Should You Get a Critique for Your Book Manuscript?
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).
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.
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© 2017 Heidi Thorne