What Is a Manuscript Critique?

manuscript critique services

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

You’ve written a book. You know it could benefit from feedback, but you’re not sure you need or want a full edit yet. Before you set aside the time and money for a thorough edit of every page, you’d like general feedback (ideally, for a smaller fee).

Enter the manuscript critique, also known as a manuscript analysis, edit letter, or editorial letter.

What Is a Manuscript Critique?

A manuscript critique is “big picture” feedback on your book, provided by an editor with expertise in storytelling, organization, and prose.

You won’t see a lot of Track Changes or red marks with this level of analysis; it’s not the nitty gritty page-by-page edit. Rather, your critique editor will read your book one or two times, then give you a thoughtful accounting of its major strengths and weaknesses. This report is called an edit letter.

Personally, I love creating edit letters for authors. I find critique to be a wonderful way for me and my authors to develop mutual rapport and trust before deciding if we want to work together in greater depth (and to what degree).

For example, in some cases a critique can lead to a more hands-on relationship than a developmental edit. Some authors may decide that they need a book doctor or ghostwriter to help them complete their books according to their visions. Time constraints and deadlines may also point to the need for more hands-on help.

The critique is a chance to explore possibilities. It allows the author and editor a low-risk opportunity to get to know each other and decide if this level of partnership benefits the project.

How Manuscript Critique Works

Here’s what my manuscript critique process looks like. I work mainly with nonfiction books: how-to, self-help, business books, and health books for general readers.

First, we agree to a flat fee based on the word count of the book. After receiving my deposit, the author emails, shares, or Drop Boxes the document to me and I begin work.

Second, I read the manuscript carefully, making a few select margin notes as I go (e.g., in Track Changes in Word, or comments in Google Docs).

Third, I write a 4 to 10 page edit letter that lists any major issues I find. For example, if I see major, consistent grammar issues, I will pick one or two examples to be representations of the issue, then I’ll show the author how to fix it. I divide the editor letter into 7 sections addressing different issues such as:

  • Structure: table of contents, organization of material, order of chapters, etc.
  • Voice: How is the quality of the prose? Is the way the author is talking to the reader appropriate and appealing? 
  • Mechanics: Is the author using grammar and punctuation properly?

Often, I include additional insights on other aspects like marketing hooks and feedback on sidebars, takeaways, case studies, or back matter (appendices, footnotes, etc.).

Every edit letter ends with a summary and next steps.

Finally, with this manuscript critique in hand, the author implements suggestions with which he or she agrees. The author always retains the right to accept or reject my suggestions.

Why should you get a manuscript critique?

The critique process can be immensely valuable for writers: you’re paying a highly-skilled beta reader to tell you how you stack up to other, similar books in your field or niche. This reader has an understanding of what’s out there on the market, and she knows how your book should look and sound if it’s going to be taken seriously.

But here’s the most important part: your critique editor is not your relative, spouse, child, or friend. She’s not your co-worker or colleague. She can be honest and objective in a way that others may not be.

Therein lies the chief value of a manuscript critique: actionable, unbiased feedback on what you’ve written. Editors want you to succeed on your own terms: to say what you intend to say in a style that your readers will want to read. Your manuscript critique will give you a detailed road map telling you how to get closer to achieving that goal.

Would you like a manuscript critique?

Get in touch today to discuss your project.

When Do You Hire a Developmental Editor?

books in need of developmental editing

If you’ve read my previous three posts, you’ve learned the types of book editing and what kind of book editing you may need. Most of my nonfiction book editing and coaching clients retain me for developmental editing, which I described here.

Perhaps you’ve realized you need a developmental editor to help you start, finish, or improve your book. When do you hire her (me)?

Some writers engage an editor after drafting a complete manuscript. In many cases, the author may sense or know that their work needs significant retooling–a stronger outline or a different structure, for example, or the insertion of new chapters.

Others are at the beginning. They have a specific deadline and like to retain a developmental editor to work with them at set intervals as they write. For example, I’ve worked with authors who handed me fresh chapters about once every 4 to 8 weeks for up to a year. In that sense, the editing resembles a coaching relationship. The independent editor can nudge the writer for more work when new chapters become delinquent. Some people like and appreciate this combination of creative coach and deadline-driven accountability partner.

A content or developmental editor can be helpful at all phases, as a sounding board and a second set of eyes to look over what you have–and what you may need to bridge the gap between the work-in-progress and the finished product.

So the short answer to “When should I hire you to edit my book?” is “Any time.” If you feel stuck, need coaching, or know something in your manuscript needs fixing (even if you’re not sure what), a developmental editor can help you.

Editorial Updates: Spring Cleaning, 2017

I hate to see professional websites with stale, un-updated blogs. . . and yet I seem to have one. No longer! Spring cleaning means I need to address this shameful situation.

Here are some projects I’ve been up to in the past year:

Contract content writing. I write SEO-optimized medical blog posts for an agency with multiple clients (1-6 posts per week). I also ghost write weekly corporate blog posts for a second client in a B2B industry. I can do this for more clients–contact me if you need content.

Nonfiction book editing. Note, you may see “non-fiction” and “nonfiction” spelled interchangeably throughout this site. I let the inconsistency stand so I can grab both search terms, though I prefer the non-hyphenated version.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been editing a business book one chapter at a time–providing a mix of content editing and light line editing. That book will be published by a major business and technology book publisher sometime later this year or in early 2018. If you’re interested in working with a developmental editor, contact me–tell me about your project (book or otherwise), how far along you are with your work, your timeline, and what you think you may need.

Nonfiction manuscript critique. Last month I completed a manuscript critique of a self-published business book on leadership and management. How critique works: I read a finished draft of a book, then provide a 2-5 page, single-spaced editorial letter outlining any major issues I see (e.g., persistent grammar or usage problems; voice or style inconsistency; confusing train of thought; sequencing or structural problems; and areas where the author needs to expand upon an idea in order to make the book more “book-like” or marketable). Critique is a service I will soon list prominently in my offerings–it’s great fun to work with authors at this level, and it’s an easy, productive way for both parties to get to know each other without entering into a long-term contract. If you’re interested in critique, contact me–tell me about your project, your timeline, and where you feel your writing needs the most attention.

Upcoming Projects:

Over the next few weeks, I’m starting two new, small projects: editing and revising marketing copy for two publishing-related clients. 

How I Can Help You:

If you have a nonfiction manuscript in need of a critique or content edit, I have room in my schedule beginning June 1. I’m also taking ghostwriting and book doctoring work (nonfiction only). 

  • Critique = two read-throughs, an editorial letter, and occasional margin notes.
  • Content edit = a thorough markup of your digital manuscript with margin notes regarding structure, tone, voice, argument/research (how well did you build your case?), and sequencing of ideas. This level of editing includes light line editing (to show examples of how to fix persistent grammar or usage issues). 
  • Book doctoring = revising or helping to complete (i.e., add material to) a nearly finished nonfiction book. 
  • Ghostwriting = heavy re-writing or writing from scratch: nonfiction books, presentation materials, blog posts, business letters, query letters, etc.

Spring is an ideal time to get an editor or collaborative writer on your side–especially if you want to work faster so you can enjoy your well-earned summer vacation. Let’s chat!