Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Manuscript Review Process

(Article originally written for The Readers Society of South Africa, to see the article click here)

So, after many months of sending off your manuscript proposal (a 500-word synopsis and/or contents list, three sample chapters and your abbreviated author CV) to different publishing houses and receiving rejections aplenty, you find yourself in the fortunate position of finally getting a “call back” from a publisher to submit your full manuscript for review. But what does this actually mean? How close does this call back bring you to your first royalty cheque?

Unfortunately, having a publishing house ask to see your full manuscript only means you have managed to negotiate the first hurdle in a long process of assessment. There are always exceptions, but before you break out the champagne, you need to know that a reputable publishing house will submit your manuscript to rigorous review (which is frequently time-consuming) as part of the process of making a decision to publish (or not). If you have waited this long, now is not the time to become impatient.
At Pan Macmillan we have a review process that involves sending out promising manuscript submissions for external review. Our reviewers are drawn from different fields and backgrounds and are often specifically selected because of their expertise and interest in a particular subject area. They are asked to provide a written review on various aspects of the manuscript in front of them.

If it’s a novel we might ask a reviewer to assess the following qualities:
  •  the novel’s overall structure and ‘plot’ development;
  • the strength (or lack thereof) of characters and characterisation;
  • the quality of the writing;
  • the novel’s clarity and accessibility;
  • the novel’s strengths and weaknesses, with particular focus on how to address these weaknesses
  • how broad the novel’s appeal is likely to be.

And if it is a non-fiction project then these are some of the questions the reviewer will be asked to consider:
  • Does this manuscript have authority and integrity?
  • Will it be an important contribution to its field and to broader enquiry?
  • What is your impression of its clarity and accessibility, its overall coherence and organisation?
  • Does this manuscript fill a gap in the existing literature? How might it fare in comparison with similar books?
  • If the manuscript is presently flawed or falls short of such expectations, would it be potentially redeemable and worth redeeming? And if so, how?
  • What sort of audience would you anticipate this manuscript reaching?
  • What is your assessment of its chances of being recommended or prescribed for students, course participants, etc.?
 As far as possible it is our policy to keep the identity of our reviewers and the contents of their reports confidential. This is not intended as some kind of conspiracy against authors; rather it offers the reviewer necessary anonymity in the context of the relatively small South African literary and academic environment.

The reviews we receive on a manuscript are often influential in the decision to publish or not, but they are not the only considerations that are weighed up in the final analysis. And if your manuscript is rejected at this stage we won’t send you a standard rejection letter as we think you are entitled to some feedback on your manuscript and on our decision. Unfortunately, it might not necessarily be what you are wanting or expecting to hear …

- Article by Andrea Nattrass, Publisher at Pan Macmillan South Africa
Follow Andrea on Twitter here



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