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What is a manuscript evaluation—and do you need one?

Black and white line drawing of a typewriter with a piece of paper ready to be typed on.

Are you writing a manuscript and wondering if anyone will want to read it? Not sure whether your storyline or ideas are holding together? Would you like some professional feedback before you take the leap of sending it to a publisher or hiring an editor to parse your words? In any of these cases, a manuscript evaluation may be exactly what you’re after.

In evaluating a manuscript, an editor looks at the big picture: structure, plotting or flow, tone, style, gaps, repetition, and so on. They identify what is and isn’t working in the manuscript and write an editorial letter or report with their recommendations. Many editors also mark up parts of the manuscript with specific comments to point out examples of the items noted in the report. You can then consider the editor’s feedback and use it to continue shaping your manuscript.

Editors do the same thing when hired to do a full edit of a manuscript—usually called a substantive, structural, or content edit at this stage. But with a substantive edit, the editor takes a deeper dive into your manuscript and collaborates with you to reshape the material. This can take several months.

A manuscript evaluation takes much less time, which means it’s less costly. Typically, editors charge a flat fee to evaluate a manuscript of a certain length—say, 60,000 words—and add to the fee for every 10,000 words beyond. You can expect an editor to complete a manuscript evaluation in a matter of weeks.

You may decide to have your manuscript evaluated, use the feedback to improve it, and then continue with whatever path you’d envisioned for your writing. That may mean more editing later on. Many authors get a good sense of an editor from the manuscript evaluation and return to them for editing, whether that be substantive, stylistic, or copy editing.

Manuscript evaluation may not be what first comes to mind when you think about hiring an editor for your writing project, but it may well be an excellent choice to give you the feedback and direction to get your manuscript to the finish line.

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