sure I could handle what she'd found. It took us about thirty minutes to find and correct the errors she'd found in my nearly 80,000 word manuscript. There were few errors, (three or four in total) but I had repeated them a couple of times.

    She was wonderful. She even wrote me a brief explanation of the proper use of commas. (I adore commas like I adore breathing ) I had researched like crazy to figure out whether my use of commas was appropriate, and had become overwhelmed by the conflicting opinions I'd found. I researched her notations and made the appropriate adjustments.

    ...Years ago, with the same book, I got so frustrated and overwhelmed by another gracious Education Specialist's evaluation, I tried to rewrite the book to her liking. I made changes that altered the structure of the book, read it, and abhorred the thing. It wasn't my story anymore. I'd done such severe damage to the manuscript that I couldn't figure out how to fix it, so I just put it away for several years.

    I was so awed by the first woman's expertise, qualifications, and highly respected opinions, I basically said; to hell with my idea, let me write your book. It wasn't that her ideas weren't good, it was the fact that I was too impressionable (perhaps because of my age) and too willing to believe that my story wasn't good without the changes she'd suggested.

    Upon reading all the responses here, and in other threads, I think I'd be wary of paying someone to make such an assessment for two reasons: 1) Fear of finding I'd hired a smoke-blower, and 2) Fear of finding I'd hired a boasting smoke-blower.

    If an agent wants to represent and promote my book to a publisher, and make money for their efforts when I do, I won't worry that their opinion was back-loaded with anything short of greed . ...Which leads me to wonder why all the UK writers don't just use American Agents who will promote great manuscripts to UK publishing houses?

  22. #22
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    2. Again, a numbers game. Agents and editors simply do not have the time to weed through everything out there. It just isn't possible. But by making top, proven assessment agencies the bottom rung gatekeepers, agents and editors can spend far more times on complete manuscripts, ones that at least stand some sort of chance at being marketable, and far less time on crap shoots that probably have nothing going for them.
    Again, and I know I sound like a broken record here, but I haven't seen any evidence that agents and editors in the UK are relying on assessment services as middlemen. Yes, I am sure it happens occasionally. But I am not aware that it's a trend, growing or otherwise.

    And now I will shut up.

    - Victoria

  23. #23
    Bored at work fanatic FergieC's Avatar
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    I haven't seen any evidence that agents and editors in the UK are relying on assessment services as middlemen
    I don't think they rely on them. I've had several personalised, positive responses back from agents, so I know they do read what's sent to them, consider it and, if they really love it, ask to see the rest.

    I'm mainly thinking of it from how I'd consider new writers if I was an agent, to be honest. If I only had the time to take on 1 or 2 new writers a year (which is the maximum most seem to take on; although about half my rejections were sorry, not taking on any new clients) and I had an assessment service (some of them actually call themselves "talent scouts") I trusted recommending four novels, which they'd read, and the writer had re-written having taken critiscism on board, I'd probably go for one of those over something from the slush pile. There might be 20 pretty good looking first three chapters/synopsis submissions, but that's a lot of work - reading, suggesting changes, no knowledge of whether after all that work, the writer will be willing or able to make changes or they'll bite your head off for even suggesting them.

    It would just seem like common sense from an agent's perspective. And from the writer's one, it makes more sense than just carrying on submitting and being rejected and not really knowing why. Is it worth carrying on submitting, or better to move on and write something else? If it's not publishable, how far off publishable it is - does it just need a polish and it's there, is it a major re-write, a bottom drawer job, is it publishable but not commercial, in which case best to look to small publishers or self-publishing rather that keep banging away at agents?

    I've had professional critiques on the first three chapters, and they really are thorough and helpful, so a full novel one should be useful.

    I needed to grow in my writing before a real assessment would do any good. All those rejections and re-writing helped me learn the craft. It took (is still taking) years, but what craft doesn't take a long time to learn?
    I agree with that totally. I'm only considering doing it with this one (the third I've written) because it has had positive responses from a variety of people and places, but no one's biting yet, and it would be good to know why - whatever the answer is. Even if this one turns out not to be publishable, I'd bet an assessment will be helpful with the next one at this stage.

  24. #24
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by victoriastrauss View Post
    Again, and I know I sound like a broken record here, but I haven't seen any evidence that agents and editors in the UK are relying on assessment services as middlemen. Yes, I am sure it happens occasionally. But I am not aware that it's a trend, growing or otherwise.

    And now I will shut up.

    - Victoria
    You are right. It happens in just a few cases.
    And it is also true that many manuscripts are simply unsalvageable.
    An assessment agency is really only useful in those cases where the story is very very near publishable standard and just needs some professional tweaking.
    Could I have done it on my own? Maybe; but it waould have taken a lot of trial and error, and probably a whole year longer. When I used Hilary I did not have internet or any writer friends or networks. I was all on my own. I don't know how I I'd have done it otherwise, much less find an agent.
    Last edited by aruna; 12-26-2012 at 09:43 AM.
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by victoriastrauss View Post
    Again, and I know I sound like a broken record here, but I haven't seen any evidence that agents and editors in the UK are relying on assessment services as middlemen. Yes, I am sure it happens occasionally. But I am not aware that it's a trend, growing or otherwise.

    And now I will shut up.

    - Victoria
    You may be correct. I can only say that I've had such a huge number of writers from the UK tell me that it's a growing trend that I tend to believe them. I've also seen guidelines from both publishers and agents stating the need for an assessment.

    And this was before either HarperCollins and Random House UK both listed assessment agencies in their guidelines. Seems to me that when something gets big enough and important enough for two publishers of this size and importance to actually state it in their guidelines, something serious is happening.

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