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 wrap up loose ends and suggest character development, transitions, pacing — basically, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your story arc and the manuscript as a whole.
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 scenes that are missing depth and potency. 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)
A client once told me, “You just found a plot hole so deep, a reader could break an ankle in it!”
I said, “Let’s plug that hole and keep your readers off crutches!”
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.
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. In short, I provide a blueprint that enhances your manuscript, generally ten pages or so of additional notes for your reference.
As I work through the document, I update you weekly. Normally, three weeks is the average turn around for completion.
How does a manuscript evaluator “know” how to evaluate? Honestly, much of it has to to do with training. An 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, 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 there is always something new to learn as we develop audience messages.
And that’s what books do — relay messages to readers and lead them on a journey.
Another benefit to an editor/evaluator’s ongoing education is the marketing component — professionals should be able to provide their best advice for pre-marketing a book with the latest trends and digital platforms in mind.
Manuscript evaluators should also offer to 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 is the difference between a manuscript evaluation and a developmental edit?
Many authors hire me to developmentally edit their book 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. 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.
Based on your experience as an author and your mastery of the language and literary conventions, sometimes it is 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 establish a comfortable working relationship.
Pricing, Quotes and Non-Disclosure Agreements
I need to see a manuscript before I can quote a price for a manuscript evaluation 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 .02¢ per word). This is a monumental project at the highest level that prepares your manuscript for publication. The cost can be as high as .05¢ per word, but again, an honest quote can’t be given without a look-see.
Before you turn your manuscript over to an editor/evaluator, insist on a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This establishes confidentiality and protects your intellectual property. The last thing you need is an underhanded person stealing your idea and hard work.
A professional editor and manuscript evaluator should offer an NDA without even being asked.