Friday, February 10, 2012

Review or Assessment?

Recently I've been offered a lot of books to review. I thought this a little odd, as my little review blog is very low profile. Finally it dawned upon me that some people might be coming in through Affordable Manuscript Assessments. Could visitors to this service be mistaking it for a review site?

So, what IS the difference between an assessment and a review? It's true that some publishers say "we'll be back in touch when we've had a chance to review your manuscript", but what they mean is "we will read this and consider it for possible publication".

Generally, a review is understood to mean a reader's reaction to a published book (or film, or album). A reader, who may or may not be an industry professional, reads the book and then writes a response which might include a blurb or synopsis, a few comments on how or whether the book fits its genre and the reviewer's expectations, and a run down of the strengths and weaknesses perceived in the story. Reviews can be 95% blurb and 5% comment. They can even be nothing but the book's blurb or publisher's publicity material reproduced. Some are puff pieces, and others, unfortunately, qualify as hatchet jobs. The best reviews, in my opinion, come from someone knowledgeable enough to review the book in context and also fair enough to mix disinterested or objective comment with personal response. It is generally agreed that reviews should not reveal too much of the plot and certainly not the denouement, and that they should be written grammatically. Most reviewers are not paid for their work. The complimentary copy of the book is considered enough. And of course, some readers buy a book in the usual way and choose to review it in the spirit of sharing opinion with others.

An assessment, on the other hand, is an over view of a manuscript in relation to both its impact as a book of the appropriate genre and to its potential as a publishable work. After some broad comment on what is working well in the ms, the assessor will concentrate on the weaknesses and possible problems along with specific advice on how to fix these. Manuscript assessors are paid for the job by the author, unless they are employees of a publishing company, in which case the assessment will be part of their job description.

So - assessment or review? They are different, and if you approach you are (or should be) after an assessment rather than a review.


  1. Congrats Sally on this very clear differentiation between an assessment and a review.
    Thanks for the magnificent job you did with assessing my six manuscripts.
    Good luck with your assessment service :)

    1. Thanks, Karen! Glad you're pleased with the service.

  2. Having worked in the past as a manuscript assessor, I think that even some people's view of what a ms assessment is a little off kilter. Some aspiring writers just want a postive report to send to a publisher. They don't want to know about the flaws and where it could be improved or stregthened. An assessment should include both in my view.
    A review is much shorter and easier in that it doesn't go into as much detail purely because there is a limit to the length of reviews usually.Readers want more of a general impression rather than all the specifics.

  3. Quite so, Dale. Some people want a letter of recommendation rather than an assessment. Affordable Manuscript Assessments does provide that service, but we don't charge for it. (Too close to cash for comment.) We also do letters of rec only if we believe the ms is something really original.

  4. There are intellectual bodies that do manuscript review and approve drafts for publishing. Once a draft is submitted it undergoes an intensive review. The premise, content, technicality, accuracy, style and grammar all come under consideration.