What a Manuscript Critique Covers

As a paid beta reader, I view your work holistically, meaning I foremost take measure of how effective and engaging the entirety of your manuscript is. In the manuscript critique editorial letter I create — which can run between 4000 and 6000 words — I diagnose your work, using the craft of fiction and narrative non-fiction as a foundation.

Praise: This is the fun part. Every manuscript has its own sense of originality, its own integrity, and its own humanity. It doesn’t matter how flawed the technical aspects of a book may be, there will be something, or many things, for the reader to take away. It’s important to give credit to the foundation from which the remainder of the critique will be built on.

General Impressions: What feeling does the reader get from your book? Were they elated, frustrated, captivated? Did the story, from beginning to end, feel satisfying? Was I left feeling like there were unexploited possibilities, unanswered questions, developments that were forced or not thought through? Did if feel original? Are the book’s themes identifiable? Moreover, I will question whether the manuscript fits the conventions of the genre for which it was written.

Plot: Was the story well structured? Were there holes in the plot, or narrative threads that were left unresolved? Did it seem credible, or too unlikely? Was the conclusion at once surprising but inevitable? How was the pacing? Was the pacing logical for the genre? Was it engaging? Are your characters’ wants driving the plot? Are there human stakes, things we as the reader care about?

Characters: Did your characters behave in a consistent fashion, or did they do things that seemed ‘out of character’? Were they properly motivated? Were they well-drawn, given lives of their own. Do your protagonists have a dramatic through-line? Did they speak, appear, behave in a way that is consistent with their background, education level, and age? Were they dynamically written or flat? Do your secondary characters justify themselves? Do their stories pay off?

Description: Are your descriptions too long, not long enough, well rendered? Is your language varied, or do you repeat the same words when describing people, landscapes, and things. Do the descriptions distract from the writing or contribute to it? If you employ them, are your metaphors and similes apt? Do you overuse a part of speech like adjectives or adverbs in your descriptions. Are your verbs working for you? Are you employing clichés? Are you ‘telling’ when you should be ‘showing’? Or are you trying to micro-manage your readers’ imaginations by over-describing? Are descriptions of your locations and settings contributing to the themes of the book?

Voice: Am I getting a sense of the ‘you’ in the writing? Is the voice consistent? Am I finding any of the writing too derivative of another writer?

Point of View: Is the point of view (First, Second, Third Person and all their derivations) working for the type of story you are telling? Is that POV consistently held or does it morph into another POV as a convenience? If it is a first person narrative, is your narrator trustworthy or untrustworthy? Do you ‘head hop’, making the narrative choppy?

Dialogue: Do your characters speak like real people, or does it read like prose in quotations? Does their voice and vernacular fit their backgrounds, age, and education? Do you properly employ dialogue tags (he said, she said, and all their derivations). Are your dialogue tags too adverb heavy? Is the reader libel to get lost and lose track of your characters in the dialogue? Does the dialogue serve a purpose? Does it have its own narrative, tell its own story? Is there subtext? Or does the dialogue merely exist to convey backstory or exposition?

Sensitivity Scan: While I am not a ‘sensitivity reader,’ I will flag places I think publishers will find problematic in terms of cultural and gender stereotypes, as well as note use of out-dated language. The final word here is always with the author, but it can really pay to have an objective pair of eyes on this aspect of your writing.

Recommendations: Unlike other services, as a paid beta reader, I do my best to brainstorm prescriptive solutions to problems within the story. I like to ‘what if’ the stuffing out of a manuscript and pass my thoughts on to you. That said, I am not here to hijack your story, just offer the possibilities I saw as I read.