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Should You Consider a Manuscript Critique?

by Floyd Largent

Content Editor | Books | Short Stories

If you’ve recently completed a book-length manuscript, it’s best to run it past another pair of eyes before you send it out into the world. As the author, you may be too close red-pento the project to see its potential flaws, from minor continuity errors to gaping plot holes—especially if you’ve been tightly focused on copyediting or just on getting the project done. Incidentally, those new eyes should be unbiased. While you may have a friend or relative willing to do a critique for free, they’re likely to be so wowed by the fact that you’ve actually written a book and so unwilling to hurt your feelings that they won’t be able to offer honest, constructive feedback about it.

A professional editor can be that unbiased set of eyes, providing a frank assessment of your manuscript that will help you fill in the gaps and smooth out the rough spots. Remember: in this tough publishing environment, acquisitions editors are no longer willing to consider manuscripts that aren’t as close to final as possible. If your manuscript requires more than minimal editing, they’ll bounce it before they get past Page 10, no matter how good it is.

Now, I’m sure that all editors use slightly different evaluation methodologies, so I’ll just describe my own. First, I read the entire manuscript carefully at least twice (usually three times), leaving in-text comments scattered throughout using MS Word’s Comments feature.  Depending on the level of reworking I feel the manuscript requires, as well as its length, the number of in-text comments may vary from as few as 20 to more than 200. This is strictly a review; I make no attempt to copyedit the work.

Once I’ve completed the review reads, I’ll write a detailed evaluation report explaining, in general terms, what I think is both right and wrong with the manuscript, using the in-text comments as specific examples. If I believe the manuscript needs a copyedit or developmental edit, I’ll note that in the review. My primary goal is to guide you toward the points you should cover and the plot holes you should repair in a rewrite of the manuscript.

My comments, both in the text and in the report, tend to be blunt and straightforward, while simultaneously offering encouragement. The final report can range from 5-25 double-spaced pages long, depending on how much reworking I believe the manuscript requires. The average is 12-14 pages. And as with any editing job, you’re free to accept or reject the criticisms, depending on whether you feel they’re valid or not.

Writing is a tough job. The fact that you’ve completed a book-length manuscript in the first place puts you in a rank above most of the people who call themselves writers, and immediately earns you my respect and congratulations. My fondest hope is that by offering a critique, I can help you make your book just a bit better before you move forward with your publication efforts.

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