Is a Manuscript Assessment What You Need?
There comes a point in the life of every writing project when the writer has taken the piece as far as she can by herself. You have probably experienced this. It’s when you finish revising your manuscript for the fourth or fifth time and think, “I have no idea if this is even any good.” When you reach that stage, you have some options on how to proceed.
One option is to take your manuscript to a critique group. Or you might connect with beta readers online to get their input. Or perhaps you decide to share the manuscript with other writer friends to see what they think. Each of these options will give you more information about what you are writing and how you can improve it. Eventually, however, you will reach the point where you need a more in-depth, more professional review. That’s when it’s time to get a professional editor involved.
Here again you have some choices to make. Finding the right editor is a big one. (Read this blog post for guidance.) Selecting the right service is another.
When editors talk about editing services, we usually break them down into three big categories: developmental or substantive editing, copyediting or line editing, and proofreading. Given that you are still involved in the big-picture phase of the project — Is this any good and how can I make it better? — development would seem to be the right level of editing for your manuscript. And development might help. The trouble is, it can be expensive, and some writers don’t need everything a developmental edit can give. They need a different kind of input.
For that reason, many editors provide another service, one that doesn’t fit in with the three-tiered editing scheme. That’s because it isn’t editing. It’s a manuscript assessment or evaluation.
With a manuscript assessment, the editor does not make changes to your manuscript. That’s how you know it’s not editing. What you receive instead is a lengthy letter or document that highlights the manuscript’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement. The form I use follows this outline:
Overview of topic, audience, and market position
Specific comments on strengths and weaknesses of style — appropriate tone, word choice, complexity/simplicity of writing
Common or recurring errors, depth of editing required
Questions and concerns
Potential problems that may need to be taken care of before editing goes forward
Opportunities for improvement
Ideas for features to add and/or ways to address weaknesses to improve marketability
Other editors will use their own forms, but you can expect similar information to be included in their assessment. (Of course, before you hire someone for an assessment, you should confirm what is included in their feedback.)
Who will benefit most from a manuscript assessment? These tools are great for writers who aren’t looking for grammar and punctuation help but rather want more direction so that they can take their manuscripts to the next level. These writers have the skill to implement the recommendations from the assessment without the hands-on guidance they would receive from a developmental editor. Further, they are willing to put in the time to make the revisions themselves in order to save money on editing.
Bottom line: A manuscript assessment can give you great insight and direction for your project while costing significantly less than development.
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