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  • Writer's pictureMadii Cato

The Function of a Manuscript Critique

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

A manuscript critique has many different purposes. It's best to think of it like the professional, and more invasive, version of a beta read. This feedback will be more in-depth and include not just reader feedback but feedback with the industry in mind. There are many reasons an author may want to book a manuscript critique, but in almost all of these cases, the goal is to receive some guidance on the ideal next steps in turning their draft into a successfully published book.

This shares a lot of similarities with book coaching services. Usually, a book coach will read your manuscript and schedule a meeting with you to discuss strengths, weaknesses, and next steps. This can be one meeting or a series of meetings over time. Manuscript critiques function in much the same way but are normally completed all at once and accompanied by a written report—and sometimes on-manuscript comments instead of having a sit-down meeting with a coach.

Identifying Where Your Manuscript Is

e-reader, glasses, and a book

No matter what the specific reason is that you may feel your manuscript needs a professional critique, it’s likely because you need help determining—or would like confirmation on—how close to publishing your manuscript is. You’ll either feel like your book has a solid foundation or that you have a lot of work ahead of you. The more often you publish, the more familiar you will be with identifying and correcting the weak spots in your novels, and then this type of edit might only be necessary for the trickier stories or book structures. Sometimes, a critique is requested just to set a baseline for guiding beta-reader feedback.

A well-edited manuscript undergoes multiple rounds of beta reader feedback. There is no specific number of beta reader rounds that is appropriate, but as you get feedback at the end of each round, you will get a sense of whether or not you’ve addressed all of the big concerns with your manuscript. Hiring an editor to critique your manuscript before you begin beta reader feedback will give you an idea of what kind of feedback to ask for and also an idea of whether or not you have more serious issues to correct before moving on to the next stage of editing.

Your editor might suggest big developmental changes to help tighten your story or liven up your character arcs, but they might also tell you that your book is in amazing condition and suggest smaller changes for consistency, voice, or tone. Ideally, at the end of this review period, you'll have a solid idea of what type of editing you'd need to move on to next with concrete examples and suggestions.

Getting Guidance When You Feel at a Standstill

map. receiving guidance

The second most common reason you may want a manuscript edit is if you love your story, but know it isn’t a bestseller yet and might be unsure of how to get it there. There are some book ideas we have as writers that just don’t come as easily or completely as others. Some stories will flow out of you and feel like a novel at the end of draft one and others will feel like they are teeming with untapped potential after a couple of drafts.

These manuscripts usually fall into one of two categories: zero drafts or incomplete manuscripts.

Zero Draft

This type of draft is extensively rough. Even though we think of our first drafts as being the roughest versions, sometimes what we end up with is actually a zero draft. This isn’t a term everyone uses, but it indicates the draft may need some big developmental changes to read smoothly or make sense. Chunks might need to be rewritten, sections might be missing, and the point of view the book is written in might need to be changed. Personally, I encounter this most often with fast drafting and writing contests.

Want to learn more about zero drafts? Check out this YouTube video explaining in detail how they are different from first drafts.

Incomplete Manuscript

Now we are talking about a manuscript you know has potential—or are very attached to—that isn’t a marketable book yet, but you’re sure you can make it one with the right tools! Some writers might have no idea where to go from their current manuscript, but others might have so many ideas they aren’t sure which one would be best. No matter why your manuscript is incomplete, an editor can work with you during a manuscript critique to help fill out your novel in the best way possible to save you time editing down the line.

The Process of a Manuscript Critique

We’ve covered why this type of edit is important and what kinds of manuscripts benefit from it the most, now we are going to cover the timeline of a general manuscript critique and some of the specific feedback you can expect.

It’s important to remember that each editor will have their own process and feedback method, so make sure you communicate thoroughly with them about what to expect before you book an edit. What we are going over below is the process Bound By Words uses during manuscript edits, but many other editors and companies have a similar system.


schedule, planning your edit

After reaching out to your editor, they will likely respond by asking more about your manuscript and any publishing goals you have. For example, how long your book is and when you would like it to be published or completed. It’s best to include as much relevant information as possible when reaching out to an editor if you are interested in booking their services. Many editors require a certain amount of information in the request form; but for best results, it’s always smart to include general information about the genre and topic of the book as well as any known publishing goals or guidelines you want to meet.

Next comes the discussion about the editor's availability and a more in-depth idea of how exactly they'll go through your manuscript and make suggestions. This is an important stage because you want to make sure you’re not only getting the most bang for your buck but also that you get along personally with the editor you’ve chosen. Even though the editor-author relationship is strictly a professional one, you want to make sure you’re comfortable communicating with your editor and that you feel like you’re book will be taken care of in their hands.

At Bound By Words, you’ll receive a response to your initial inquiry within 48 hours with a rundown of what to expect during the edit itself. Unfortunately, for manuscript critiques, I do not offer a sample edit because some of the suggestions will be developmental in nature and may span a larger section of the book. But first-chapter reviews, which offer the same editing benefits of a manuscript critique on a smaller scale, are also available on the Services page.

Suggestions to Expect

After working out the dates and any other paperwork, the rest is up to the editor. I offer weekly progress check-ins for longer projects, but you can reach out any time during an edit with questions or concerns. While completing this edit, I will leave comments directly on the manuscript making suggestions for improvement that might affect consistency, readability, tone, character quality, pacing, and quite a bit more. You can visit the Services page if you'd like to review a more detailed list because we have a lot of other material to cover in this article.

On top of these on-manuscript comments, I also leave review notes in between chapters as necessary and return the manuscript with a complete reader report. I find both of these to be important because even though a reader report is a detailed breakdown of the areas needing improvement in your manuscript, some comments make the most sense in context. Reading about specific ways to improve your pacing is certainly helpful, but reading at the end of a chapter the previous 10 pages moved a little too slowly—or introduced some amount of confusion—will help you make more effective changes.

On Return and Final Review

You’ll receive your manuscript back with a reader report and any important details on how to review the edit. Some information is general, like how to toggle track changes on and off, and some might be unique to your manuscript, like highlighting tense shifts in blue.

Reader Reports

stack of reader reports

A several-page breakdown of strengths, weaknesses, and constructive criticism will accompany the final edit upon return. This report will be broken down into sections of review, starting with a summary of your story. Having someone else summarize the main points of your story will allow you to see if you are expressing your ideas the way you envisioned while drafting. For example, if you have important points in your book that aren't addressed in the summary, there is a chance you didn't spend enough time on those points or there wasn't enough tension to make them impactful to the reader.

Other sections of the reader report will include: strengths, weaknesses, character voice, character arc, setting, pacing, tone, language, uniqueness of writing, and plot holes among other things. These topics are chosen based on the needs of your manuscript. If you have written an amazing character voice, then there won’t be as much commentary on that topic as there will be on others.

How Your Manuscript Will Benefit

manuscript component laid out

What’s most important about every type of edit you drag your manuscript through is improvement. That is the goal of every editing stage whether you are self-editing or hiring a professional. So how will your manuscript improve after a manuscript critique?

If your manuscript fell into one of the two categories we spoke about earlier, zero draft or incomplete, then the benefit will likely be a cohesive story with a strong foundation. The review you receive in a manuscript critique might even guide you through several rounds of self-editing. The first might tackle holes and structure, the second might tackle relationships between characters and voice, and the third might address the amount of dialog used. The various sections of the reader report will give you a lot of information to work with while improving your story.

Even if you aren’t in one of those two categories, and you have a complete first draft but would like some guidance on how to move forward, your editor can give you feedback with that in mind. They can highlight points of improvement that will make your book more marketable or even more unique for your readers to enjoy. So be very transparent when you are telling your editor what you want to get out of the edit. The feedback from this type of critique may also help you discover the best method of beta reader feedback for your novel.

Do you think your manuscript needs a critique? Request to book with Bound By Words today!

Happy Editing,



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