I wouldn’t be able to count the number of times aspiring and published authors have handed me their manuscripts or their books and told me to “Read it and let me know what you think.” This is going to sound crazy, but that’s just about the whole of what I am paid to do. Use my brain, intellect, knowledge, education, and sixteen years of publishing experience to essentially say what I think about a book. Sometimes those thoughts take the form of a coaching session, a developmental or substantive edit, or a weighing in to a decision that gets an author a publishing contract or changes the trajectory of their publishing career.
I know many of my peers have had the same thing happen to them as well.
What I think is happening is two-fold:
Authors—especially new ones—may not know the implications of their request, but need the feedback for clarity, direction, encouragement, and validation.
Authors may understand the implications and want to get feedback for little or no cost.
For those who fall into the first possibility, I want to offer some context regarding what you are asking for. For those who may fall into the second possibility, I want to sell the value of intentionally seeking professional feedback for your work and paying for it. If you don’t fall into either category but may need this kind of feedback, this will be an eye-opener for you regarding another way to get good help from literary professionals and freelancers.
What You Are Really Asking/What You May Need
When asking an editor (or agent, if you are not their client) to read your manuscript and tell you what they think, you are requesting a service called manuscript critique or evaluation. Some may glance at the first few pages and give you a general first impression, but most often there is a cost associated with their reading your work. The cost can vary on this service, depending on the editor's level of experience and their current workload (e.g., if a rush turnaround is needed, if they are in demand and have lots of project in their queue). A good place to go to get an idea of the costs of various literary services is Editorial Freelancers Associations Editorial Rates table.
With this request, you are pulling on their years of expertise (education, knowledge, and experience) in the industry and asking them to apply them to your manuscript. It is much like going in to see your health care provider for a checkup.
What Is a Manuscript Critique?
A manuscript critique is a full or partial reading of your manuscript that notes the general strengths and weaknesses throughout it and provides an overview of suggestions for improvement. It can also include an assessment of how your book may stand up against other books in its category. It is not an edit. You will still need to get your final draft edited.
What Are the Benefits of Getting a Manuscript Critique?
They are wonderful and cost-effective ways to get good feedback on your book several steps in the publishing process BEFORE it is finalized and about ready to go to the printer. It may be good to get this kind of review after your first draft to help you with self-editing and revisions.
They can provide you some direction if you've gotten lost in your content.
They can help you learn the potential publishability of your manuscript—if agents or publishers might be interested in it.
They can help you know if it will achieve your goal for writing it and gauge potential reader interest and engagement—in other words, what may need to be fixed or what is working for readers.
And sometimes, as with your health care, it could be helpful to get a second opinion. Sometimes weighing comments from a couple reviews can help give perspective and balance to the revision work you may need to do once the critiques have been performed.
Generally asking a literary professional or freelance editor to read your book or manuscript is asking them to work on your project. It is not quite like leisure reading for many of us and our schedules often won't allow us to squeeze it in for no cost. Manuscript critiquing and review calls us to employ our craft and skill to provide writers the information, feedback, and professional insight they need to write great books that make the right impact they desire.
Later on my blog, I will talk about how to receive a critique (it can be hard to hear the weaknesses of your piece) and how to work through the suggested changes.
What else might you want to know about manuscript critiques?