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
I was overwhelmed by the thoroughness of your critique. I had no idea what to expect. It was much more than I thought it would be. I was so excited to get started on the rewrite. The help and guidance you offered during the rewrite was invaluable. I can’t think of anything else you could have done to help in the final editing and proofing process. Maybe the best I can say is that you were a joy to work with. I look forward to you taking a look at my next manuscript.
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.
Wow! Thank you so much for your great evaluation. It was really strange to have someone communicate in such a precise manner. I cannot argue with anything you said in terms of making the story work for the largest audience possible. It was worth every penny!
Thank you very much for these insights. As I mentioned on the phone, I was particularly impressed by the way you spotted each point in succession that I would have put in a list to ask you about – but of course didn’t in order to give you an unfettered approach to the story. The fact that in our discussion you touched on each question I had before I asked the question made this exercise even more helpful than I thought I should be able to expect. Now with this helpful and insightful list of how I can improve the manuscript, I have a path to follow on my next draft.
Wow, this is the most amazingly helpful evaluation (or input of any kind) I’ve ever had as a writer. I can’t quite express how thankful I am to have found your help. Your thoughts are so insightful. Every point you make has the clearest ring of truth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
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.
Any success I’ve had is due directly to your plot analysis, coaching, suggestions, and teaching this novice writer.
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.
I just wanted to thank you again for the terrific job you did on my evaluation. I went over the manuscript with a much finer eye (yours, actually) and made the appropriate edits. They have made a good manuscript great, and I have you to thank for it. Thank you so much for giving me that push to take it to another level. I really appreciate it.