In my previous post I looked at the different types of edits a manuscript goes through, and why edits take time and therefore cost money. Today I’m looking at manuscript appraisals.
What is a manuscript appraisal?
This is when an experienced author or editor, someone with an eye on the publishing industry’s trends and an understanding of how books are written, edited and marketed reads your manuscript, then gives you written feedback on your book. Appraisals look at things like story structure, character development, pacing, writing style, and marketability, amongst others.
What can you expect from a manuscript appraisal?
Manuscript appraisals can be anywhere from 2 pages to 20 pages (though if you paid more than a few hundred rands for the former you've been ripped off, and reports as long as the latter are very rare!). As I said in last week’s post, since I'm also a writing teacher I find it hard to take my teaching hat off when I do appraisals, so my reports tend to be on the longer side. I not only give feedback on what is or isn’t working in a manuscript, but also explain WHY it’s not working and suggest ways to correct the issues. This takes a little more time and fore-thought, but it means you can expect a very thorough report that is more detailed than the developmental feedback you’d get from the average editor at a traditional publishing house.
What you won’t get in a manuscript appraisal is a scene-by-scene critique. If you want that level of detailed feedback, you should rather ask for a developmental edit.
When should you consider paying for a manuscript appraisal?
If you are a publishing newbie, and you’re not yet sure what genre your book fits into, whether your writing is any good, or how to go about getting your book published, then an appraisal can be helpful to get you started.
The other situation in which you might want to pay for an appraisal is if you've been submitting to agents or traditional publishing houses and getting nowhere. Agents and trad editors do not have time to give detailed feedback on every submission they reject, so you can receive rejection after rejection without having any idea WHY your book is being rejected. A professional appraisal can help you understand what might be wrong with the book and how to fix it.
How do I do appraisals?
When I’m doing an appraisal I usually start by reading the manuscript on my Kindle. As I’m reading I make notes. Once I've read the entire manuscript, I type up the report.
If that's all it is, then why do appraisals cost so much and take so long to do?
Doing an appraisal takes a lot longer than you’d expect for a number of reasons:
Reading as an editor is more involved than reading as a reader. This is not the kind of quick, superficial read the average reader does. When I read as an editor, I read more slowly, concentrating on the story, wording etc, occasionally re-reading passages, and making a lot of notes as I go.
I like to leave a little time between the read and typing up the report, preferably a day or two, or at the very least leaving it overnight. I will never write the report on the same day I read your book, even if it’s just a short novella. This is because I need time to think about your story, and to come up with suggestions how you can fix issues or improve the book. As with any writing, these ideas don’t just arrive fully formed as I read, so if I rush the report you’ll only be receiving half-formed thoughts and not the full benefit.
Typing up the report can take almost as long as reading the book. This is because it takes time to word the report just right, to turn a note that says “slow paced” into a paragraph or two explaining why the pacing is slow and how it can be sped up. I also go back through the manuscript to search out examples that demonstrate whatever point I’m making.
Finally, appraisal writing is an act of diplomacy. You really would not want to read my raw, unedited notes! I am aware that this manuscript is your baby, that you’ve invested a lot of yourself in your story, but my job is to point out its faults, which can be hurtful, so I do try my best to phrase my feedback as diplomatically as possible.
Finding the right person to appraise your work
It is crucial, especially if you are paying for the service, that your appraisal be done by someone who understands publishing and specifically the publishing requirements for your type of book. A non-fiction editor whose main focus is academic works is NOT going to be able to give you advice on the marketability of your genre fiction book. As in any industry, we all have our areas of expertise and advice (even if it’s free) is only as good as the person giving it.
How to differentiate a good appraisal from a bad one:
Unfortunately, without seeing examples of the editor's work before-hand, it's almost impossible to know what kind of feedback you're going to get. However, these are a few warning signs however that an appraisal is not good value for money:
The appraisal is too short. As I've already said above, if you've paid more than a few hundred rands for an appraisal that is only a page or two in length, you may have wasted your money. On the other hand, if you chose an editor because their appraisal service is cheaper than everyone else, then you can't be surprised. As with everything in life, you get what you pay for.
The appraisal gushes about your manuscript and can't find anything wrong with your work. The whole point of an appraisal is to help you find ways to improve your work. It's not doing it's job is the feedback is "this book is absolutely perfect as it is". Sure, we all want to hear our work is just great, but even the most experienced authors know there is always room for improvement.
The editor is not experienced in your genre, and did not give accurate advice - something you sadly only learn to your own cost further down the line.
One final note: most editors charge per word for appraisals, so the longer your book, the more expensive the appraisal will be. I highly recommend that you vigorously edit your book to be as tight as it can be so you're not wasting your money. For tips on how to tighten your writing, check out this series of blog posts I did last year.
Photographs taken by my daughter in North West Province during our break last week: