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Should You Get a Critique for Your Book Manuscript?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

A critique can help get your book ready for more detailed editing.

A critique can help get your book ready for more detailed editing.

As an editor, I usually recommend that authors have me do a book manuscript critique before any other editing work. Usually, that suggestion is met with a question, “What is a book critique?”

Of course, these authors could just look up critique in the dictionary, and my service description explains what I would do for them. But I understand their confusion. In high school or college, students are often asked to critique a book or other writing in English classes. So authors have that homework assignment stuck in their heads and don't realize how that process could benefit their own writing or self publishing endeavors.

To clarify and quickly summarize, a critique is a critical evaluation of a book.

What Does a Critique Evaluate? How Is It Different From an Edit?

Though it varies from editor to editor, a critique can evaluate for any or all of the following manuscript aspects:

  • Clarity and readability.
  • Writing style.
  • Structure, flow, and cohesiveness.
  • Appropriateness for the intended audience.
  • Readiness for publishing.
  • Plot, story, and character development (for fiction).
  • Writing quirks, mechanical errors, and compliance with accepted language standards. (Note, though, that a critique would not correct or point out specific individual errors as proofreading would. It merely identifies what kind of error types were found.)

True, many of these elements would also be evaluated during an edit. However, in an edit, changes could actually be made right in the manuscript, page by page. A critique is merely an overview report that points out areas of concern for the author to address before going forward.

Why Do I Recommend a Critique Before Editing?

When authors approach me for editing their books, I ask them to verify what they mean by “editing” (some confuse line editing for the content with copy editing, or proofreading, for the mechanics). That way, I confirm we’re speaking the same language.

But, as mentioned earlier, before I automatically accept an editing job, I suggest a book manuscript critique. Why? Some manuscripts are a mess on multiple levels. Others are just one proofread round away from being ready to format for publishing. So without reading it, it’s difficult to assess what needs to be done next.

Actually, the situation is similar to a patient going to a doctor and saying, “Doc, I need heart surgery.” No doctor would accept that patient’s self-diagnosis. Plus, there are so many types of heart surgery and heart care protocols. Rather, doctors would likely do an in-office check (for which they will charge you), as well as order up a battery of lab tests and evaluations before ever picking up a scalpel. So, too, a critique serves as a diagnostic test to determine how ready a manuscript is for publishing and what next steps need to be taken (which might include some serious “surgery” on the writing).

Your Book Needs a Diagnostic Critique Before Editing "Surgery"

Is a Critique the Same as a Beta Reading?

In my critique service description, I indicate that this service can be a beta read for a manuscript. Of course, my critique evaluates way more than some beta readers would offer.

A beta reader can look at the same elements that a critique can, but may not. So, yes, it can be a beta reading. But it’s vitally important to clarify with your beta readers or editors what will be evaluated in a critique.

Is a Critique a Book Review?

Absolutely not! While amateur editors or beta readers you recruit from your family and friends may slip up and give a manuscript a thumbs up or down, professional editors typically don’t when doing a critique. A book review is a like/don’t like, product type review that is typically done after the book publishes. A critique is diagnostic function that evaluates particular aspects of a manuscript, usually before it’s published (except for book critique school assignments as discussed earlier).

Is There a Fee for a Book Critique?

Well, it depends on who’s doing it. While friends may do it for free (notice I said “may,” not “will”), most professional editors will charge a fee for their time to read a manuscript and evaluate it. Editors may have different fees for critiques versus full scale editing. These days, fees would likely be charged by the word, although some editors may still charge by the hour.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 30, 2018:

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Lyndsey, I'm so glad this gave you some hope for your future publishing aspirations! It is a process, sometimes a long process.

Even though it will be an expense, it's probably wise to consider hiring an outside editor to review your work, rather than family and friends. The outside help can be more objective and give you constructive feedback. I know that's a big step. So only do so when you feel your work is ready.

In addition to the usual writing challenges, you have your health issues that will affect your output for sure. So be patient and kind to yourself as you develop your skills.

Wishing you the very best on your author journey!

Lyndsey19 on November 29, 2018:

thank you for this information, I am a new writer and admittedly I have already made the mistake of trying to rely on friends and family to critique my work, i had started the whole publish chapter by chapter on wattpad sending the the links whenever i would publish a new chapter and would ask for feedback but with most not even reading it actually lead to a decline in quality with each chapter and the depression of feeling like no one cares, now i am going back through and redoing chapters and having great difficulty motivating myself to keep going, granted i'm not in a position where i could afford much to put towards my book since i have great difficulty working a normal job due to my Aspergers and depression, but reading this article makes me believe that it is definitely something to invest towards, so thank you. ^-^

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 26, 2017:

Larry, glad you found it helpful! We're all a little fuzzy on some things and luckily we can all learn from each other. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a great rest of the weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 26, 2017:

Linda, the authors I've done critiques for have often been surprised at what they learn from the critique process. For some, it was the tool they needed to turn their manuscripts into something greater than even they had hoped. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 26, 2017:

Flourish, actually that grad student critique was win-win for all parties: The writers got a more educated (and, we hope, unbiased) critique, the grad students got experience evaluating a variety of written works, and the prof got a break from reading it all. :) Thanks for providing a great real world example. Hope you're enjoying the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend. Cheers!

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on November 26, 2017:

Another great article, Heidi. You give very good advice and have explained some things that I personally have been a little fuzzy on. Thanks for your good explanations.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 25, 2017:

This is interesting information, Heidi. I think it would very useful for someone who has written a book.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 25, 2017:

In grad school, professors sometimes had advanced grad students perform this function, free of course. It was a built in understanding.

Nikki Khan from London on November 25, 2017:

Thanks dear,,you have a great weekend too.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 25, 2017:

G'morning, Bill! Yep, it can be an investment. But for really inexperienced authors who are trying self publishing, it can be worth it. Agreed, asking friends for this help can strain the best of relationships (and don't even get me started on asking family).

Thanks for stopping by and have a great post-Thanksgiving Weekend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 25, 2017:

All good suggestions, for sure. Paying for one can be prohibitive, and finding a friend to do it can be a strain on patience....months can pass by while the friend "gets around to it." But the suggestion is right on!

Happy Saturday, Heidi!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 25, 2017:

You're welcome, Nikki! Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

Nikki Khan from London on November 25, 2017:

Interesting and useful information Heidi,thanks for sharing.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 24, 2017:

Nell, we all live and learn, eh? :) Well, at least you'll know for your next children's book. Thanks for chiming in, as always! Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 24, 2017:

Glad you found it helpful, Manatita! Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

manatita44 from london on November 24, 2017:

Very useful information. Thank you.

Nell Rose from England on November 24, 2017:

I was okay with my novel, but my children's book has left me scratching my head and say, did I ? what the..? LOL! so yes any help I could have got would have been great! Interesting read, thanks.

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