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Sample Manuscript Critique

This is an actual manuscript critique I did, with changes to protect both the client and proprietary information.

On Your Letterhead

Dear (Name),

First of all, thanks so much for entrusting me with your manuscript, and congratulations on writing so much and so well.

Let me start by saying that your book is potentially great, but you’re not done yet. As a self-help book, it offers a new and fresh approach--the whole concept is dynamite… a potential industry.

You write well, but you already know that, and the book needs a major rewrite--I know, that’s not what you wanted to hear, but … I suspect you know that too. Rewrites can either be a drag or a creative experience… and you know that!

Please, understand, there’s a ton of good material here, well presented, so take heart.

Now, here’s my sense of the manuscript as a whole: It’s too long, which is another way of saying it needs serious tightening.

This is always tough to describe and help with, so here’s how I suggest you approach all this.

Before you do anything else, I’d like you to do write two things:

  • A 10-word purpose for the book. Something like this: The purpose of (Book Title) is (insert your 10 words here.)
    The purpose statement is also a summary of your vision for the book
  • A detailed definition of your ideal reader. I think you’ve got one in mind, but I’d like to see it written down. Include sex, age, education level, where they are likely to buy the book – things like that. Ideally, you’ll create three ideal readers, but one is a good start.

These exercises will accomplish a couple of things. First, they will help you focus the rewrite, giving you something to measure against or with, and second, down the road, they will help you shape your marketing.

Give some consideration too, if you haven’t already, to how you want to publish this… yourself so you can market it yourself and keep more of the profits, as an ebook, or with a trade publisher… or maybe all three. You don’t have to decide this at the moment, but as you work with the manuscript, keeping the eventual finished product in mind will help.

Next, realize your book really has three parts:

  • What I elegantly call the “guts” of the book.
  • The conversations between (proprietary characters).
  • The exercises.

On the phone, you mentioned something about drawings or illustrations… just from a practical point of view, one or two per chapter is probably what you’ll want, unless they’re really small.

If I were going to do a rewrite/ghost edit on this, I’d actually break it apart and work first on the guts… the main body of text. The book could, at least in theory, stand on the guts alone.

One trick is to go away from the computer and, with printed manuscript and pen in hand, start reading out loud to yourself. (I was so embarrassed when I started this, but I got over that quickly enough.) Your ear will hear redundancies, inconsistencies, and organizational problems that you won’t see just reading. I usually keep a notebook close at hand too… notes to myself about ideas, concepts, notions that don’t fit in the part of the manuscript I’m reading at the moment.

I suspect that while your listening to what you’ve written, you’ll also begin to see patterns that can be used in the way you present the information. You’ve got a great start with the quotes at the head of each chapter… keep those. (These also are great to sell the actual as an Amazon affiliate from a website, etc.) You’ll also find things that need to be added, but mostly, things that should come out… not because they aren’t great info, but because they don’t fit the purpose/reader.

By pattern, I mean a loose organization of, maybe Problem, Problem turned into Solution… you’re close, but it needs to be firmed up. I love the material and I found it dragging… because you’re actually saying more than you need to… as you read aloud, you’ll hear those places.

Consider if the famous quotes in the body of each chapter really do what you want… some of them seem to, some not. You’ve got enough authority that you don’t need them so you can be ruthless. Anything that gets left out can be referenced in a Resources section at the back of the book.

Figure out a standard way you want to handle your example people… the real ones, not (proprietary characters) – they are another issue. You’re mostly integrating them into the text, which can work well, but, again, they aren’t tight enough or clear enough to really pack punch. Again, your ear will inform you on this.

I keep thinking that the list of 11 Important Things on your pages 11-12 could be some sort of organizing outline… maybe for the book, maybe for (proprietary characters)… or maybe not at all… but it keeps coming up for me, so there you have it.

Don’t be afraid to throw a ton of material out… at least on your paper editing copy… we aren’t going to delete it from your computer, just from the manuscript. In fact, when you get back to editing on the computer I’d save the whole manuscript a second time in a file just for editing.

This way, nothing is lost and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it easier to delete passages you know you’ve worked hard on if you also know you’ve got an easy way to get them back. The aim is a trim manuscript so the healing really sticks out and is totally accessible for the reader.

Now, about (proprietary characters)… cute concept but I hate the way they talk… stilted and always in awe of you what they’ve just learned… their conversation feels sticky-sweet. There’s no tension or reality or sense that it’s anything but a rehash of material in the chapter… when the chapter gets tight and lean, you won’t need them to rehash; in fact, you won’t want them to. There are at least a couple of things to do with them:

  • Consider if you really want them… they are cute, maybe too cute, but unless they move the reader toward healing, that’s all they are, and they can go.
  • If you want to keep them, and if it were my book, I’d really want to try to keep them, they’ve got to show some real humanity, which means you’ve got to develop them as characters. Developing characters is fun, and a ton of work. Essentially, you’ve got to get to know them as well as you might a best friend… what they look like, age, sex, race, religious background (and it would be fun to make one maybe a recovering Catholic), their jobs, their dreams, and, of course their problems and resistances. (Consider how many more women are Religious Science Practitioners than men, for example.) Favorite foods, cars they drive, exercise patterns… just a ton of rich detail that will let you really write in their voices.

    The goal, I think, with their vignettes, is to help the reader not feel so alone in the growth process. So their resistances, wrong paths, fuzzy thinking, misguided experiments are all possibilities. The trick will be to keep them from becoming another book. (Maybe they will want to be their own book… early days to tell, or maybe they end up upside down like One Minute Millionaire.)

    Finally, if we can make them powerful and interesting, they become a whole new marketing angle.

You’re on the right track with the exercises… in fact, I love them all… but I’d like to see these tightened up too. It would be nifty if they could end up in a firm pattern, each with three rules or some such… plus, if you make the exercises shorter in the book, you can then offer a second book/booklet of expanded exercises. I think the goal should be, more or less, two pages each, ideally pages that face each other… but don’t lock into that… it’s just an idea. I find that organizing this sort of thing comes to me in the shower when I’m in the middle of a manuscript.

(Name), I’ve outlined a ton of work here… I truly think it’s worth doing. I know from the quality of your writing, which is excellent, you’re totally capable of doing this yourself. That said, you don’t have to do it alone.

One effective method is a good writers group… another is some sort of a partner whose ear you trust. These would be free options.

A writing coach might work well here… that’s something I do, but there are tons of other good writing coaches out there too. Cost varies depending on what you want from the coach and how you set up the relationship… sessions, etc.

And you can hire a rewrite/ghost editor. This is probably the most expensive option. Again, this is something I can do and I’m certainly not the only one. You do have to be sure whoever you hire understands the material and can duplicate your voice.

I suspect you’ll have questions… mull this over for a few days, then fire them off or we can do it by phone.

Love and blessings,




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