What is a manuscript evaluation? When editors evaluate manuscripts, they aren’t necessarily looking at grammar and punctuation. Instead, they perform an in-depth read to identify narrative gaps, plot gaps, and other gaps in the story arc. Manuscript evaluators also help wrap up loose ends and might suggest character development, transitions, flow, and pacing — basically, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your story arc and the manuscript as a whole.
The Value of an Evaluation
A manuscript evaluation brings a professional and objective set of eyes to your book project. Rather than having audiences point out issues with your work, it is much better to catch and correct those issues on the front end. Thus, your manuscript evaluator ensures that your book flows, for instance, by addressing subplots that aren’t satisfactorily resolved, or lackluster dialogue, or one-dimensional characters that should be three-dimensional, or scenes that are missing depth and potency. Can your chapters be better ordered? Do your flash-forwards and flashbacks enhance the story or confuse the audience? The evaluator may also call out the need to verify dates, locales, and facts, especially with non-fiction manuscripts.
Manuscript editors/evaluators focus on the points above and below:
- story structure (the “architecture” of your book, top to bottom)
- prose style
- sensory elements
- authenticity (fact-checking, genealogical research when appropriate)
- POV (point of view)
What is the difference between a manuscript evaluation and a structural edit?
Some refer to manuscript evaluations as “editorial assessments” or “manuscript assessments.” Some equate evaluations with structural edits. What’s the difference?
In my view, manuscript evaluations and structural editing is the same thing. I provide 1.) an editorial report and 2.) a marked-up manuscript for both services. Other editors may or may not follow suit, but I have found that authors benefit doubly from the mark-ups and the reports, especially new and emerging authors.
Manuscript evaluators and structural editors can also weigh in on your book synopsis and author bio after your book is completely edited and ready for a literary agent or self-publishing.
What about developmental editing?
Many authors hire me to developmentally edit their books without a manuscript evaluation, meaning they rely on me to be “hands-on” and implement the development editing myself, basically turning me loose to bulk up, weed out, connect the dots, and sometimes rewrite entire passages. There is often a bit of ghostwriting in the developmental editing process. At times I contribute entire chapters simply to bridge from one scene to the next, or set up a trajectory that will later come to fruition.
- As a developmental editor, I do the editing for you.
- As a manuscript evaluator, I suggest improvements and rationale for your consideration.
Note: Based on your experience as an author and your mastery of the language and literary conventions, it may be more cost-effective to hire a developmental editor and skip the evaluation. Why? Because this condenses a two-step process into one. And that’s IF you trust your developmental editor to do what’s best for your manuscript. Definitely check credentials, interview by phone and/or Skype, and establish a comfortable working relationship.
Professional manuscript evaluation is an invaluable service that happens to be extremely collaborative. The relationship between the author and editor/evaluator is based on honesty and trust, with the evaluator providing insights and suggesting improvements, and the author considering and implementing the advice.
First, be sure and have signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in place to protect your intellectual property. I provide NDAs for every project, whether it be manuscript evaluations, book editing, book proposals, or ghostwriting.
A professional editor and manuscript evaluator should offer an NDA without being asked.
I evaluate from the Word document provided by the author and use a color-coded tracker. I add comments, indicate areas that need improvement or rearrangement, and suggest tweaks. I also provide multiple pages of insights in a separate document (the editorial report) and generally go over these suggestions with the author via phone or Skype. In short, I provide a blueprint that enhances your manuscript, generally five to ten pages of suggestions for your reference. As I work through the document, I update you weekly. Normally, three weeks is the average turnaround for completion, although some projects require more or less time based on the needs of the manuscript.
After an evaluation, I love to collaborate and bounce around ideas. Brainstorming can be so helpful in making a good story great.
How does a manuscript evaluator “know” how to evaluate? Honestly, much of it has to do with training. A professional manuscript evaluator has taken coursework, studied various genres, and does this work full-time. They should have tons of testimonials and book covers that demonstrate their experience. For instance, I’m a former English teacher, a book editor, a ghostwriter, a content copy editor, and an award-winning journalist, and am working on a master’s degree in mass communications after thirty-plus years in the industry. No, I don’t necessarily need a graduate degree at this point in my career, but I feel the coursework is valuable because so many of my author clients are self-publishing. Plus, there is always something new to learn. The literary world has now merged with a world of digital media, and it’s good to know how to navigate our industry. It is a pleasure to share this knowledge.
Pricing and Quotes
I need to see a manuscript before I can quote a price for a manuscript evaluation / structural edit or a developmental edit. The length of the manuscript and the amount of work needed affects the price. Remember, this is much more than a copy edit (starting at .03¢ per word). This is a monumental project at the highest level that prepares your manuscript for publication. The cost can be as high as .07¢ or .08¢ per word, but again, an honest quote can’t be given without a look-see.