It’s difficult to know what to expect from a manuscript evaluation. There’s virtually no way to do a sample because it’s impossible to see how a plot or character develops over the course of a book if I only have a few pages. So I’m sharing my very basic template with you, but I’m always adding or removing sections as needed. Every evaluation is different. Every author and every manuscript has different strengths and weaknesses. Even two manuscripts from the same author would have different focuses in the evaluation.
So this is how I start. I read each manuscript in full at least once, though my goal is to read it twice. I take notes and have a color-coded highlighting system that rivals my college microbiology notes. I then compile those notes and highlights into the report. Whenever possible, I use specific examples from your manuscript to explain how to improve things.
Passages I Like
Manuscript evaluations can feel brutal. You can’t improve unless you know what’s wrong, and it can be disheartening to read. I like to start with a section that includes only things I liked…often things I loved. These are usually sentences that jumped out at me for having strong images or an interesting use of words or just something that tickled the word-nerd in me.
Summary of Your Manuscript
Basically, I retell your story here. Usually (but not always), I separate the main plot from any subplots. Seeing what I’ve found to be important to your story will give you insight to how readers may interpret it. If I’ve missed a major plot point—especially if this is a series and that plot point comes up in a later book—you’ll know to give it more emphasis.
Structure & Plot
This section focuses on things like pacing, chapter and section consistency, tension building, etc. It’s a really broad category, but is possibly the most important; I often end up breaking this section into additional subsections. If there’s a particular issue with pacing, or if you’re doing too much telling and not enough showing, they’ll get their own sections. I’ll also be looking for plot holes and checking to ensure the plot makes sense in general.
In this section I break down the main characters (at least two, often more) and follow their individual paths through the story, making sure their character arcs are believable and that the reader will identify with them. I will tell you what I liked about the character along with what I didn’t like. If the character is unlikable or boring, I will offer suggestions about how to improve their personalities.
World building is different for every manuscript. Obviously, for a high fantasy or science fiction manuscript, I’ll be making sure the physics and rules of the world make sense and are internally consistent. In a historical book, I’ll check for anachronisms. Even a contemporary novel requires some world building verification—I’ve looked at maps, googled restaurant names, checked military designations, whatever the manuscript needs.
Does your narrator’s voice stay consistent and true to the story? You probably don’t want your Regency romance narrator to describe the duke as “hot” or “sexy.” Additionally, if your story is told from multiple characters’ viewpoints, I’ll let you know if you need to do more to distinguish them. There are few reading experiences worse than not knowing whose chapter you’re in. I’ll also make sure your story stays in past or present tense—slip-ups of this sort are very common. I’ll also make sure you don’t accidentally slip from first-person narration to third (this is most likely to happen if you changed point of view partway through writing or revising).
Here, I’m looking for realistic dialogue and making sure the voice of each character seems true to the character. For example the mayor of a large, modern city isn’t likely to say “ain’t,” but the mayor of a small town in 1850s Texas might.
Grammar & Punctuation
Because of my background in copyediting, I can’t help but notice grammar and punctuation mistakes. If there is something that you do consistently wrong (punctuation around dialogue and commas in general are big ones), I’ll explain how to correct that tendency.
Other Editorial Issues
There’s always something that doesn’t fit neatly into one of the other categories. There are usually multiple somethings. This is where you’ll find them.