The REAL Goal of a Manuscript Critique


When you do a manuscript critique at a conference, you must be ready to push for an answer to a crucial question; and you must have a back-up plan.

I’ve been backstage at conferences, in the break room where the editors are gathering and chatting. I’ve heard them come back from a critique session and talk.

Editor: I told the writer that the story was great and the voice was great, but they just didn’t match up. This is a picture book, but the writing is like a YA novel. They just wanted to argue and tell me a long story about why they wrote the picture book. Why would they waste their time and my time that way?

Indeed. At a manuscript critique, you can expect to hear at least one good thing about your story. But then–you asked for an honest critique!–you will hear some things that are not-so-good, need-work, needs-rethinking, WILL-mean-a-total-revision. Duh. Editors are in the BUSINESS of telling writers how to revise. Do you think a critique will be any different? No.

So, when you go into a critique, expect a laundry list of things that need to be done. Do not take your ego into the critique with you. This cannot be an emotional breakdown. Take a notepad and take notes about what needs work? Ask critical questions that show you understand their opinion and would like to understand even deeper.

Close the Deal with a Crucial Question

After listening, politely ask, “If I make these revisions, would you like to see the manuscript again?” This is the REAL goal of your session, an invitation to submit this manuscript again.

If the editor responds yes, you’re done. Chat for a minute or so longer, if there’s time, but get out early if you can. You got what you wanted and needed.

What if the editor says, “No, this isn’t something I can publish.”

Back Up Plan–Pitch

Then–you pitch! A pitch to an agent is a brief distillation of your novel into a 30-second teaser. You’ll want to have pitches for 3-5 manuscripts ready to go. After listening to the editor’s presentations at the conference and talking with him/her about your mss, choose one or two of the manuscripts. And follow-up the previous question with a pitch about these stories.

And again, ask, “May I send you this manuscript (synopsis and sample chapters)?

The 10-15 minutes of private time with an editor or agent is a great opportunity to get feedback on your current story; but it’s also a great time to drum up interest in a different story. Don’t waste this precious time trying to justify some minor point in the critique. Listen, learn, sell.

  • Lauri Meyers
    October 9, 2012

    Call me naive, or maybe chicken, but am I allowed to do that? Am I really paying for the time with the editor so I can switch it up to pitch mode when the critique is complete? I’m glad you shared this!

  • Darcy Pattison
    October 10, 2012

    I want the critique, I really do.
    But if you have ten minutes with the editor and it is clear that THIS mss isn’t going to work–yeah, I pitch.

  • Jennifer Rumberger
    October 14, 2012

    Love this post! I never looked at conference critiques like this before.