Manuscript Assessment is a Rort!

October 19, 2010 in Novel, On Writing, Study by pacejmiller



Hold up.  Let me make myself clear.  I think the concept of manuscript assessment is a terrific thing.

For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a service whereby a writer (or potentially, a publisher or a literary agent) submits a manuscript to an assessor, who reads it and writes an appraisal report for a fee.  The report will tell the author what is good and what is bad about the manuscript, and maybe provide some tips for improving it – but the most important thing is that it tells the author whether the manuscript is likely to generate interest from a potential publisher.

There’s nothing wrong with a writer wanting to know how they are progressing with their writing.  After all, many first time writers have little idea whether their writing is good enough to be published, and want to know what they have to do to make it happen.

So why is it a rort?

Well, this week we had a session with a manuscript assessor.  The guy works for an agency that specialises in manuscript assessment, but there are also some freelancers out there.  Guess how much he makes for one manuscript?

Think about it.  He has to read the entire manuscript from start to finish.  It could be 500 pages, or longer (first novels are usually doorstoppers).   He has to write a report on it.  And it’s got to be comprehensive, considered, and most of all, helpful to the person that paid for it.  How long do you think that would take you?  How much do you think you should be paid for it?

$200-$300.  Australian dollars.  Per manuscript.  That’s how much the market rate is.

This guy is now a bit of an old pro with the process, and it still takes him a couple of full days per manuscript. He says any longer than that and you’re just wasting your time.

For $200 a manuscript, even if it only takes you two days, is still a waste of time in my opinion. You’d make more working at McDonald’s!

Don’t do it for money, the guy said.   Do it because you enjoy it, you want to help people, and so you can improve your own writing and critical thinking.

That may be so, but when it takes up so much time, it’s not something you can do on the side or for a hobby.

How can you, as the great George Dubya Bush once said, “put food on your family”?

As for the author, they are forking out anything between $400 to $1000 (to the agency) for someone to read and assess their manuscript.  Is that worth it?  I don’t know, but the guy told us that around 95% of the manuscripts he assesses are pretty hopeless and don’t stand a chance of being published.  Do they really need to pay someone hundreds of dollars just to be told that?  Wouldn’t it be better spending that money on a writer’s course to improve their skills, or heck, even self-publish the manuscript?

This is not to put down anyone who has sought that path.  Finishing a manuscript in the first place is a fantastic achievement.  And wanting to get it published is every writer’s ambition.  My issue is with the money — the amount that the manuscript assessor gets paid for the time put in, and the amount that the author has to fork out for what he gets in return.  One doesn’t get paid enough, and the other potentially pays too much.  There’s no easy way to reconcile this.

One way is for assessors to not go through an agency and work as a freelancer, though, as we were told, sticking with an agency that takes 50% of the money might actually be better.  It avoids all the messy stuff that comes with dealing with an inexperienced author, who may bug you constantly and ask for additional ‘chats’, and worse still, want to meet up and become friends.  And of course, advertising costs a lot of money.

At the end of the day, it is what it is.  Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining.  There are people out there willing to spend time assessing manuscripts for a pittance, and there are also people out there willing to spend money for their manuscripts to be assessed.  Supply and demand.  As long as both sides get what they are looking for and don’t mind the money (received and paid), what’s the big deal?