Next week Writers Victoria is holding the very first Australian Manuscript Assessors Conference at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne (Tues 2nd – Wed 3rd September 2014). This two-day event will bring together assessors and editors from around the country, for a mix of inspiration and information about this emergent field. I am thrilled to be giving the first day key-note address, in conversation with my very first editor/assessor Clare Allan-Kamil. So I thought it would be a good idea to look at just what a manuscript assessment actually entails.
I’m a great fan of assessments, especially for brand new authors with a finished first manuscript. After having spent a long time, sometimes years, completing your book, it’s tempting to think the hard part is over. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Robert Graves so wisely said, ‘There’s no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.’ This is worth remembering when you suddenly decide you’ve written 90,000 words of rubbish. Difficult as that first draft may be, in some ways the real work has just begun.
At this point there are three options. Go it alone, rely on friends and beta readers or consult a professional guide. The first option is reckless. It might work for the talented few, but allowing nobody to read your work and getting no feedback at all is a recipe for a rejection slip. You can’t possibly be objective about your own writing. Friends find it hard to be objective too. Writing peers can make good beta readers, and this is the lowest cost option. But if you can afford it, I’d suggest getting an assessment from a reputable agency, endorsed by your state writers centre or the Australian Society of Authors. They will essentially provide you with a structural report, focusing on characterisation, themes, dialogue, point-of-view, pacing and plot. Frankly, when I started writing my first novel I didn’t even know what half these things were! I certainly didn’t know about head-hopping and that each character needed their own narrative arc. I found a lot of this out via my first manuscript assessment. Now you might be a lot more knowledgeable than I was back then, but even multi-published authors go through a structural editing process. Just make sure you use a reputable agency.
The Manuscript Assessors Conference will begin a broad national discussion about this topic, looking at best practice, professional competencies, pay rates and pathways, ethics and future directions for manuscript assessing. Hear a writer and assessor in conversation. (Clare Allan-Kamil and moi!). Get an introduction to the industry with experienced assessors Clare Strahan, Antoinette Holm and Brian Cook. New and emerging assessors can get a step-by-step guide to undertaking an assessment. Established practitioners can join conversations about best practice and share their skills and expertise in a Manuscript Assessing Masterclass. Get an insight into the role of assessing in the publishing industry with special guests Michelle Madden (Penguin Australia), Mandy Brett (Text Publishing) and Louise Swinn (Sleepers Publishing). Join the discussion about what constitutes a living wage for manuscript assessors. It should be fascinating! Hope to see you there …