A few weeks ago I embarked on the first professional assessment of my work-in-progress novel and completed a Manuscript Assessment via the New South Wales Writers Centre.

At the time, the manuscript was still in first-draft stage, however I was confident that the beginning was pretty set (it was just the middle and end that I was still fiddling with!). I’ve always been confident that my writing is good, however I wanted a professional opinion as well to make sure I wasn’t completely wasting my time on a book that lacked warmth, character development and/or a decent plot.

 Ten days before the assessment I’d sent in the first three chapters of my novel, the synopsis and my writing CV. I was worried that my assessor, who has fantastic experience working with a number of the big publishers, would tear the manuscript apart, however I was pleased to hear that she actually loved the first three chapters and had barely any structural changes. Apparently this is quite unusual for her to not have many suggestions, so she’d done a copy edit on the chapters for me instead (which she doesn’t normally do!).

I was relieved that she didn’t feel many changes were needed and that she liked the overall plotline and synopsis for the book (winning!), giving me confidence that my book is on the right track. However, without any further critique needed I spent the majority of our one-hour session asking questions about the publishing industry in general.

Without sharing that I was planning to self-publish, I asked where she thought my novel would fit in terms of publishers/agents and who might be likely to want to publish it.

Being a ‘chic lit’ book it probably sits in the romance category, however my assessor said that the majority of women’s fiction currently being published is aimed at a slightly older market. Books aimed at twenty or thirty-somethings were being published quite a lot in Australia five years ago – but not so much today.


But then this actually made me think – is it simply that my target readers are more technically savvy, and more into e-readers and mobile reading? I certainly love my kindle – and I love that it syncs to the kindle app on my phone. So no matter where I am, so long as I have my phone with me I can read the next chapter of my book.

Many publishers now have ‘Digital First’ arms to their publishing companies – for example Pan Macmillan’s ‘Momentum’ or Penguin Books’ ‘Destiny Romance’ imprints. What these publishing brands do is to pick up authors’ books in a digital-first contract – which means they will publish your book digitally.

Only digitally.

I.e. they’re not actually printing your book and you won’t see it on any real-life bookshelves.

From a business decision of a publishing company this makes total sense – there is barely any outlay of expenses, they are able to ‘test the waters’ and see if the book does well before committing to a print contract, and they are much more likely to turn a profit.

But from the author’s point of view, what is the publishing house really offering in this situation that the author couldn’t do themselves?  

Professional editing, formatting and cover design? An author can source those themselves.

Distributing the book to e-book stores? Again, an informed and diligent author can do this on their own.

Marketing of the book? This is probably where a publishing house can excel more than an indie author. But from many reviews I’ve read, many authors have been disappointed with the marketing efforts (or lack thereof) by their publishing companies and are surprised to learn that they are expected to do a lot of the marketing heavy-lifting on their own.  

Back to my assessment though – I was advised that if my book was to be picked up by a publisher it would most likely be by one of these ‘digital first’ contracts.

Although the kudos of being picked up by one of the big-five publishers would be amazing (and I’m still hoping to achieve this one day!), unless the contract involved printed books I’d prefer to publish digitally on my own.

Have you had a professional manuscript assessment done before? Or have any experience with ‘digital first’ contracts? I'd love to hear from you via Twitter, Instagram or email.

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