Beauty will save the world.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Manuscript critique

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Who will read my manuscript?
This little gang of editors and writers was formed especially for the people who write and ask me to critique their manuscripts, and for those who ask for recommendations on how to find an editor. I have done some manuscript critiques for others (particularly friends-of-friends and locals) in the past but don't have time to do that now.  I hope this collection of people who critique and edit will help if you are looking for feedback on a book manuscript or screenplay.

Genres, experience, expense
Most of the people on the list handle fiction and nonfiction, but some deal with YA, screenwriting, and poetry as well. My recommendation is that you look closely at the links; the editors are quite varied in experience and interests, and some of them might just feel like a fit for you. I expect there may be a range in the pesky matter of expense as well; I've listed fees where easily available. If this helps you narrow down to a few editors, please google them and see what else you can find.

When you read about someone who has worked in the publishing industry, see what they have edited. In the case of editors who are also published writers--as many here are--don't forget that you can often go to Amazon and read a portion of a book. Excerpts and reviews may be on other sites as well. Google is your friend. This is especially helpful with those who do not have a website. Most of the names here are based on a facebook query; if you want to look at the responses (some of which have personal recommendations and more information), they are here.

Recommendations, prose and poetry
I have included the novelist or poet who recommended each person, except when e-friends contacted me directly. Though I've focused on prose, there are a good many no-fee sites where you can share and discuss poems--perhaps the most rarefied being Eratosphere, which concentrates primarily on formal poetry.

Grow the list
Please feel free to add further names and information in the comments. I will be adding any others that come in via email and facebook. And if you use one of the editors, come back and leave a comment.

Thanks to Diane
Oh, and Diane Ducey deserves credit for writing a lovely letter that prompted me to make this list. Good luck to her!

About Mike Levine Editorial: here
Write Mike Levine on the MLE contact page: here
Recommended by poet and translator Alicia Stallings

jkershawcooper [at] aol [dot] com
About Jackie Cooper: here
Note: He will not review any book he critiques. (He reviews for Huffington Post.)
Fee for a novel critique: $400.

About Carey Wallace: here
theblindcontessa [at] gmail [dot] com
Fees worked out on a case by case basis.

silver [dot] graph [at] juno [dot] com
Laura has published novels and collections of stories
   and has worked as researcher, editor, and writer.

About Jen Violi: here
Write Jen on her contact page: here
Recommended by writer Alice Marks

About Peternelle Van Arsdale: here
peternelle [at] peternellevanarsdale [dot] com
YA, novel, fantasy
Recommend by novelist Jeff Giles

About Cindy Kane: here
Cindy [at]
Children's books and YA
Recommended by poet Julie Kane

Ink Stains Media: here
janetvan [at] gmail [dot] com

About Julie Scheina: here
julie [at] juliescheina [dot] com
Recommended by novelist April Lindner

About Neil Aitken's work with poets and writers: here
Contact page here
Recommended by poet Robbi Nester

Memoirs, self-help, fiction
About S. J. Hodges: here
Around $500 for a read with notes session, depending on length
She sends science and business mss. to LEIGH ANNE HIRSCHMAN
    at Hirschman Literary

About Margaret Diehl: here, here
margaret [dot] diehl [at] gmail [dot] com

About Karen Palmer: here
karenpalm [at] gmail [dot] com
Recommended by Margaret Diehl

About Melanie Bishop: here
leximelanie [at] gmail [dot] com
Recommended by Margaret Diehl

to be added
Recommended by Margaret Diehl

Thanks to novelist Emily Barton for more recommendations,
   though they turned out to be overbooked. How busy
   an editor is just might be something to consider as well.

The Manuscript Critique: "$695 for up to six months of mentoring."
Writer and professor Jessica Hooten Wilson suggested
   both IMAGE's book service and IOWA BOOK DOCTORS.
   I haven't found enough information on the latter, but feel free to investigate further!

"Anyone may submit passages of written work for group critiques."
Find other writers who want to swap manuscripts for comments at any stage...
Recommended by Kim Beall, who says she found a few trolls but also
   some helpful friends. (Kim just sold her first book.)

FREE CRITTERS is a free service for writers of sf/f/h, though you have to critique
   other pieces before you take a turn with your own. So you "pay" with your
   time and thoughts. I talked to someone who used the service, and he was
   enthusiastic about one critiquer out of five.


  1. I edited a book called Understanding Lightning, by a PhD plus Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton who feared I might ruin his pellucid prose. I pointed to one of his early phrases - "in back of" - and suggested that "behind" might be preferable. After that he was as malleable as chewing gum.

    Another 300-page work of non-fiction, Final Control Elements, with about a zillion photos and drawings. The author thanked me in his foreword.

    Another about the language of drug abuse (exact name forgotten) by the Pittsburgh coroner. Must be a zillion years out of date by now.

    A biography of a US travel writer; there's a copy in the next room but I'm too indolent to check the title and the writer's name. He was a Hellenophile at daggers drawn with Patrick Leigh-Fermor. The author sent me wine.

    I edit myself ruthlessly and novels, essays, sonnets, short stories, blog posts, etc, are often beyond recognition compared with the initial drafts.

    Too late now, of course, but would I have qualified? You may be as rude as you like.

    1. You would be welcome on the list! And I must say there are all sorts on there. You are no doubt infinitely more experienced than many. It's an odd world out there where editors often don't edit and marketers only market the few. I never hired a freelance editor in this way but there seems to be a big call for it.

      Must say that I adored the copy editor at FSG, Elaine Chubb. She was wonderfully persnickety about researching every little fact. I can't imagine that they could replace her properly when she retired.

      I wonder what the proportions of writers are for those who are fairly polished on the first draft, those who won't move on till the current bit is polished, and those who pour out a draft in rough state with the intention of revising a great deal. Today we don't think anything of wasting ink and paper, but novelists tended to be much more frugal in the first few centuries of the novel.

      "Final Control Elements." I am wondering what that means! And I hope the wine was good...

  2. Final Control Elements is a fancier - and far vaguer - term for what you and I would call valves, those mushroom-shaped metal dingbats which operate within pipes and circular orifices to control the flow of gases and liquids. Domestically they're to be found, inter alia, in your washing machine and in the cylinder head of your car. As light relief, actuators were also included in the book's contents, these devices being employed to open and shut valves.

    I've enjoyed various triumphs during my journalistic career but none was as clear-cut, comprehensive and immediately rewarding as bringing the MS of FCE to the printer. For several days I was bathed in enviable light and some form of secular canonisation seemed on the cards judging by the sighs of relief among the members of the hard-nosed German-American family who employed me.

    The job of bringing together an inchoate mass of text and illustrations had previously been in the hands of an elderly Austrian emigré whose method - over several years - had been to toss likely material into a metre-cubed box which had once contained tea, and then to think of other things. Meanwhile a folder of letters from the author swelled with piteous expectations that surely publication would occur in time for a book launch at the National US Instrumentation Exhibition 1963? OK, how about 1964? Or puh-lease, by Christmas 1965?

    It took me about three months to assemble and edit the dispersed text, and to gather in the relevant illustrations. Altogether the combined final material filled an old-fashioned leather suitcase, a fact that was later to prove prophetic.

    The boss's son, a fat, boorish salesman who'd dropped the task in my lap and who might have easily provided the prototype for the US's current president, became mawkish with gratitude. The completed MS would need checking by the author, right? And the author lived in San Franciso. Why didn't I fly there from Pittsburgh and supervise the proofing? Take my time, limit myself just to mornings, have fun in the afternoons? Hire what turned out to be a Dodge Charger. Take my wife with me. Stay at a fancy-schmanzy hotel on El Camino Real (had there been need of a clincher this very name would have been it).

    So we ate abalone on Fisherman's Wharf, walked round Chinatown, toured the redwoods, tasted wine at various hacienda-style wineries, etc. When I announced I was leaving the company a few months later the boss's son pleaded with me for almost ten minutes to stay, in a loud voice in an open-plan office, overheard by all. A golden moment! Followed - inevitably - by several decades of decline. Retirement. And I suppose the crematorium furnace.

    1. Well, that *is* a show-stopper. What can I say?

    2. On the other hand... I could let George Bernard Shaw describe his mother's cremation, my favorite description of such things: At the passage "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" there was a little alteration of the words to suit the process. A door opened in the wall; and the violet coffin mysteriously passed out through it and vanished as it closed. People think that the door is the door of the furnace; but it isn't. I went behind the scenes at the end of the service and saw the real thing. People are afraid to see it; but it is wonderful. I found there the violet coffin opposite another door, a real unmistakable furnace door this time; when it lifted there was a plain little chamber of cement and firebrick. No heat, no noise. No roaring draught. No flame. No fuel. It looked cool, clean, sunny. You would have walked in or put your hand in without misgiving. Then the violet coffin moved again and went in, feet first. And behold! The feet burst miraculously into streaming ribbons of garnet coloured lovely flame, smokeless and eager, like pentecostal tongues, and as the whole coffin passed in, it sprang into flame all over; and my mother became that beautiful fire.... The door fell; well, they said that if we wanted to see it all through to the end, we should come back in an hour and a half. I remembered the wasted little figure with the wonderful face, and said "Too long" to myself—but off we went .... When we returned, the end was wildly funny: Mama would have enjoyed it enormously. We looked down through an opening in the floor. There we saw a roomy kitchen, with a big cement table and two cooks busy at it. They had little tongs in their hands, and they were deftly and busily picking nails and scraps of coffin handles out of Mamma's dainty little heap of ashes and samples of bone. Mama herself being at that moment leaning over beside me, shaking with laughter. Then they swept her up into a sieve and shook her out; so that there was a heap of dust and a heap of bone scraps. And Mama said in my ear, "Which of the two heaps do you suppose is me?”... and that merry episode was the end, except for making dust of the bone scraps and scattering them on a flower bed….O grave, where is thy victory?.... And so goodnight, friends who understand about one’s mother.

  3. Merveilleux! You have now licensed me to release an endless stream of quotes from GBS's three-volume collection of music criticism (very very expensive - a gift from VR) most of it under the delightful pen-name, Corno di Bassetto.

    1. Oh, that is an amusing pen name! Kind VR. I don't know Shaw's music criticism--sounds like a loss for me...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.