What is a manuscript assessment?

You’ve written a book you’re nervously in love with. Now what? Contrary to every neophyte urge in your authorial body, you are not to immediately send your work out to every publishing house you know. Sorry! Instead, you’re in for an age of reviewing. Yaaaaay . . .

But that reviewing will have purpose, be one of the most useful and growth-oriented tasks you perform for this book, and will leave you with the material you need to write a killer brief for your sales pitch—when you are ready to submit your work to a publisher or agent.

Enter the manuscript assessment, or evaluation or critique, depending on how you like to phrase things. A manuscript assessment will tell you where you’re really hitting your stride, areas you might be missing some depth, and times you may have inadvertently written some ick (casual -isms, cringe dialogue, way too heavy “borrowing” to call it creative license, and other potentially embarrassing oversights).

So, what is a manuscript assessment and how is it different from a beta read? Let’s get into it.

What is included in a manuscript assessment

The very first review you get done will influence how much time you spend reworking your material and how useful that reworking actually will be. And I don’t mean the first review you do for yourself (and you should absolutely read your work out loud at least once before getting other eyes on it). I’m talking about the first time you hand over your manuscript to a professional reviewer.

A typical Right Your Writing manuscript assessment is comprised of the following:

  • Complete read-through of manuscript
  • Notes on general response as a reader, as well as editorial insights
  • A breakdown of the parts of a story (characters, plot, POV, setting, etc.) with suggestions to overcome revision barriers
  • Assessment of writing style in terms of voice, believability, tone, readability, and reading level for target audience
  • Plot map for fiction and an argument outline for non-fiction

You get a strong feel for “how you’re doing” as a writer and storyteller from a manuscript assessment. If you’re unsure about how effective your plot twists are or if your characters read well, you are certainly in assessment territory. If you are worried only about comma placement and if you’ve left any egregious dangling modifiers, you can look to line or copy editing.

A manuscript assessment is not a line-by-line editing of the work. While you may see comments on each page, and the editorial letter returned may even include pagination for references and examples, the concept of an assessment is to look at the biggest picture and guide the author to make the changes necessary to improve their work. Grammatical editing is focused more on the polish of the piece, like painting your house after renovating. The manuscript assessment is the duct work and plumbing and foundation. Once those are in order, you can work on the finer points for effect and aesthetics.

Why would you choose a manuscript assessment? You’re finished your first draft of your book and are looking for guidance on creating a more effective narrative. You have questions about the direction you’ve sent your plot and are wondering if your other ideas have more merit. You’ve already rewritten a good portion of the book and can’t find the story anymore. You want a critical review of your work.

Do not do a manuscript assessment if you are not prepared to make huge changes. I have had authors rewrite their books after doing an assessment because there was a stronger layout. I’ve had authors revise characters, cultures, and entire worlds. If you’re coming in for an assessment, you’re looking for improvement. To my ears, that means you’re ready to do some work. And, if you’re not, you can always look into developmental editing that will provide more rewrites for you or straight-up hire a ghost writer.

Send an email to mgardner@rightyourwriting.com for your manuscript assessment questions!

Published by M Gardner

Editor and writing coach. I'm keen on helping establish and grow unique authorial voices for maximum impact in the reading world.

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