Why use an assessment service?

Publishers and literary agents receive thousands of submissions every year, and only a very few are of publishable standard. E-books and Print-on-Demand (POD) have reduced costs to publishers, many of whom now publish an e-book first and a print version only if the e-book sells well, but it is still very difficult to bring your book to the attention of an agent or publisher, especially if you are a new writer. A poorly presented manuscript or an uninspiring "pitch" or synopsis will receive a rejection letter, often without the manuscript having been read past the first page or two. (Or at all.) Today's publishing world is so tight that most publishers (especially in the USA) will only consider manuscripts which come through a literary agent, from a previously published author, or with a positive report from an assessment service. Because it's not done for agents to charge a reading fee, many of them like to see that the manuscript has had a professional appraisal and a good report. Smaller or independent publishers are usually more open to unsolicited submissions (known as "the slush pile") and some of the big publishers now offer an open-to-all online submission access – e.g., Pan MacMillan Australia's "Manuscripts Monday" and Allen & Unwin's "The Friday Pitch". (Also "the slush pile".) These days many writers find it easier to self-publish, but this can be expensive, and unless you are a very experienced writer or have paid for professional editing, you may well be wasting your money on a book that will be damned by bad reviews. In fact, if you are self-publishing because your book has been rejected by publishers and literary agents, you are better off paying for a professional appraisal.

Also, it’s impossible to assess your own work. (This is the advice of a published author as well as an editor.) You’re too close to it, and you love it too much. You can cut, polish, edit and rewrite until you have a professional presentation, yet still be unaware of basic flaws that stand in the way of eventual publication. New writers in particular often have problems with technique, and without it the most talented raw material doesn’t stand a chance.

Nor is it much use asking your family or friends to critique your work. Either they’ll be afraid of hurting your feelings, or they’ll be discouraging because they have an axe to grind (you actually wrote a book – they've never had the time) and want you to fail. If you’re lucky enough to know or be related to an established author who’s prepared to give you a critique, fine – but even then, make sure s/he is in sympathy with the genre and style of your work. If J.K. Rowling read your book and said in writing that she loved it, you're probably well on the way to being published, but remarks like "My friends all love my book" are the shortest way to the rejection letter.

Some people find writers’ critique groups an excellent source of helpful feedback and support but, again, be sure you feel you are getting professional, constructive help. This is what every writer needs: constructive, impartial advice.