Hey, look at you, all fancy-like!
Anyone would think you were getting ready for a hot date, or something.
You’ve been primping and polishing for long enough. Has anyone mentioned you’ve spent far too much time looking in the mirror lately? You should really stop that. Your perceptions are probably clouded.
What you need now is a second opinion. An honest second opinion. Someone who can tell you the absolute truth about whether or not you’re ready to meet the date of your dreams.
You need to phone a friend.
Hold in there; we’re nearing the end of our makeover!
Extreme Manuscript Makeover: Phone A Friend
Your manuscript is close to being ready for submission. We’ve already made it through:
Now you’re ready for some serious feedback.
Sources of Constructive Criticism
Where do you plan to get your constructive criticism? There are many sources, but not all of them are equally reliable or helpful.
If you happen to be good friends with a publishing industry insider — an agent, an editor, a published author — then by all means, their feedback is highly desirable.
Of course, for the vast majority, criticism is generally available from three different sources. In order from the least to most reliable, they are:
- Friends and Family
- Writing Groups
- Manuscript Assessment Agency
Whichever you decide to use, be aware of the pros and cons involved.
Friends and Family
While it’s okay to let friends and family members read and comment on your work, in most cases, I wouldn’t recommend them as being your sole source of criticism. Here are a few reasons why:
First, your friends and family love you. They want to make you happy. They won’t have the guts to tell you they don’t like your life’s work.
Second, they’ll probably like anything you write because they like you (well, you are quite likeable).
Third, and most importantly, they probably don’t have the right skills or knowledge to offer you any significant advice.
If you do choose someone close to you as a source of criticism, be sure they’re brutally honest, are widely read, and have some insight into the publishing process. But please, proceed with caution.
The right type of writing group can provide good feedback on your manuscript (read Writing Groups: Helping or Hindering Your Progress? to find out what to look for in a writer’s group).
Joining a group is a great way to get many different perspectives on your work. However, you’ll still need to use common sense when accepting their feedback. Can you understand their point of view? Do multiple members share the same criticisms? Are you getting a general consensus on the overall strength of your manuscript, or are you bombarded by wildly different opinions?
Remember, if their feedback makes sense, then other potential readers would probably think the same of your manuscript. Best of all, their criticism is free.
Manuscript Assessment Agency
This may be the the most reliable source of constructive criticism available to you. A manuscript assessment agency uses professional editors and writers to appraise your work. You will send them your manuscript via email or post, and they will read through it, make notes, and ultimately detail what should be done to prepare it for publication.
In the event they believe your manuscript is exceptional, many agencies provide you with a letter of recommendation. Some agents and publishers accept such letters with submissions, so they can be highly useful.
Be forewarned: for a service like this, you’re going to have to pay — generally several hundred dollars. However, if you are serious about getting published, and confident that your manuscript really does have what it takes, it can be a worthwhile venture.
The best part of using a manuscript assessment agency is that they are completely impartial. They don’t know you, and they don’t ever have to meet you.
What To Expect
You’ve decided on who you’re going to trust with your hard work. Now you need to be aware of what they should be assessing. Whether it’s a friend, a family member, a writing group or a manuscript assessment agency, ensure your critic gives you feedback on the following areas of your manuscript:
- Overall Impression: What is the reader’s first impression? Does this really seem like a book someone would want to publish, and why or why not? Did they enjoy reading it?
- Strengths and Weaknesses: How strong are the story’s structure, plot, characterization, themes, style and tone? What are the manuscript’s particular strengths, and which weaknesses need to be addressed?
- Market Appeal: Does the book have any specific marketing hooks? Have there been similar books published in the recent past? Is there a demand in that area?
Obviously, friends, family and writing groups won’t be able to give you much feedback in relation to market appeal. That’s one unique benefit of getting a professional manuscript assessment.
What Not To Expect
You’re the author of your book, which means you have to do most of the legwork. Here are a few things you shouldn’t expect to get from your sources of feedback:
- Unconditional Praise: If you’re wanting everyone who reads your book to be blown away by it, perhaps your expectations are too high. While they might be good for the ego, people who give you only praise and no criticism aren’t telling you the truth. They’re not doing you a favour either.
- Proofreading: Your manuscript should be highly polished by now, probably with the occasional mistake. If you want to have it professionally proofread, you’ll have to hire a professional proofreader to do it. Most manuscript assessments do not include proofreading, but many agencies are able to provide this service at an additional cost.
- A Complete Overhaul: If someone suggests your manuscript needs some serious structural editing, you can’t expect them to do it for you. By all means, take reasonable suggestions, but you’ll need to implement them yourself.
- Publishing Guarantees: There are no guarantees in publishing. Even a glowing letter of recommendation from a manuscript assessment agency can’t ensure an editor will accept your work. Still, if you get excellent feedback on your book, be very encouraged.
- Who do you get to critique your work? Would you trust a friend or family member?
- Would you consider trying a different source of feedback in the future?
- Have you had success with a manuscript assessment agency in the past?
You’ve got your honest second opinion. You’ve implemented any necessary changes based on their criticism. What you have now should be a genuinely solid manuscript ready for submission.
Feel that fluttering in your stomach? Nerves. I understand — you’re excited about this date.
After all, you need to make a good impression. But don’t worry, you’ll do just fine.
See you soon for the big day when you’ll meet Your Dream Date!
Join the discussion
Laura Cococcia says
Hi Suzannah – just came across your site from Zen Habits and am so glad to be a new follower! I browsed many of the posts – your insights are direction are extremely helpful (for me) and I love your writing style – you know how to make it fun and accessible. Just signed up for your updates and am looking forward to reading and learning more!
I'm so glad you've found some helpful posts here! It's always encouraging to hear feedback from readers. I checked out your site too, which looks great. I'll definitely keep an eye on it!
Jennifer Broughton says
Suzannah- You are so right. While friends and family can be depended on for encouragement and support, they may not be the most appropriate choice for constructive criticism. Your article has given me some much needed direction. Thank you!!
I'm glad this article has given you some direction. It's true, I can think of a couple of family members or friends who might give it to me straight, but I would still rather have a more objective opinion. Of course, the more opinions you get, the clearer picture you get. Thanks.
thanks for this good post, I didn't know until now, that something like a Manuscript Assessment Agency exists. It's great to share with others and learn from others! Continue with your good work.
That's excellent that you learned something new, regarding manuscript assessment. There are a lot of people, especially those who write as a hobby or those just starting out, who would never have really known about them as an option for critical feedback. Keep writing!
Jeffrey Tang says
While I like the idea of using a manuscript assessment agency, I do think there are some advantages to having friends and family ("ordinary people") critique your work. They may not be professional writers, but that can be a blessing in disguise. After all, not everyone who reads your book will be a great writer or editor. It's often to get feedback from people not suffering from the "curse of knowledge."
I think you're right about having friends and family read your work, but I still wouldn't recommend them as your sole source of feedback. If you use their opinions in conjunction with other reliable sources, I think their opinions can be helpful, like you say. I wanted people, especially those just starting out, to be aware that they may get rave reviews from those who are close to them, but their manuscript might be nowhere near suitable for submission. I wouldn't want someone to go blindly into submitting their book to an agent or publisher before it was ready. Thanks!