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, thank you so much for your editorial evaluation! That was exactly what I was looking for. I appreciated the specific points that you mentioned, about the central conflict, nailing down the viewpoint, and developing a stronger introduction to my protagonist. As I was writing the novel, I felt that the thriller angle was weak and lacking in urgency. I like the idea of making it a gentle read, as that seems to be the strength of what has been written so far.
First let me say thanks so much. It’s a bit frustrating to me that others use me to “edit” their stories sometimes, and although far from a professional like you, I’m generally well received when I do it. Except, of course, when I’m trying to review my own work and fail miserably. It’s like I know it too well and look right through the writing to the story underlying. So again, thanks so much for picking up the grammar and tense and paragraph placement and all of the other fun stuff that comes with a DeFazio “masterpiece.”
Once again, your evaluation was terrific and will be invaluable in my repair of the manuscript. I believe The Last Rapier has commercial potential, but as I said earlier, I knew something wasn’t right about it. You have helped me see what those weaknesses are, and I can fix them. Thank you.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for such a wonderful evaluation. It will challenge me to be a better writer. As you pointed out, I need more dialog and action in my story so it doesn’t slow things down. I needed guidance in how to put these things into context. You did that for me. I do respect good criticism and learn from it. I intend to use your suggestions and comments as I do a restructure of this novel. There are so many things you wrote to help my book and me. I assure you that I am grateful for each one.
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.
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.
Thank you for your professional evaluation of The Honors Jacket. I appreciate every word you have written. As I read through your evaluation, I saw suggestions and guidance coming from not only a professional editor but a longtime and trusted friend as well. Thank you.
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.
Any success I’ve had in the rewrite is due directly to your plot analysis, coaching, suggestions, and teaching this novice writer. I confess, at first I had a hard time accepting, and then absorbing, your critical comments. I didn’t want to waste all that research and storyline. But gradually as I began to rethink the project and then to employ your suggestions, it all began to make sense and I liked the story a lot more. I especially like the new scenes involving Masterson and his adventures.
Thank you for your spot-on critique. The overall manuscript improvements that came from it were astounding.