If you’re a writer — and I assume you are if you’re reading this — I’m guessing you’re wondering whether the story you’re writing or have written is any good. I too, often struggle with self-doubt, thinking my work isn’t “good enough.” It’s easy to feel attached to our writing and see it as an expression of ourselves.
Many writers come to me asking if I can read over what they’ve written and let them know what I think. I’m always happy to read the first two or three chapters and let them know my thoughts. After providing some feedback, the next question usually asked is, “do you think readers will like it?”
My answer is always the same: It’s hard to say whether readers will like it without reading the entire manuscript. Yes, the opening is fantastic, and I want to keep reading. But what about the rest of the story?
At this point, I usually suggest that the writer solicit an editor who offers manuscript assessments.
What is a manuscript assessment?
A manuscript assessment (or evaluation) is where a professional editor reads your entire manuscript, paying close attention to your story’s structure, character development, plot development, pace, setting, consistency etc.
The editor will provide you with a written report on what’s working in your story and what needs improvement. Every editor has their own unique method for assessing a manuscript and writing up their analysis. But the following elements are usually addressed in all editorial reports:
- Narrative Arc
When should you consider getting a manuscript assessment?
Deciding to get a manuscript assessment is a personal choice. But here are two common scenarios when a manuscript assessment is a good option:
- You are stuck. At some point during the first draft, you reach what I call the foggy middle and writing comes to a grinding halt.
- You’re on draft #8 and wondering if it’s good enough. You’ve been focusing on the story for so long that you can no longer see the forest for the trees.
My process for manuscript assessments
I always recommend seeking professional feedback after you’ve gone through a few drafts. I love doing a deep read of a manuscript, getting to figure out the characters and learning to navigate their world.
In fact, I’ve created a routine for doing manuscript assessments. It goes a little like this:
- Print. Yes, I print out the entire manuscript. My Epson ET-2760 is a workhorse and one of my best purchases this year.
- Bind. I’m a homeschooler, so making booklets is something I do regularly for my homeschool. After the manuscript has been printed, I like to bind it into an actual book. I use a ProClick P50 to do this if you’re interested.
- Make a cuppa, then sit and read.
- Chew on it. This is non-negotiable. Having time to mull it over is essential.
- Read it again and take notes. I highlight, underline, write in the margins, you name it. It’s usually quite messy when I’m done.
- Draft and revise my editorial letter.
A deeper dive into my process
As mentioned earlier, every editor is different, and will perform this task in the way that works best for them. I read the manuscript twice. I approach the first read like I would any other book on my shelf. I simply want to cozy up and immerse myself in the story. This requires me to turn my editor brain off. I don’t take notes unless I come across a passage or scene that I find too confusing to overlook.
When I’m finished with the first read, I will spend up to a week (depending on the length of the manuscript) “chewing” on the story. During this chewing phase, I will have a notebook at hand where I write down my thoughts and feelings about the characters and the plot. I’ll also write down any questions I have or anything that confused me. If I had a strong reaction to something, good or bad, I’ll note that down too. I use this chewing time to write anything and everything that comes to mind while working on other tasks.
When I feel that I have gotten everything out of my head, I will turn my editor brain back on and read the story again. I delve deep into the text, looking for big-picture issues while referencing my notes. Being familiar with the story allows me to read much faster without getting immersed into the world again. During this second read, I’m not concerned about grammar and proper word choice. However, if I notice a recurring theme such head-hopping or info-dumping, I’ll make a quick note to include it in the editorial report. This second read is primarily about ensuring all plot threads tie together, characters are fully developed, and that there is actual resolution to the story conflict.
My editorial letter runs no more than ten pages. I also include comments in the book file as a helpful reference so my client can connect the analysis in the editorial letter with specific moments in their work. For example, I might show where my client has successfully added a flashback without info dumping or written great dialogue.
This may seem like a lot of work, and indeed, it is. I usually spend 4-5 weeks working on a manuscript assessment from start to finish. My goal is to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of a novel and provide actionable advice for remedying the issues. I believe highlighting a writer’s strengths is just as important as showing them areas for improvement. It’s important for writers to know what they are doing well so they can continue doing it!
Lastly, I always thank my client for trusting me and letting me read their work. Hiring an editor can be a surprisingly difficult decision. I know it can be a scary, nerve-wracking process, and in giving my feedback I always keep this in mind. In the end, I have one goal: to help you [the writer] create your best story possible.