Manuscript evaluations: What, why, and insights

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What is a manuscript evaluation? Why is assessment by a skilled editor useful? Learn about this editing service (plus insights gathered from writing reader reports):

What is a manuscript evaluation?

A manuscript evaluation (also known as an appraisal or assessment) is an editing service where a professional editor reads your manuscript and provides high-level (overview) feedback.

Your editor typically covers the strengths of the manuscript and areas requiring further revision.

It’s a structured report, like a personalized writing manual, tailored to your story.

Our own report format includes overview feedback on:

  • General strengths and areas for further improvement
  • Narrative structure
  • Characterization and character development
  • Pacing and tension
  • SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) and style
  • Setting/worldbuilding
  • Marketability/next steps

Plus more. Some editors (myself included) also annotate the submitted draft with periodic commentary.

Reasons for including inline commentary include:

  • Identifying specific issues or weak spots raised in the manuscript appraisal
  • Sharing relevant writing craft resources that explain concepts raised in the report where useful
  • Noting what works in the manuscript to draw attention to exemplary, stand-out passages
  • Aiding the report-writing process: Searchable commentary using shorthand is useful for cross-referencing story details to aid macro, large-scale feedback (e.g. feedback about your character development/arcs)

When to get a manuscript assessment

Getting a manuscript assessment is helpful at two specific stages in the writing process:

  • You’ve written your complete draft and want to know what works and where any elements of the story break down
  • You’ve written some/most of a draft and want feedback to check or recalibrate your course

Why should you get one?

5 reasons to get a manuscript assessment

  1. Learn what works and what doesn’t (yet).
  2. Get distance from the text (objective analysis).
  3. Prioritize next steps in revision.
  4. You get to make changes yourself (instead of line edits).
  5. Manuscript assessments cost less than developmental editing.

Preparing for a manuscript appraisal: What to expect

Editors, like authors, have varying styles. Some are blunt in how they deliver feedback, while others couch feedback in kinder or rather suggestive language: ‘Perhaps’ or ‘You could also…’.

A good editor is in some ways like an improvisation partner, in that they say, ‘Yes, and…?’, not merely a flat ‘no’.

What makes a good editor - Robert Gottlieb quote

If submitting your manuscript, prepare for:

Honest editorial feedback

There is a simplistic version of what an editor does – that they ‘correct’ and/or ‘fix’ language.

Sure, there are times when editing is mainly remedial. If errors are mainly in the SPAG category, for example.

Yet editing is often more nuanced than that. It’s also adding value. An editor serving your text with careful analysis and advising you so it can become the best possible version of itself. At times the ‘fix’ is obvious, objective. At times it’s more open to style, taste, and there are trade-offs between aesthetic and story purpose to be made.

It’s a dance between strictness with ‘the rules’ of language and communicating with purpose and impact, on one hand, and freedom to play and preserving your individual voice on the other.

As a Now Novel MS evaluation client Joe says, honest but thoughtful feedback ultimately builds your writing confidence.

I really liked that he wasn’t just telling me what I wanted to hear, which boosted my confidence in my writing.

Joe Z, Now Novel review via TrustSpot

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An opportunity for editing consultation

In the world of traditional publishing, you often have no direct contact with editors. For example, when an agent is querying on your behalf.

One of the true advantages of working privately with an editor is the opportunity for attentive, purpose-driven consultation.

As editing client Rob says, a good ongoing relationship with an editor founded on trust helps you build faith and trust in your own process, too:

This is the second time I have used this service. NOWNOVEL has completed a manuscript assessment and edit mark-up. I cannot praise them enough. Not only were they direct with comments about the ms shortfalls, they gave credit where due. This is important because writers learn what they do well, remember the comments, and relax going forward.

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Rob, Now Novel manuscript evaluation feedback via TrustSpot.

Broader feedback than developmental editing

Developmental editing and copy-editing get into detail, into the muck of language and structure. Your editor may rewrite a passage to give an example of different phrasing, or track detailed cuts with an explanation of how this benefits story pace and tension.

This makes developmental editing more labor-intensive than manuscript assessments, which is why it often costs nearly double per word (though it is worth it if you want help overhauling a more underdeveloped story).

Manuscript evaluation - benefits infographic

This is useful if you are on a budget yet still want detailed writing feedback.

5 insights from writing manuscript assessments

  1. Share your vision upfront
  2. Book further consultations if needed
  3. Get a sample edit to check fit
  4. Keep realistic expectations
  5. Ask questions for clarifications

A little more on each of the above:

Share your vision upfront

It’s helpful for an editor to know a little about what you’re aiming for. How you see your work currently versus where you want it to be.

When an editing client says, for example, ‘I’m not sure if my main character’s arc is too flat‘ (in filling out the section titled ‘key challenges’ in our editing quote form), this helps us to ensure that the report pays extra careful attention to this ‘problem’ area.

Book further consultations if needed

Often editing clients wish to discuss the project further after receiving a manuscript assessment.

Either the assessment itself has sparked further ideas, or else the client is at a crossroads and has creative decisions to make and would like a continued sounding board.

Because editing is a bespoke/custom service, it’s easy to add on a Skype/Zoom call (if your editor offers this) for a freer discussion.

If your editor has capacity for this, send a concise list of questions you want to explore with them before your call. This way they can prepare and offer you their most considered thoughts.

Get a sample edit to check fit

A sample edit is a free edit of a few pages as an initial assessment. This is useful for seeing whether there is ‘fit’ with your editor.

If you don’t like a potential editor’s feedback style, it is better to discover this before making a larger financial commitment.

Keep realistic expectations

There are occasions where authors hold unrealistic expectations of the editing process.

For example, an author might write ‘I want you to make my novel a New York Times bestseller’.

While an editor can assist you with making your manuscript more marketable by helping you give it more polish and identifying, for example, where it departs norms of genre in a way that confounds reader expectations, many factors go into a book’s publishing success (marketing, the size of your platform, quantity, tenor and placement of reviews, and more).

So keep realistic expectations: An editor eases elevation, but your own, persistent march will ultimately get you to your version of ‘the top’.

Ask questions for clarification

Ideally, in a manuscript evaluation or assessment feedback that requires clarification or justification will be explained in context.

There still may be instances where you’re still slightly unsure.

A good and patient editor will invite and answer queries you may have in response to your assessment.

What has your experience been working with editors, or what is one area of your writing you would like an editor to help with? Comment below.

Get a free sample edit when you get a no-obligation editing quote for Now Novel’s editing services.

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