Should You Get a Critique for Your Book Manuscript?

Updated on November 24, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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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).

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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.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

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    © 2017 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

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      Heidi Thorne 4 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

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      Heidi Thorne 4 months ago from Chicago Area

      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 Fish profile image

      Larry W Fish 4 months ago from Raleigh

      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.

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      Linda Crampton 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 months ago from USA

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

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 4 months ago from London

      Thanks dear,,you have a great weekend too.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      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!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 months ago from Chicago Area

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

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 4 months ago from London

      Interesting and useful information Heidi,thanks for sharing.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 months ago from Chicago Area

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

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 4 months ago from london

      Very useful information. Thank you.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 months ago from England

      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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