Manuscript appraisal with a difference

Have you written as far as you can go and edited as much as you can?  If so, a manuscript appraisal could be the next step for you. Maybe even a verbal manuscript appraisal …

As you may know, a manuscript appraisal (also known as a structural edit or substantive edit) is a big picture look at your novel. It gives you feedback on the building blocks of your story:

  • plot and subplots
  • character development
  • scene and setting
  • language (voice, rhythm and pace).

It highlights where the strengths are and where it needs work.

Manuscript appraisals are usually provided in a written report.  A written appraisal is very helpful, but it can be a bit daunting, especially for writers who are new to their craft. There’s a lot of information to take in and it can be hard to know where to start. It can also be quite expensive as it’s very labour intensive for the editor.

But there is another way.

Verbal manuscript appraisal

I’ve been offering verbal appraisals for a few years now. I cover the same aspects as a written appraisal but the advantage is:

  • it’s more like a workshop than a report – we discuss the feedback and you get to ask questions if something’s not clear
  • it costs less.

My aim is that by the end of the session you have a clear idea of what to do to get to the next draft.  I send you a recording of the session so you can go back over it as many times as you like (no furious scribbling as we go along).

To give you an idea of how they work, here’s a couple of case studies. These two writers were at very different stages of their novels.

Writer 1 ­– first draft still in progress

flower bud opening

Manuscript length: 40 000 words
Help needed: where to expand
Genre: dystopian speculative fiction

This writer contacted me to ask whether it would be worthwhile getting an appraisal of her unfinished draft.  She had written to the end but there wasn’t much flesh on the bones; she wanted to know where she could expand it. She wasn’t totally happy with the ending, (I only learnt this later) but she’d set it up as something to write towards. We decided on a verbal appraisal to get her back on track.

This turned out to be very valuable for her. I picked up on the things that she was uncertain about, such as the ending, and as it was a verbal appraisal, we could talk through some of her ideas and stumbling points and I could offer feedback and suggestions. We talked about character dynamics and relationships and batted around a few ideas for subplots and alternative endings. I also gave her an exercise to help her build tension and solve a timing issue in the opening.

When I emailed her a few weeks later to see how she was going, this is what she said:

I am working steadily through my ‘to do’ list at the moment, I’m currently completing the first person action journal, this is really helping me to connect with the character. 

 I found the appraisal very useful. I listened back to the conversation once, making notes as I went. Then I used these to generate a rough to do list.

Writer 2 – numerous drafts

close up of many flowers

Manuscript length: 130 000 words
Help needed: where to pare back to keep the action moving
Genre: espionage thriller

This writer was at the other end of the spectrum. She’d been writing her book on and off for years and had more words than she needed. She wanted to pare it back but had worked on it so much that she’d lost sight of it and wasn’t sure what to do to get it into shape.

I suggested that we start with me appraising the first 10 000 words. This would give me a good sense of her writing and how the story was going to shape up, and would be more cost-effective than appraising the whole manuscript.

Even though I’d only read the first 10 000 words, we were still able to cover a lot of ground in the appraisal including character arc, the essential ingredients for a scene, how to build tension, and tips for self-editing.

The key thing I was able to help her with was how to step back to see the novel as a whole.

I came into the appraisal with an idea for an exercise to help her do this (a scene-by-scene chapter analysis) but first asked her what her writing process was so I could be sure the exercise would be right for her. This is one of the benefits of a verbal appraisal – I can ask questions and ensure my advice and feedback suits a writer’s process and experience. We talked through how she’d developed her story then discussed how the exercise could help. She immediately saw the value in it and agreed it could be the key to her next round of writing and editing.

By the end of the session she had a list of tasks to get her on track for the next draft and felt she had the direction she’d been lacking. Hoorah!

Here’s a snippet of her review on Google:

The video interaction was much better than previous line edits. She is very precise in her ideas, gives strategy, and frankly I feel confident going forward with my big project and plan to use her expertise for the final edits.


A verbal appraisal might not be for every writer. You may prefer to take in feedback in your own time. But if you’re comfortable with talking about your work and are looking for a cheaper option than a written appraisal, a verbal manuscript appraisal might just be the thing for you.

If you’d like to know more or would like to see if it’s right for you, get in touch.