You’ve drafted a piece of dark fiction, but you’re not sure whether it’s ready for editing. Are the plot and structure as effective as they could be? Are your characters fully developed and believable, or do they come off as flat? Did you pick the best POV—and execute it correctly? What could you do to improve your story before you revise and polish? A skilled editor can answer these questions through manuscript evaluation.
What is manuscript evaluation?
Manuscript evaluation, or critique, is a high-level overview and comprehensive assessment of your work, whether it be a short story, novella, or novel.
After you’ve finished a draft, you naturally need to revise it but often don’t know how to approach such a formidable task. Manuscript evaluation by a qualified story editor provides a workable process toward “re-vision”—seeing with fresh eyes—what you’ve put on paper. It analyzes what is and isn’t working, and develops a plan to implement improvements.
Manuscript evaluation offers an educated opinion, in writing, about how your draft stacks up to published fiction standards. The editor evaluates and reports on such elements as structure, plot, pacing, characterization, point of view, description, setting, and more. Most importantly, a professional critique includes what you could do to sharpen these elements and make your story better.
Why and when should you request a manuscript evaluation?
The next step beyond story coaching (link coming soon), manuscript evaluation is an entry-level edit for when you’ve completed some actual writing.
You might seek critique and feedback when you’ve finished your first (or second or subsequent) draft. Or after you’ve submitted the work to beta readers and made your own preparatory revisions.
A note about beta reading: A seasoned story editor’s manuscript evaluation goes far beyond a beta read. Beta readers can give you feedback based on their personal experience as readers in your genre. But manuscript evaluation is a deepwater analysis from an editorial professional who can can envision how to develop your story’s full potential. Isn’t that what you’re looking for?
You could even opt for manuscript evaluation after you’ve self-published a book that’s received less than stellar reviews. Manuscript critique will assess what’s going on—or not going on that should be—with your manuscript. Editor feedback will suggest how to fix problems identified.
Although developmental editing is a story-level edit designed to reshape fiction early in the revision process, your manuscript may not be ready for it. Manuscript evaluation is an introductory step that identifies the structural strengths and weaknesses of your work. Based on the editor’s guidance, you get a second go at revising your dark fiction before submitting it for developmental editing.
Part of manuscript evaluation is determining whether further editing would benefit your work. As a developmental editor, I not only review and evaluate your manuscript but will let you know if I recommend further editing. (The next step in the process (X Spectrum) is most likely developmental editing.)
What an editor does during manuscript evaluation—and how long it takes
How much time a manuscript evaluation takes depends on the size of your manuscript. I can critique a short story in a week. Novellas in three to four weeks. Novels may take six to eight weeks.
Here are the fundamentals that I review and assess during manuscript evaluation:
- Word count for your genre (dark fiction only)
- Plot, story structure, and pacing
- Conflict and tension
- Characterization and character development
- Point of view, narration, and narrative voice
- Narrative consistency and continuity
- Setting and description
I don’t do the following in manuscript evaluation:
- Correct grammar, spelling, or word choice
- Edit at the paragraph or sentence level
- Flag repetitions
- Fix dialogue problems
The result of manuscript evaluation: the editorial report
An editorial report (also called an editorial letter or memo) is what an editor returns after thoroughly reviewing a manuscript. The report provides the valuable feedback you’re looking for as a writer of dark fiction.
In my editorial reports, I begin with a general statement about your work, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Then I delve into specific critiques of the core narrative elements listed in the previous section. These assessments include advice about how to improve your story with actionable steps for revision, such as:
- Evaluation of your story’s premise
- Information you could cut—or add, if it’s missing
- Whether your word count is appropriate for your particular dark fiction market
- Ways to solidify story structure, reconstruct your plot, and avoid clichés
- Recommendations on how to heighten conflict and tension
- How you might fix instances of inconsistent pacing
- Suggestions to deepen character development and make your story people more authentic
- How to strengthen your chosen point of view, narration, and narrative voice
- Any narrative inconsistencies
- Better ways to describe characters and action grounded in your story setting
- Tips to underscore your theme
The editorial report contains information and instruction that could lead you to make substantial changes to your manuscript. Toward this end, my guidance will help you develop a revision strategy that, if implemented, will improve your story.
Finally, the editorial report concludes with any suggestions for further editing, such as developmental editing.
Your job after manuscript evaluation
You may have questions after you’ve had time to read and digest my editorial report. If so, you’re welcome to email me back for any necessary clarification about my comments and suggestions. If you’d like to conference with me to receive further advice, I offer 50% off a thirty-minute video consultation (link coming soon).
If you submit an early draft, my editorial direction may prompt a significant rewrite. If you send a polished draft after several rounds of your own revision, my comments might focus instead on deepening character development or nuancing your story’s themes.
In either case, when you receive the editorial report, you may spend a few weeks incorporating my feedback or otherwise rewriting portions of your manuscript. Rest assured, this work will strengthen your story structure and improve its content, moving you closer to the possibility of publication.
How manuscript evaluation leads to developmental editing
If you’re still in the drafting stage and aren’t sure what level of editing you need, it can’t hurt to start with manuscript evaluation. Critique identifies big-picture story issues and suggests how to fix them. You then can do your own revision (a great exercise for developing writers) and submit the revised manuscript afterward for developmental editing.
When you follow the staged editorial process in the Fiction Editing Spectrum and begin with manuscript evaluation, you’ll save money in the long run when you move on to developmental editing; I provide a discount for both services.
I typically recommend you submit your dark fiction for manuscript evaluation first. By making your own changes based on my feedback, you’ll learn how to revise your own work. And your story will be more cohesive moving forward.
With developmental editing, I also provide an editorial report. However, the information and suggestions will be more in-depth and include inline comments. Since you will have addressed structural and other overarching issues during your revision following manuscript evaluation, I’ll be able to focus on finessing your story into something even more powerful and compelling.
For more information, see What Developmental Editing Can Do for Writers of Dark Fiction.
Cost of manuscript evaluation
Reedsy averages the cost of an editorial assessment at $0.0197 cents per word ($0.02). This means that, for an 80,000-word book, the average quote would be $1520.
My rate for manuscript evaluation is $2.95 per 250-word page, which comes out to $0.0118 per word. For more information about my editing rates, see Dark Fiction Editing Rates.
How you can start the process of manuscript evaluation
If you’re thinking about submitting your latest work (or a previously shelved manuscript) for evaluation, I’ll need you to do something important for me. (And, by the way, I’m not the only editor who may request what I’m about to ask you.)
Write me the back cover description for your book. This text of around 100 words lets me know what your story is about and what you intended to accomplish in writing it. I’ll use this summary as a basis to evaluate the whole manuscript.
Book descriptions communicate what your story’s about through three simple elements:
- Who your main character is
- Your character’s story problem and goal
- The conflict arrayed against them (what’s at stake)
In describing what your story’s about, provide the premise without giving away any twists or the ending. These few sentences are what you’re promising to those who risk buying your work. I need this information so that I can evaluate whether your manuscript delivers on what you’ve promised.
How to write your book description
The protagonist is a character whose life is upended by a problem and who therefore pursues a goal to resolve that problem. During this process, they encounter conflict that threatens what’s most important to them—the stakes of the story.
Here’s my 94-word book description for Death Perception, a supernatural thriller:
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice.
Let’s analyze this:
|Who’s the protagonist?||Young Kennet Singleton is a crematory operator with a mediumistic ability.|
|What’s his problem and story goal?||He wants to escape the personal care home where he lives with his mother and get a place of his own. But his ability to discern the cause of death of those he cremates entangles him with murderers.|
|What’s at stake in the conflict?||In his desire to save the care home residents and avenge the murdered dead, Kennet must stay alive to expose the killers and bring them to justice.|
[Here’s another way to write a book description:
Getting Your Readers to Click “Buy Now”]
It takes a little doing, but see if you can write a 100-word book description for your story, novella, or novel. Then you’ll be ready to contact me about manuscript evaluation.
If you’re looking for a high-level assessment of the narrative elements in a work of dark fiction, an analysis that will guide you into a more effective revision process, consider manuscript evaluation. Drop me a line about your project soon, and let’s explore how to make your work more publishable.