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Reviews - Overkill
Reviews Overkill (2)
Reviews - Pandemic
Reviews - Pandemic (2)
Reviews - Foxbat
Reviews - Foxbat (2)
Reviews - Timebomb
Reviews - Timebomb (2)
Press releases
Press coverage 1
Press coverage 2
Critique service
Critique feedback
Personal appearances
Writing courses

Manuscript appreciation and critique

You've written a book. All your family and friends love it  and think it should race to the top of the bestseller lists. Basking in this glow of mutual appreciation, you send it off to a literary agent or perhaps even a publisher, and wait confidently for the two-book contract incorporating a telephone-number advance to arrive in your letter-box. What you actually receive is a terse note, often scribbled on a 'with compliments' slip, that says something like 'Sorry, our list is full' or simply 'Not for us', and your cosy dreams of a literary career evaporate on the spot. Obviously what you've written is complete rubbish, and you should go back to whatever your day job was before you applied pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Right?

Well, no, not necessarily. Of course it's always possible that you actually can't write, and that no matter what you do you'll never, ever, see your name on the spine of a book in the local branch of Waterstones. However, it's also quite possible that you do have a major talent that the agents and/or publishers have inexplicably failed to recognise. It does happen - Frederick Forsyth's book 'The day of the Jackal' was rejected by almost fifty publishers before one decided to take a chance with it. J K Rowling's first book was picked from the 'slush pile' more or less by accident.

It's conceivable that your manuscript may not even have been read - the agency or publishing house may have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of submissions that day or week, and simply decided to send the top half of the pile straight back. Or perhaps your covering letter may have caused exactly the wrong reaction in the person who read it. Or maybe there's some major problem with what you've written: not necessarily with the story but with the way you've written it, or even with the format in which you've presented your work.

How can I help you?

Let me start with what I can't do. If you really cannot write, or devise a plot or create believable characters, then frankly there's nothing that I or anyone else can do for you, and in that case I'll tell you immediately. And even if you can write and tell a good story, I cannot guarantee that I can get it published.

So what can I offer?

What I can do is:

bulletAnalyse your synopsis and the plot of the book.
bulletRead your manuscript and provide a detailed report on it. This will cover such aspects as characterization, dialogue, description, style and flow.
bulletComment on the layout of the manuscript and explain the simple steps you should take to ensure it doesn't get sent straight back to you.
bulletRead your covering letter and provide guidance on how it can be improved. I can also draft a new letter for you if required.
bulletSuggest suitable publishers and literary agents to whom you can send the material.
bulletSuggest further reading and essential sources that you should use to seek publishing opportunities.
bulletPerhaps the most valuable single factor is that I work as a scout for a major London literary agent, and I can arrange for him to personally read your manuscript. This bypasses the 'slush pile' and means that your work will receive proper and serious consideration. However, I must emphasise that I am only prepared to forward work to him if I genuinely think that it is publishable and likely to be a commercial success.

What I need from you

The postal service where I live is somewhat slow and erratic, so I can only accept material sent by email (to appraisal@JamesBarrington.com). What you send me is up to you, but what I prefer is a synopsis and the first three chapters of the book, plus the covering letter. The reason for requesting material in this format is simple: the synopsis will show me if you can plot; the first three chapters will show that you can write, and the covering letter will be the first thing the agent or publisher sees and can radically influence his reaction before he even looks at the title page of your book.

The second thing I need is a cheque to pay for the services you want, made out to 'P Smith', my UK representative, and sent to the address given below. You can send the material to be assessed at any time, but I won't start working on it until we've received the payment due. The UK address is:


4 Akehurst Lane



TN13 1JN

United Kingdom

Type of material considered

I write thrillers, and that is where my particular expertise lies. However, I have also written non-fiction, science fiction, humour and even (very briefly!) romance, so I feel able to comment on almost any genre and type of writing. What I cannot do, obviously, is provide expert help for the factual aspects of non-fiction books where the subject matter is unfamiliar to me, although I can still assist with writing style, presentation and so on.


bullet150.00        Analysis and report on synopsis (4 pages maximum) and first three chapters
bullet  25.00        Critique of covering letter
bullet  50.00        Preparation of new covering letter
bullet  30.00        Correction of existing synopsis
bullet  50.00        Preparation of new synopsis
bullet300.00        Analysis of complete manuscript of up to 400 pages
bullet500.00        Analysis of complete manuscript of over 400 pages
bullet150.00        Second or subsequent report on revised material (all lengths)
bullet  25.00        Critique of short story or article

Note:    For the page number calculation I assume that the formatting will be double-spaced typing with the normal top, bottom and side margins.

For any material sizes or types not covered by the above list, please email me for an individual quote.


I expect to be able to respond to most submissions within two weeks, or one month for very long works. If there is likely to be any significant delay, I will email you to advise you when I expect to have completed my report.

My report to you will be accompanied by a copy of my article 'Inspiration, perspiration, publication', a three-part work which covers the entire process of publishing from the initial idea to the finished book.


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Copyright 2004 James Barrington
Last modified: Tuesday, 27 January 2009