So you’ve written a short story or, better yet, a novel? There are several places you can go to get them read and assessed but, unfortunately I can’t do it for you. The assessment of a manuscript takes long hours and a great deal of hard work, and at the moment I’d prefer the professionals to put in both hours and hard work! Many people ask me to read their work to see what I think of it, but I have to refuse, simply because I don’t have the time to read it. If you want your work assessed, then:

Join a local writers’ group; they may be able to do it for you (although, no offense to local writer’s groups, you’d be better getting it professionally done – not only will the quality of service be better, but a professional advice will aid your publication chances).

Have it professionally assessed. Some literary agents will do this for you (check the Yellow Pages), but one of the very few actively reading fantasy and science fiction is Australian Literary Management. Contact:
Lyn Tranter,
PO Box 522, Broadway, N.S.W.2007.
Ph: (02) 9211 0252
Fax: (02) 9212 2350

ALM’s price range is two tiered:
If you only want Lyn to read your manuscript with a view to ALM taking you on as a client, then Lyn only requires $20 to cover repostage costs etc. (It’s a good idea to send a query letter first before sending off the entire ms). For $20 you do not get any comment on your ms, only a yea or a nay regarding literary management.

If you would like a full reader’s report, commenting on structure, character development, etc. and giving suggestions for improvement, then the cost would range from $350 to $450, depending on the length of the manuscript.

There are a number of freelance editors just dying to get their hands on your work! Sarah Endacott, of “Edit or Die!”, is easily contactable via email or snail mail (or even phone!), and likes to specialise in fantasy and science fiction (she works as an editor for Aurealis and Eidolon, Australia’s premier speculative fiction magazines). I’ve included some of Sarah’s comments about the type of work she can do for you, although she asked me to emphasise that the prices given below are negotiable.
If you would like editorial suggestions or a report, then Sarah says: “I write about style, character development, scene effectiveness, visual acuity, genre (especially science fiction and fantasy, women’s knowledge, art and crime), plot techniques, point of view, structure … I will also give you other information about the novel form, publisher’s expectations, submission, marketing your work and manuscript presentation. I usually include the first chapter or first few pages marked up as an editor would, so that the author can see where they are making errors and can follow the example in their subsequent drafts. In the case of a short story, I may mark up the entire piece, depending on its length and the correction level required.”

Prices for an editorial suggestions/report vary from about $50 to $450, depending on length.

If you would like a full copy-edit (this involves careful word-by-word checking of grammar, punctuation, inconsistencies, style – Australian, British, American – cross-referencing with indexes, table of contents or chapter headings, as well as layout standardisation, numbering and handling of artwork, drawing and graphics etc.), then prices will range from $150 to over $750, depending on length. (Manuscripts in draft form do not need a copy-edit. It’s better to go for the cheaper structural edit or a report.)

Sarah Endacott can be contacted via Email on: kendacot@vicnet.net.au
or by snail mail:
Edit or Die!
439 Gilbert Road,
West Preston 3072.
Ph: (03) 9471 9270.

There is also the manuscript assessment service of the National Book Council. For further details and prices, contact:
National Book Council,
Manuscript Assessment Service,
Suite 3, 21 Drummond Place,
Carlton, Victoria, 3053.
Ph (03) 9663 8655
Fax (03) 9663 8658.
Please be aware that no assessment service can guarantee you publication (if they promise this then be very wary of them) and all will cost you a fair amount of money (at least a couple of hundred dollars for a novel). The publishing industry is a business, and there are no professionals out there who will assess for free. Also, please realise that no one will be able to do this overnight for you, it may take some weeks or even months.

Learn to self-assess (it’s what I did!). How do you do this? First, you must realise that the first piece you write is probably not much good, but you won’t be able to understand this properly this until you’ve got a number of pieces you can compare. Write four novels (or ten short stories). Work out which is the best, why, and then write something new using what you have learned. This method has the best results, because you will learn from it. Almost no-one succeeds with the first piece they write. Writing is a long hard apprenticeship, and you will undoubtedly spend years writing before you succeed. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but it is what writing demands.

©1997 Sara Douglass

Editors note: this article was written by Sara in 1995 and updated in 1997, contact details included may not be current.