In my ‘weekly’ (ahem) tidy-up of my office I came across an interview with the founder of The Manuscript Agency, Mr Brian Cook, which might give you an interesting overview of where we came from. He also offers some nice insights into the tricky world of trade publishers, giving you a sense of the stress that many of them are under…and times are only getting tougher I am afraid.
1. When was your organisation established and why?
I started The MAA in 1996 upon leaving the world of publishing after 30 years of being in the business. During that time in a publishing house I noted the desperateness of the ‘slush pile’ and just how difficult it was for publishers to be able to offer any kind of insight at all to the potential of the work submitted.
With the best will in the world, the most a publisher could say is ‘thanks but no thanks…not right for our list’ etc. This brought neither party any closer to understanding how to better shape the work so that it might have a future.
The purpose of The MAA is to offer an appraisal that is objective and insightful and allows the writer to have a better understanding as to how a publisher might react to their manuscript and why.
There is usually always an editorial aspect or component to an appraisal, but our point of difference is that we try and offer the writer some insight, of a commercial nature, to a publisher’s reaction and requirements. We are often asked the question “How am I going? And is it worth anything?” and that is just one aspect of what we like to attend to in our appraisals.
2. What services do you have to offer aspiring, emerging and established writers?
Something major we can offer is probably more a feature than a service I guess, and that is experience and understanding.
Our appraisals act as a mirror. We are forthright, uncompromising and to the point. We want to offer an honest, unbiased, informed opinion, in a manner which is tactful and supportive as appropriate but hopefully without causing offence. The author chooses to respond to our observations and comments in any way they see fit. If what we have to offer strikes a chord, whether it be confronting or not, then we have assisted in taking the writer somewhere where they have possibly not previously been.
Our appraisals can not be anything other than professional. We are recommended by many major publishers – if our appraisals were not of a standard which fulfilled industry expectations, we would soon lose that support.
3. If an emerging writer has a finished manuscript that they are happy with, what do you see as the steps that they should take in order to get their work published?
Even before the manuscript is completed, (or the writer can’t stand the sight of it any longer), getting some insight must surely be the first step to a realistic understanding of how the work fits into the market place. It might just be that publication in volume form is inappropriate. People write for different reasons and not necessarily to be published. But, assuming that they do aspire to publishing, ensuring that they have an understanding of the marketplace must be a start. Their book might just be too long – or even too short!
When they go into the bookshop, where do they imagine their book is located in that shop? What shelf is it on? What is on the shelf next to it? What does it look like? How big? What price? How does yours compare with the already published book? Who published it? What else did they publish? What can the bookseller tell you about the book and how successful it has been etc. The writer might be fascinated by their subject but the commercial reaction might shed another light on an expectation and perception. Getting this type of background can really help in targeting the right publisher.
The process is long and often painful, and competition is fierce. The more ‘hard core’ information you can collect about your work, the better chance you have of a realistic expectation.