- By Harry Bingham
- Published 06/22/2011
Getting a novel assessment can be the best thing you’ve ever done – or a hideous waste of money. This article looks at how to get the most from your assessment, and how to avoid you don’t fall into any obvious traps. 1. Edit your work properly first. That means you don’t just get to the final fullstop, then rush your manuscript off for assessment. It means that you take care to review your novel, repeatedly, by yourself. Check for prose style, for characterisation, for plot weaknesses, for pacing. You should go on doing this until either (a) you’ve got the novel as strong as you can get it, or (b) you know it’s still not right but you find yourself going round in circles. Either way, that’s the moment when it’s worth getting help. 2. Know the market for your work. Don’t just review your novel. Make sure that you also have a fair understanding of your genre. Read current fiction in that category – especially debut fiction of the last few years (because that’s the strongest indication you have of what editors are buying today). You should make sure as far as possible that your novel is in tune with the current market. If not, there’d better be a good reason why not!
3. Be ready to take
tough advice. If, in your heart of hearts, you are just looking for someone to tell you that your work is wonderful, you’re probably not yet ready for a professional novel assessment. (Or not a good one, anyway.) Paying for advice is nuts unless you’re prepared to take it – and a good assessment will be as tough and as honest as it needs to be. 4. Be prepared to reconsider first principles. A strange piece of advice that, but a really crucial one. Normally, a book won’t leap straight from pen to publication without some pretty major transformations on the way. Sometimes those changes will really challenge your original conception of the book. For example, one of our clients wrote a historical adventure book where one of the lead characters was gay. We told her to change that, because it wouldn’t work for the market. She said no. We then found her an agent … and the agent reiterated our advice: this kind of book simply couldn’t have a gay lead. No one was being homophobic: this was just a rational business decision based on the market for this book.
The writer ended up making the change – and sold her book for loads of money to a top publisher who turned it into a bestseller. She wouldn’t have achieved that success unless she had been prepared to compromise. You need to be the same.