A Manuscript Critique: Your Most Pressing Questions Answered

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A manuscript critique (also known as manuscript assessment or evaluation) is a service that many authors skip. They’ll hire professionals to edit, proofread, and format their books because those are essential steps in the publishing process. However, many think a manuscript critique is an additional step they’d rather skip, whether because they see it as unnecessary extra work or because they believe it’s only for amateur authors who don’t yet know how to write. 

The reality is that a manuscript critique can provide immense value to any author, even veteran ones, and can help make a book much better. While it’s true that you don’t have to get a manuscript critique, this is a useful service for most writers, especially those still learning the ropes (which is not to say that more experienced authors can’t derive significant benefits!). However, novice writers often don’t know about manuscript critiques, so we’ve broken down what the service entails and how it can improve a book.

Check out our manuscript critique service to learn exactly what you’ll get with a critique from us.

How is a manuscript critique different from a developmental edit?

Some authors skip a manuscript critique and just get a developmental edit. They don’t see the point of a critique because they think it’s a less detailed version of a developmental edit. While that’s not necessarily far off, getting a manuscript critique and adding the suggested revisions before you shell out for a more in-depth developmental edit is often worth it in the long run.

Both a manuscript critique and a development edit examine the big-picture issues in your manuscript—problems with the plot, character development, themes, narrative arc, pacing, and other elements that affect the overall story. The primary difference between the two is that a developmental editor provides detailed comments throughout the manuscript so you know exactly what isn’t working and have a good idea of how to fix it. The editor offers specific recommendations on different sections of the draft to help you shape it into a book that readers will devour.

With a manuscript critique, you don’t get all those notes in the margins—the editor simply provides a summary that explains the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript and offers broad-stroke suggestions for improvement. Since an editorial letter containing the editor’s overall thoughts on your manuscript often comes with developmental editing as well, you may wonder why you should bother with a manuscript critique.

If they’re so similar, why not skip the manuscript critique and get the developmental edit?

No manuscript is perfect—not even those composed by the best authors in the world. That means there’s always room for improvement, no matter how many times you seek feedback from a manuscript critic or a developmental editor. Getting a quick manuscript critique before you move on to an in-depth developmental edit is a good way to address the most glaring issues, allowing your developmental editor to dive deeper and focus on smaller issues they may overlook if your manuscript were plagued by bigger problems.

The other advantages of manuscript critiques are obvious—they’re much cheaper and faster than developmental editing. That means you’ll get the best bang for your buck with a manuscript critique followed by developmental editing rather than with one or two rounds of developmental editing only.

Can I just ask my friends to critique my manuscript?

Yes, you can, and many authors do. However, you should view this as an additional layer of feedback rather than a substitute for a professional critique. Even if they’re avid readers, friends and family members simply won’t have the industry knowledge or experience of someone who evaluates manuscripts for a living. They won’t know genre trends or understand the market. Their feedback is valuable, certainly—after all, they’re likely a better representation of your target audience than your developmental editor, who will read your manuscript with a laser-sharp focus on plot problems. Still, feedback from your friends can’t replace professional advice.

What’s more, friends and family may hold back to spare your feelings. If they have nothing but positive comments, you can bet they’re not being entirely honest. A professional is more concerned with identifying ways to improve your manuscript, so you’ll receive more honest (and more useful) feedback. Yes, it can be painful, but it’s what’s best for your book.

Does that mean an editor will just trash my book?

Not at all! Just because a professional isn’t concerned about sparing your feelings doesn’t mean they’ll disparage your work. Good editors offer balanced feedback and do so with tact. While they point out weaknesses and identify ways to improve story elements, they also highlight your book’s strengths. 

When balanced with constructive criticism, the positive feedback will mean more—you’ll know it’s genuine, whereas your friends’ and family’s compliments may be empty platitudes. A professional manuscript critic or developmental editor knows how to deliver criticism gently to soften the blow, even when they tell you things you don’t want to hear. Yes, you’ll still need to prepare yourself emotionally, but remember that your editor is your friend.

When should I get a manuscript critique?

Once you’ve taken your manuscript as far as you can and see no other ways to improve it (or just feel “stuck”), you might be ready for a manuscript critique. You want to take this step before paying for any substantial editing since the suggestions you receive will likely entail a considerable amount of rewriting and restructuring—hiring an editor to eliminate typos and sentence-level issues would be futile at this stage. A manuscript critic isn’t worried about typos or grammatical errors—they’re only concerned with the big-picture elements that can make or break your story. 

If you’re at that stage, have us look at your manuscript, and we’ll offer you helpful feedback to put your book on the right track.

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