For those with no idea what I'm talking about, The Literary Consultancy is an editing/manuscript assessment service. You can send them your whole novel or chapters of it and one of the readers you choose (who are mix of authors, writing coaches etc.) get to tear your book apart.
This is good. This is what you want them to do.
Unfortunately, my own experience was not without a few bumps. This is what happened:
In January 2017, I had just completed a shitty early draft of The Tressians.
I'm not being modest here. It was terrible.
But I didn't know this then. I just knew that I felt stuck and really needed professional feedback. I did my research and found TLC. Their services were slightly cheaper than other places I found and they had a good reputation. I spent £342 for an assessment of the first 60 000 words of what was then a 80 something thousand word manuscript.
Pricey I know. I got a £20 VAT free discount because I'm in the Middle East. But still, it's a lot of money.
I was excited and hopeful so I filled their form and pressed 'send'.
Their response time is usually between 4 and 6 weeks. During that time I decided to do some more research on literary agents because I had sent my draft to several agencies and gotten rejections from all of them (ouch!). While doing this, I stumbled upon the youtube channel of author Kim Chance. She had lots of videos talking about her own journey to getting an agent but also videos on writing tips.
I watched them and that's when I realized my manuscript was rubbish.
It sounds really stupid to me now. But for some reason, it had never occurred to me to read-up on the craft of writing fiction before actually writing my novel. This basically meant that I had made every single mistake an amateur could make. In the six weeks waiting for my assessment I read articles and books on writing and knew exactly what was wrong with my book. I also knew that I'd probably have to rewrite it from scratch. So I was expecting a harsh assessment that reflected what I already knew and also gave me even more insight on matters I needed to change. Basically, I was ready to hear the worst and work from there.
I hated it. Not because it was too negative but because it told me less than what I had already known. On top of that I felt from the tone of the report that the reader hadn't taken me seriously. It was a bad draft, so in a way, I don't blame the reader for not taking it seriously. But on the other hand, I did pay a lot of money so this really provoked me.
So I sent a complaint.
TLC handled this part really well. They had other people read my manuscript and give me feedback on my concerns. They did say that they felt the reader had done enough; and maybe if I hadn't done any of the reading I did in those six weeks I would have felt the same way. They then offered me a free assessment of the first 15 thousand words of my novel once I had fixed it up. I really, really appreciated this gesture.
I worked my butt-off and rewrote The Tressians from scratch, changed the POV from third person to first person, changed the tense from past to present, changed the plot, developed the characters. My manuscript now is unrecognizable. January of this year, I got back into contact with TLC and, to be honest, I was a bit scared that they wouldn't follow through with their previous offer. But they did. I received my report last Thursday and I am very happy about it.
Okay, so it was way more positive than the old one. I started writing The Tressians 4 years ago, so hearing that my protagonist is three dimensional and that my opening is good literally made me get all choked-up. I was reading the report, ready for more harsh critique, ready to make whatever changes my book needs to get published. Instead, I got the loveliest response. The reader had concerns, which I was eager to address- and I made all but one of the changes the next day.
More importantly, I loved the report because it gave me insight into issues that I was completely unaware of. The reader Jane Adams gave me tips on how to approach agents, things to note about the market, issues with the genre of my novel, things I need to think about moving on and the next steps for me. I've still been trying to keep up with reading technical books on writing and the points she made weren't something I had come across which made me feel Jane was a special source of information.
My old report did have positive things to say, but it didn't feel sincere. It felt like someone was trying to ease me in before giving me the real opinion. Especially as, funnily enough, I didn't agree with some of the compliments. I remember reading some nice stuff about my characters and thinking: 'But, but my characters are so one dimensional. My characterization is one of the worst things in my book.'
All in all, I think my first report didn't work out because of a mix of things:
1- Sending my manuscript to be assessed before it was ready.
2- Not being clear about my specific concerns. I just assumed that the reader would address everything from world-building to realistic dialogue.
3- The style of the reader's analysis didn't work with me. Which brings me to my recommendations:
1- I'm not sure TLC does this, but ideally, before getting an assessment ask for a sample. Most novel editors I've seen allow this. You'll be able to tell if the editor is a good fit from the sample before committing to paying lots of money.
2- Be specific about your concerns.
3- Practice your craft and read technical books on writing before seeking advice through a novel assessment. Most of the issues in my novel were discussed many time in books I've read.
Would I do it again?
Writing can be such a lonely experience. At time it feels as if you're just fumbling in the dark and getting professional feedback helps point you in the right direction. That being said, I do regret sending my old manuscript. If I could go back in time, I'd spend that same money on an assessment of my current manuscript.
And that's it for this week. See you all next Tuesday!
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