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Client story: manuscript review

I’ve received quite a few questions about my new manuscript review service. First, I want to say, no, this is not a review like you might receive for a published book. I understand the confusion. Published authors are always looking for ways to get readers and reviewers, but that is not what my manuscript review service is about.

Nor is my service quite the same as a manuscript critique or evaluation. Read more on those here (though the linked post does refer to manuscript reviews as well). I prefer not to call the review a critique, evaluation, or assessment for a few reasons, one of which is the fact that I primarily work with independent or self-published authors who may have had family, friends, beta readers, or a critique group read their writing. When they come to me for the manuscript review, I am usually the first “professional” to put eyes on it.

The beauty of self-publishing is that you can, essentially, write whatever book you want and publish it. On the positive side, there are no gatekeepers as far as story and content are concerned. On the negative side, this can mean that literally anything and everything can be published, even if it doesn’t meet basic publishing industry standards (professional cover, consistent grammar and spelling, standard formatting, etc.). I try not to do any content gatekeeping in my editing and reviewing work. If I don’t like what someone has written, it’s not for me to say whether it should be published, though I can address how it’s published and whether it appears in print in a way that adheres to standards of stylistic and mechanical “correctness” or standards.

Therefore, a manuscript review doesn’t include my thoughts about whether the work is publishable in the sense of “is it a worthy story to tell?”. Rather, I address whether it is publishable in its current state, including areas that are working well, areas that need revision, and recommendations for editing services to help the author create a book that is publishable by current industry standards.

The belief that everyone has a story to tell underpins how I approach the manuscript review. Another belief at the heart of the review is: not everyone is going to write their first book with the same level of mastery of storytelling, writing craft, grammar knowledge, etc. Thus, the review is a way for me to offer guidance to fill in the gaps in knowledge and understanding. It’s to encourage and build up those skills by pointing out where the weaknesses appear and providing authors with resources for improvement.

Don’t misunderstand me—the manuscript review is an honest appraisal of your work. I will point out where revision is necessary, where the story is unclear, where the writing is, perhaps, sloppy, and I’ll leave you in no doubt as to what needs to be done to take your book to the next level. But the process is not meant to tear you down, convince you to quit writing, or make you believe that the story you want to tell isn’t worth telling.

How do you know the manuscript review is right for you? Let me tell you a story, and I hope you’ll see in it how a manuscript review can be helpful for just about any author at any stage of their writing and publishing journey.

It’s unpopular to talk about, but it’s not uncommon in the self-publishing world to hear about authors who self-publish their book only to take it down after a period of time due to negative reviews. (Hence how-to articles like this.) If the author significantly rewrites the book, they may republish it again as a revised or second edition. If not, it can usually be republished without much fanfare. A recent client found himself in this boat.

He had a great story, a polished cover, and had received two rounds of professional editing and proofreading prior to self-publishing. Most reviews of the book were positive, until someone left a dreaded one-star review and mentioned grammatical errors. Worried that something huge had been missed, the client came to me to request proofreading. At first glance, after hearing his story, this seemed like a cut-and-dry job, but I requested we start with the manuscript review just in case there was more to the problem than was at first apparent.

The client agreed, and I started the review process, reading through the entire manuscript and marking it up with notes about patterns in grammar and spelling errors I was seeing, alongside bigger picture issues, including some inconsistencies and verb tense fluctuations that affected readability early in the novel and in a few later chapters. In the end, the stories bones were intact, but it was clear that some smoothing and correcting were necessary to get the book into tiptop shape (more on the difference between story vs sentence level edits here).

When I wrote up the report, I was unsure about how the client would react to my suggestion that we make more significant changes than the author originally intended to make. We were going to toe the line between a simple revision and a rewrite that could require the author to republish as a revised or second edition. I was very conscious of the fact that the client had already spent money (how much, I didn't know) on previous editorial services, and it was shameful that the results had been subpar.

In the end, I needn’t have worried. The client was thankful that I had taken the time to dig deeper into his manuscript. I was able to reassure him that he had a captivating story to tell and that my concerns and suggestions for revision were not because the story was “bad.” (Every author needs that confidence boost!) We agreed on a plan of action, which included a line- and copyedit, followed by proofreading and re-formatting of the book.

The client told me at one point that he wanted the book to be the best that it could possibly be, and I wouldn’t have been able to help him in that endeavor if I had agreed to simply proofread right from the beginning. I didn’t have to convince the author of anything about his book. The manuscript review and report spoke for itself, and the client was impressed with the professionalism of the process.

So that’s a win for the manuscript review! Do you have a draft of a book written and think you’re ready to receive professional feedback on it? Join my priority notification list for my manuscript review service.

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