MS assessment service?

(18 Posts)
CastaDiva Fri 04-Dec-15 11:22:50

Has anyone ever used a professional manuscript assessment service? It had never occurred to me, but a situation arose where I have been offered a heavily discounted full MS assessment of my novel by The Literary Consultancy, who, as far as I know, are long-established, reputable and considered to be at the top of the game.

Yet something is making me hesitate. I've gaily submitted this novel to competitions and agents and dealt with rejections, so I'm not entirely sure what is making me cautious here. Perhaps the fact that these people are not publishers or agents is making me more aware that I may just get a reader who has a particular, specific set of likes and dislikes fictionally, and I won't know whether I should act on his/her recommendations if they involve significant changes. Part of the issue that this novel has already been through more drafts, rewrites, complete revisions than I can count. I'm probably worried about someone saying 'structure doesn't work - start again!'

Any thoughts? Am I just being stupid about something that is fundamentally a good opportunity for detailed feedback which would normally cost hundreds of pounds?

HarrietVane99 Fri 04-Dec-15 11:45:30

I've never used one, but I know people who have. I'd assume people who read for The Literary Consultancy are professional enough not to let their personal likes and dislikes influence their assessment. You could ask about the background of the people who read for them. I'd guess most of them are writers, or have worked in publishing.

For me I think it would depend on the cost. If it was an amount I could save just by not buying non-essentials such as coffee and cake in Costa for a few weeks, I'd probably go for it. You don't have to take the advice they give you, but thinking about why you don't agree with it could be a useful exercise.

ImperialBlether Fri 04-Dec-15 11:48:15

What have the agents said when they rejected it? Did they want to read beyond three chapters? Did they give a reason why they didn't want it?

ImperialBlether Fri 04-Dec-15 12:06:35

Are you sure you've chosen your agents carefully enough? What's the genre? I found it much easier when I wrote to agents who specifically said that they enjoyed the kind of book I was writing.

CastaDiva Fri 04-Dec-15 12:26:54

There are biographies of their readers up on their website, so that's freely available - yes, lots of writers, freelance editors and the like. In fact, they all sound rather glossy and fabulous. And deeply professional, which is why I wonder why I'm hesitating.

Did the people you know find it useful, Harriet?

The cost is pretty negligible, so that's not an issue at all.

Imperial, you know it's interesting - I realise looking at your comment that while I think I've sent it to lots of agents, in fact I think I sent it to about eight in total, and at least a couple of those I never heard back from at all. That was a year ago, so it was a completely different novel then to the version I now have, as I did consider any feedback I got and act on it.

One agent said she and her assistant had sat down and wondered about why they didn't want to see more, and concluded it was my 'dreamy' prose, which is something that was praised to the skies by all the other agents, and the judges in two competitions where it was longlisted and shortlisted. (I entered four competitions - it was longlisted in one and shortlisted in another - part of the prize was the discounted MS assessment.)

Another thought it moved around in time too much at the beginning and that it needed more signposting for the reader, because he had had difficulty figuring out who was who until he read the synopsis - but said he would be interested in reading the full MS once I'd done some more work (I will send it to him, but may wait till after the MS assessment, if I do it.) A competition judge said she had difficulty in getting inside the head of my heroine, so I've worked on that.

I'm currently waiting on a response from one agent who did ask to see the full MS (only sent it last week), and am going to nudge another who acknowledged but didn't respond I the summer. A published novelist friend is also reading the most recent version.

CastaDiva Fri 04-Dec-15 12:28:36

Literary fiction, Imperial. You may be right about needing to select agents more judiciously.

ImperialBlether Fri 04-Dec-15 12:37:07

Well, I would wait to hear back from anyone who's got the full manuscript and hopefully you'll get a positive reply. However, if I got a negative reply now and I could afford the critique I would definitely go for that. No point doing it until you've heard back from the agent, though.

Were you at the MN Get Published day by any chance? There were a few comments there about literary fiction that I could pass on if you weren't.

HarrietVane99 Fri 04-Dec-15 12:43:04

Casta, one I was talking to recently found it discouraging! But when she told me and another writer friend the main points of the criticism, we agreed it was probably fair (based on what she told us, without having seen her ms).

I think one danger, if you get too many different opinions, and make changes based on all of them, is that you risk losing what made the work original and unique in the first place. I think you risk becoming stale. Are you working on something new, while waiting to hear back from agents?

CastaDiva Fri 04-Dec-15 13:30:56

You're absolutely right, Harriet, I think I have rewritten this novel so many times that I'm in genuine danger of it staling on me. Maybe that's feeding into my worry about getting feedback that suggests major changes - that it's simply too late in the process for me and this novel....?

And I'm planning another, and started researching it in the summer, but can't start substantive work on it until the spring, as my day job involves major writing commitments till then... I am itching to start, and agree it would be much the best thing for me, psychologically speaking.

Honestly, I'm not usually so wibbly!

I wasn't at the Get Published day, Imperial. Any pearls of wisdom gratefully received, though!

CastaDiva Fri 04-Dec-15 13:32:56

Oh, I just found the agent response I referred to above, which isn't quite how I remembered it -

*X and I have both read the chapters and both admired your writing very much - your prose is extremely high quality: fluid and vivid. I'm afraid, though, that we found ourselves somehow not quite able to dive into the story, not quite engaging with it fully enough to feel that this is something for us. When X and I talked about it we struggled to express what it was that was holding us back - a slightly dreamy quality to your storytelling, perhaps, that made us feel like we were at a remove from the scenes and people. These things are, of course, very subjective, and we are sure this quality that we found slightly alienating will be the very thing that attracts someone else, and that you will have no trouble finding representation
elsewhere.*

I've tried to remove the 'remove' subsequently.

CastaDiva Fri 04-Dec-15 13:36:21

And an extract from another agent:

I loved that first scene. It immediately draws you in and is – like all of it – beautifully written. I think you capture X’s reticence perfectly, and Y’s studio really came to life for me, but whilst there was a lot I liked and it is clear that you can write, I didn’t lose my heart to the novel, and given how deplorably full my list is it would have had to be a coup de foudre in order to assure that you get all the attention your work so obviously deserves.

It's all very nice, but no cigar!

ImperialBlether Fri 04-Dec-15 13:41:45

Several agents have said they are building up their lists and are actively looking for authors.

If you haven't already, look at Nicola Barr from Greene & Heaton. She loves literary fiction and is actively looking for new authors. She responds very quickly, too.

CastaDiva Fri 04-Dec-15 16:44:38

Thanks, Imperial. Who wouldn't want to be represented by an agent who also represents Jim Bob from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine? (Who knew he wrote short stories?) grin

wordassociationfootball Sun 06-Dec-15 09:54:10

There are bucket loads of reasons to love The Writers Workshop, particularly the work Emma Darwin and Debi Alper do with them, courses etc. The info on both their blogs - soz can't link, I should be writing - about psychic distance is incredibly helpful and feels from those (excellent and very encouraging) comments like something that might help you.

Other questions that occur for me on reading your comments: could/should the goal of your main character be clearer earlier? Are they maybe too reticent for too long?

I think you should trust your reticence about the MS assessment. Is the discount open ended? Could you use it for your next book?

wordassociationfootball Sun 06-Dec-15 09:54:53

BTW congrats on your agent Imperial. I snared one too, in September and am re-drafting for a Jan delivery.

ImperialBlether Sun 06-Dec-15 16:10:19

I'll be doing that too, wordassociation!

Will PM you now.

CastaDiva Sun 06-Dec-15 18:34:10

I think Emma Darwin's blog is the best single online writing resource I've ever found, but I would find it very difficult to get away for Writers' Workshop course with very limited childcare, much though I'd like to, and I'm not interested in an online one.

Word, you may be right about character reticence - it's something I altered in subsequent redrafts, as a chilly, watchful inactive character is not everyone's cup of tea, I realise.

Congratulations on snagging representation, Word and Imperial!

schmalex Tue 29-Dec-15 17:24:23

Sounds to me (from the agent comments) that you're incredibly close to bagging an agent and you just need to send it out to a few more. Eight really isn't very many.
I've found reports like those by TLC useful, but I wonder whether you really need it if you're being shortlisted in competitions, etc.

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