All manuscripts will benefit from a proper critique where the editor leaves suggestions on every page. Yet, a professional critique comes with a price tag not within everyone’s budget. Many writers rely on critique partners or beta readers, but the level of feedback can vary widely. My full manuscript critiques are accompanied by a 3-5 page overview letter that highlights strengths and weaknesses in the story. I am now offering a stand-alone reader report for the most budget conscious of writers.
My current rate schedule for various editing projects quotes fees based on every 1,000 words. When requesting a reader report, clients get insightful big-picture feedback. Keep in mind it’s not a detailed editorial report. Those run many more pages. My aim is to provide a user-friendly, yet critical document that can help with revisions.
I would like to thank my client Mandi Castle for allowing me to post the reader report letter I wrote after finishing a full critique of her new release Dear Stephanie. SPOILER ALERT: Be forewarned this letter does give away some important plot points!
This overview presents the most notable reactions encountered during my critique of your manuscript Dear Stephanie. While critiques are somewhat subjective, the commentary I’ve provided reflects my professional assessment. The less a reader pauses to question the story, the more immersed they will become. My goal is to voice concerns a general reader might notice in passing, but not be able to fully articulate. The feedback provides possible ways to improve the story, but ultimately, you must decide what advice to disregard or heed.
Numerous questions and ideas will arise as you plan your revisions. Consider adding on to the comment bubbles already present in the Word document as you read my suggestions. The document I am returning to you contains 243 pages rather than 265 pages since I removed the extra spacing between paragraphs.
Reader Response: Love It!
Your book certainly has a lot going for it, some of which I’ve listed below.
- Relentless Plot: The plot smacks of originality. Though definitely not a feel-good story, your novel will appeal to readers drawn to realistic gritty fiction. You’ve managed to find a balance between great surface story and deeper issues regarding humanity. As such, it has the potential to be promoted as upmarket fiction. The subject matter has the makings for great book club discussions. Statistics show many suffer from depression, but the stigma remains.
- Imperfect Protagonist: You boldly take the risk of giving Paige, warts and all, to your readers. She is at once shallow and deep, frivolous and responsible. Her character drives home that everybody does indeed have issues. Her narcissism comes across well, and her head space is interesting as well as a bit suffocating. Because she is so real and emotionally raw, she becomes endearing. In spite of a lot of setbacks, she really is remarkably resilient.
- Compelling Voice: The way Paige tends to make deadpan comments on situations adds a much needed sense of humor to such undeniably uncomfortable subject matter. Even when her comments are definitely inappropriate to the situation (e.g. wanting to seduce her new therapist), the reader can appreciate they are dealing with someone who effectively has no filter on her reactions. Whether the reader admits it or not, we all have a bit of Paige in ourselves.
- Revealing Intimacy: This goes beyond all the sex that takes place within the pages of the book. It says a lot that Paige can at least give herself over to passion, because her desire eventually leads to love. Yet, some of the most intimate moments could benefit from a bit more fleshing-out. Towards the end of the story, Blake’s mother shares her story with Paige. Yet, the narrative never circles back on that thread to allow its significance to come to fruition. Consider mapping out all the side plots and asking how they further the story.
- Ambiguous Ending: The ending needs some finesse, but the element of uncertainty regarding whether or not she actually succeeds in killing herself is a great way to keep readers rooting for her survival. Work on the phrasing of the final line as it comes across as a bit cliché. It’s a given she would fall to a new emotional low after her baby dies, but does the story ultimately need to end with her suicide? Is the saga of Paige really over yet?
Reader Response: Questioning the Story
The following list represents the biggest stumbling blocks readers are most likely to encounter while reading the story. The first issue noted below involving the two murders committed by Paige is the only issue which could be deemed detrimental to the overall readability of the novel.
- Over-the-Top Murders: Does Paige really need to be responsible for two murders? Consider having her be guilty of a lesser crime that helps soothe her addictive personality. She could still keep a dark edge without the need to turn her into a full-blown psychopath. The mother’s murder at least comes off as a mercy killing, but really doesn’t do much to make Paige more believably sympathetic in the readers’ eyes. On the other hand, her immature dealings with Mr. Preston are over-the-top, but show a young Paige in progress.
- Lack of Character Development: Blake is a likeable, but somewhat flat character. Establish more taking place between him and Paige than just a lot of sex. More early glimpses into life outside the bedroom and how Paige processes those emerging feelings will help the reader develop a better sense of the other characters. Janie is barely present on the page, and her characterization could also do more to shed light on Paige. Both of Paige’s parents come across as unsympathetic. Yes, the dad more so, but really there isn’t much reason to believe Paige’s attachment to her mother. Why is it necessary to the story that the mother is an invalid?
- Inconsistent Narrator: It’s a given that Paige is an unreliable narrator, which is why reading the story becomes akin to the proverbial wreck passersby can’t look away from. While it does come across that she reveals more of her thoughts as she writes in her journal, the effect is a bit diluted. The number one comment I found myself making in the margins is what she could be thinking at any given moment. If she’s going to start being more reflective in her entries, the effect needs to be a more conscious progress on your behalf.
- Unclear Therapy: Paige’s lust for the doctor wanes as she starts to make good progress, but it seems like his role should be more prevalent. Therapy just isn’t a journal, nor is addressing mental illness merely finding the right combo of pills. If the story begins and ends with her suicide attempt, what is the point of following her on this journey? What has she gained? The hospital scenes with Scout are quite affecting, and to add that same sentiment to some of the therapy scenes could prove a worthwhile endeavor.
- Thematic Layering: Your discussion of the questions I raised in an earlier email can help provide an additional tool to help in your revisions. I would be remiss not to point out how the women in the story comes across as being the weaker sex than the men in terms of healthy mental outlook. Granted, women in our society are quite conditioned toward passivity, but Paige’s awareness of those circumstances would alter the story depending on how you want readers to interpret her apathy. She continually stresses how smart she is, but remains glaringly unaware at times.
In our communication, you mentioned the possibility of a second book told from Blake’s point of view. Would you intend to have his story start where Paige’s leaves off, or would it be a re-telling of the events covered in the first book? To make Paige a murdering psychopath does little to shed light on the struggle those with mental illness face. In a way, having her succeed in committing suicide also plays to the notion that mental illness is incurable and untreatable.
Granted, I will readily admit I didn’t want her to die at the end of the story. A sequel could indeed be told from Blake’s POV, and a possible third book could even be from their second child’s perspective. Envisioning future books will also aide in the path of revision you take here.
On a final note, after content revisions and you are ready to attend to the sentences in your story, think about if you would prefer all of the journal entries to be written in the simple past. Right now, they occasionally veer into the present tense. We will address this when the time comes. Also, the find function can always be used to locate instances of passive voice so stronger verbs can be added as needed when you revise. Other than that, keep in mind the critique only address story elements. It does not address issues of language use or fix errors in proofreading.
Once again, thank you for letting me critique your story. Take all the time you need to digest this letter and the comments I made on your manuscript. A follow-up consultation is included as part of the critiquing service. It can either be via phone, video, or email. Allow me to request a list of your most pressing questions in advance regardless of the format you choose for the follow-up.
I will hold a spot open for your copy edit on my calendar. Revision timelines inevitably vary and suffer setbacks. Just know I will do my best to accommodate your desired month for the copy edit. Please note I will be unavailable September 12-28. Availability may also be impacted by other projects, but as long as you keep me in the loop, I can fit you in.
Author & Editor
I am always open to suggestions. As a fellow writer and blogger, what appeals to you or causes concern about this type of reader report? Editorial expertise aside, what sorts of things set triggers off for you when reading books in need of more polishing?
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