Anatomy of a Greenleaf Critique
Why you should trust my critiques
I designed my critique format with two goals in mind:
- help the author bring his or her manuscript up to publishable standards, and
- use the manuscript as a teaching tool to help the author improve his or her writing skills.
I was an instructor in the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Workshop and Advanced Workshop for many years, and in my opinion no writing class or book about writing is as valuable to a newer writer as a manuscript critique that provides honest feedback, thorough analysis, practical suggestions, and detailed guidance.
So what will I get in a critique?
My first step in the critique process will be to read your manuscript from first page to last in order to get an overview of the story and to begin forming my ideas about issues that need to be addressed. Then I’ll read it again, and this time I’ll take copious notes. Depending on the nature of the story and the kinds of problems I’m seeing, I may read it a third time.
Why do I feel the need to read through your manuscript so many times before I even start putting together the critique?
Because I don’t want to begin writing the critique until I have an understanding of how all of the story elements fit together. If I’m going to make substantive suggestions about your novel’s plot, I want to know how incorporating those suggestions will affect the entire story. If I’m going to suggest major structural changes to your nonfiction book, I’ll need to be intimately familiar with how all the pieces fit together.
A few years ago, a writer sent me a critique of his manuscript that had been provided by another editor. It consisted of six pages of generic advice, of which two pages were devoted to the font the author used when printing his manuscript. The editor had a point: the writer had used purple script typeface. I guess you could say that gives new meaning to the term “purple prose.” But a third of the critique devoted to the font? Really?
I’ll be making lots of suggestions about things you can do to bring your novel or nonfiction book up to publishable standards. But I’ll use the page space to give you substantive guidance in clear, to-the-point text targeting every part of your writing effort. And yes, I’ll give you whatever instruction you need concerning manuscript mechanics and format. If you’ve used purple script, I’ll encourage you to switch to a more standard font such as Times New Roman. But I won’t sacrifice a third of the critique to do it.
Practicality extends to the post-critique as well. I won’t just send you the critique and then abandon you. I’ll be available via email or phone to answer questions as you incorporate the critique into your rewrite. If you want me to take a look at a scene or chapter to give you feedback on how you’re doing, I’ll be glad to do that. If you’re struggling with a particular element in the rewrite, I’ll work further with you on that element until you’ve got it. When you’ve finished all the revisions, I’ll take another look at the manuscript. There’s no charge for the work-in-progress consultation or follow-up review.
The critique of your manuscript will consist of two parts: a big-picture examination and a detailed analysis.
The first part will be laid out in a question-and-answer format. If you’ve written a novel, I’ll use this space to discuss plot, characters, scene development, background, viewpoint, and other major elements of the story. If you’ve written a nonfiction book, this section will cover elements such as introductory material, organization, effectiveness of anecdotes, narrative style, and reader engagement. I’ll devote as much page space as needed to thoroughly cover each element.
I’ll also cover the types of mechanical errors (punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, paragraph structure, etc.) that can have such a harmful effect on readability. This section will include a lot of before-and-after examples to show you how to correct the errors and improve narrative flow.
The second part of the critique, which I refer to as the Detailed Analysis, will consist of dozens of numbered comments throughout the manuscript. This is where I’ll talk about specific scenes or passages that need work, and I’ll point out examples to illustrate points I’ve made in the big-picture examination. Here, too, I’ll likely include a lot of before-and-after examples.
The End Result
of all this will be a critique running from thirty to sixty pages, depending on the nature and length of your manuscript. The critique will be very detailed and will serve as a guide for you in the rewrite of your novel or nonfiction book.
I also should point out that I’m not a literary autocrat. You may agree with me that a particular scene or story element needs to be strengthened, but you may have a different idea about how to do it. I’ll be glad to give you my thoughts about that. If I still feel strongly that my idea will work best, I’ll explain why. If I think your idea will work better than the one I had, I’ll say so.
What My Clients Are Saying
Bill, being a first-time author, I was wary of shopping for a good editor. You’ve exceeded my expectations in every way, and I’m amazed at how much you’ve enhanced the flow, development, and clarity of my manuscript. The majority of readers who have read my novel even remark on how well written it is, thanks to you. How you managed to tie everything in together so that the story makes more sense is astounding to me. You’re like a literary sharpshooter! Most of all, the education I received from you is invaluable and worth every penny. But you’re not just an editor; you’re also an amazingly effective teacher, and I consider you a “personal trainer” for authors. You really held my hand through the whole process, motivating me and essentially teaching me the art of writing fiction. It has been a fantastic journey for me. The effective way in which you apply and tailor your teaching to the writer’s manuscript is genius! And the extensive feedback you provided at every avenue was always pertinent and to the point, helping me to learn from my mistakes. Now I’m confident that every new book I write will be better than the last. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with you on my first novel. I could never thank you enough!
You did a fantastic job of editing my novel. LOVE IT! It really reads so much better, and I especially like the way you used more active voicing and improved much of the dialogue and action sequence wording. All without changing my basic style, structure, and patterns, etc. This professionally edited version was a real joy for me to read. I also totally appreciated the way you interacted with me throughout the entire process, from initial manuscript evaluation through manuscript development thru pro-editing thru agent-list prep and pub-package development. You always delivered exactly what you promised on time, and answered all my belabored questions very patiently and thoroughly. It’s been a truly wonderful mentoring/coaching experience for me, just as I think it would be for anyone else attempting a first-time novel, especially one of this length! By the time it was all over, I felt like I’d completed a full-fledged graduate program at a top university in historical novel writing!
The advice you gave me during and after the critique of my novel, Touched, has come full circle. You suggested narrowing it to a single viewpoint, simplifying its content, and shortening it to a middle-grade novel. Well, after reworking it several times trying to get it the way I wanted it, I’ve seen the light. I am working on a single-viewpoint version right now that I foresee being about 45,000 to 50,000 words. The language is greatly simplified, and is only from Nat’s viewpoint. I did get some helpful advice from the local writer’s group in my hometown, but nothing that propelled me forward like the information from you. Every day I put words into my story, I am seeing the wisdom in the pages from your critique, and I get closer to a better story.
I must say a special thank-you for solving my three years of editing issues and problems. The manuscript looks great. I am very happy I took a chance on you. It was totally worth it. You have elevated my book, The Non-Silence of the Lamb, to another level. For that I am thankful.
Invaluable info. Have to dissect it all now. Everything you said resonates strongly. I’m all over it. Thank you so much.
You are my third editor, and I cannot help thinking if only I had found you back when. Most important to me, you understand what I am trying to do. Your critique is insightful, and I am grateful for your help.
Bill Greenleaf is a consummate professional at his craft. He gives new meaning to meticulous when it comes to grammatical and syntactical correctness. Better yet, Bill’s many improvements to my latest book, How Now, Norm’s Tao, were not only insightful, but were consistent with my offbeat sense of humor and irreverent literary style. If you want your book to be the very best it can be, give Bill Greenleaf a call today.
I am in awe of the miracle you have performed on my novel. I could not wait to tell you how pleased I am. You are the best. Thank you.
Thank you again for the work you’ve done. The book is so clean now I’m jealous I couldn’t get it up to that level myself.
Thank you so much for your honesty and ideas. I agree with everything you mentioned in your critique. God bless, Bill. I am so glad I found you in the vast sea of options. If I have any questions or need further insight, I will email. Merry Christmas, Bill. You have certainly given me the best present I could get this year!
Questions about how I can help you find the right publisher for your book?