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?
The images used in this post are for promotional purposes only and comply with fair use guidelines.
Jeri, that is good to know. That is helpful for writers who just want or need an overview of their manuscript. Keep up the hard work. You inspire me to keep writing . 🙂
Crystal, yay for inspiration! I like to pay it forward as much as possible, and that includes spreading word about the new releases of the author’s I’ve worked with. Mandi was very gracious to allow me to publish the overview letter I sent her here.
Hi Jeri – Reading your readers report I felt as though you covered all the bases and gave the writer a lot of food for thought. At an early stage of critiquing I think it’s a good idea to ask the writer what aspect of the material he/she would like you to comment on. For instance, the writer might be experimenting with POV or something else and would like to get your take on its success or failure.
Larry, I agree that it can be especially helpful if an author knows what aspect of the draft they most want feedback on in early drafts, but it can be hard to know at times which area to focus on in early stages for some writers. In any case, seeking feedback from others is a great way to jump start the process and get a better sense of what to revise.
I for one find your reports very helpful and illuminating. Looking forward to working on our next project together this summer.
TB, I’m glad you’ve found the reports helpful when I’ve sent them in conjunction with a full manuscript critique. I can only hope writers will take to the idea of this standalone option as well.
Thanks for this Jeri – wow, such a thorough report for such a reasonable rate. And the book sounds great too:-) Really good to know what one can expect.
AK, I’ve toyed with this idea for awhile. There is so much variance in freelance editing services, but I feel this shorter reader report as opposed to a full editorial letter does fill a needed niche.
Publishing an actual reader report letter is a more effective way of pointing out the value of professional critique and editing than anything else you could have said about it. Very thorough report. I think writers can take away some points from it to critically look at their own work and do some polishing on their own before seeking out the advice of a professional critique.
Donna, that’s my line of thinking with posting these samples as opposed to just describing what goes into the content of a general report. Specific examples are always so much more enlightening.
What a wonderful critique, very thoughtfully written. Your clients are very lucky indeed!
Jan, thanks. It’s possible to fit quite a few insights into a 3-5 page letter that will give the writer plenty of food for thought when it comes to tackling revisions.
Jeri, this is exactly what I’m going to be needing later. I want the control that sometimes decreases with an editor involved. I understand that it can’t be helped unless the writer wants to ignore the advice. I’ll be using both a critique partner and beta readers. However, if I want my book to sell, I know I’ll need a professional editor as well. An overview sounds like the way to go for those of us with near-empty wallets.
Glynis, getting a reader report after having subjected a manuscript to critique partners and beta readers sounds like a great plan. It always amazes me how much revisions can be suggested after multiple rounds of feedback from various sources of help.
Jeri this is a valuable and unique service. I’ve never heard of a Reader Report. I love how top-notch your writing is in the report. You are a wonderful inspiration. Thanks.
Patricia, with the growing number of indie authors who realize the value of solid feedback but who still hesitate to take the plunge of the price of a full critique, this shorter and more affordable report is a great alternative. Thank you for calling my writing here “top-notch.” It means a lot coming from you.
you. are. amazing.
no. are. amazing. 😉
This is a good example of the kind of value that an editor can provide. What interests me in this discussion is how the development of the character can be changed by altering certain events. For example, you question whether the lead character really has to be guilty of two murders or would it be more effective to have her commit somewhat lesser crimes? I haven’t read the book, so I have no idea, but its an interesting point in the finalization of the story.
Ken, the protagonist is such a memorable character, but her actions were a bit over-the-top. Mandi did re-think that aspect of the novel and many others. She turned a solid story into a truly earth-shattering one by scaling back those aspects, which in the end, made the main character all the believable and easier to relate to in her humanity.
Excellent critique. You have given the writer a sense of direction, highlighting key areas in which she can develop the story.
I have started to write a book and have every hope of publishing it.
Phoenicia, that’s wonderful that you have started to write a book. All the best in your writing journey 🙂
WOW! okay – yeah I think that’s a lot more involved than a beta reader would get. Hmmmmmm once I’ve managed my first draft or so, this might be something I could/should save up for…
Lizzi, it really is a great value and I would love to have a go at one of your drafts when you are ready.
Really interesting and even for an overview very thorough and informative. I have tried beta readers and you are right about the mixed results, in fact there have been a couple that were down right weird. It’s good to see how a real professional works.
Marquita, good beta readers are definitely worth their weight in gold. As for the weird ones, there’s just no telling the many ways readers will end up interacting with a text 😉
Wow, Jeri, that is a lot of work and in-depth analysis you’re bundling into a smaller report! Thank you for posting this. Your reader response is exactly the kind of feedback any writer would be thrilled to have. I got goosebumps reading your letter to Mandi 🙂 I have too many published friends who have absolutely no relationship with their editor, and that’s very sad. It also shows in the published work.
Marie, though the reader report be small it packs a critical punch! Glad it gave you goosebumps too! As I’ve branched out in my freelancing efforts, I’ve found connecting with clients beyond the page matters so much. I believed in Mandi’s book from the get-go and even more impressed by the final product and all the work she put into it. I think my approach stems from my teaching style as well. One can do their job, or they can do it with distinction and REALLY give it their all. I like to give my work my all 🙂
Yaay for you for putting it all out there. So often, a freelance editor is less specific in what they will deliver but in showing this, I’d know exactly what to expect. And the pricing is super reasonable. You are definitely on my radar:) I really enjoyed working with you on my short query:) PS I am currently reading Dear Stephanie based on your review AND that fact that I knew it would be well edited. Compelling……………….
Jacquie, I have no qualms about putting my work samples in the public eye. It’s best to be as upfront as possible, and I’m grateful to those who have allowed me to post examples of their work in relation to my work as their editor. No two editors will go about a task the same way, but I hope these samples show I am confident in my work.
Wow! Jeri, that is am outstanding idea. A critique that goes into the details of characterisation and plot is so helpful for the writer as well as the reader. It also speaks eloquently about your work! I have gained so much from this post and am so grateful for your professional way of dealing with the subject.
Thanks for sharing. Keep up the good and meaningfull work. You are awesome!
Balroop, meaningful work indeed. Editing is so satisfying for me because I can help other writers see the true potential in their work while also being honest in what’s not working. Yet, when it comes to my own writing, all of that objectivity falls out the window.
I think it’s great that you offer options. You really think about your clients when you offer great value at various price points. It was fun to read an actual one that you did.
Beth, I’ve toyed with the idea of a reader report for a while now. I certainly hope it finds the right niche of authors who will value it as a service.
I much enjoyed the post and found your suggestions eloquent.
Particularly when you state that it might be a good option to tell the sequel from Blake´s point of view
As with that you kept in mind the second reader response with regard to Paige…. Who is, by the way, defined there as an unreliable narrator, given that the deferred thoughts that she reveals (as she writes in her journal), entrain a sort of diluted effect, somehow… Thanks for sharing JW… A very interesting post, indeed!… Best wishes to you!. Aquileana D
Aqui, you are the second person to describe my suggestions as eloquent, so I must be doing something right 😉
Wonderful reader report. I’ll definitely pass it along to anyone I hear looking for help with their manuscript. Thanks for sharing.
Denise, I know I can count on you to help spread word.
Once again you explain a complex creative process —and yes, a writing a critique is a creative endeavor— in a clear and concise manner. Keep on blogging about these subjects. We are reading!
Candy, how lovely to hear such encouragement from you. I shall indeed keep these types of posts coming in a semi-regular fashion.
Hi Jeri – how nice of you to consider budget concerns, especially for new authors. They may feel strongly about what they have written but afraid to commit any substantial amounts of money in case the book goes nowhere. With the reasonable price for the readers report, authors will at least get an idea if their book – with a bit of polishing – has a chance for success.
Clever gal, you.
Lenie, it is indeed a difficult choice for an untested author to take on the price of a full critique, though if a writer is ambitious enough great feedback can be found for free with critique partners and beta readers, but it takes a lot of time and work. But in two weeks, I can deliver a reader report that can pinpoint what might take months to uncover in a writer’s group.
This is what appeals to me. Critique groups do a good job of giving feedback, but it can take years to complete the entire manuscript, not to mention the fact that your reading reports are so thorough. Looking forward to working with you!
Lynette, I’m looking forward to working with you as well. Memoirs will always hold a top-spot for the type of book I most like to see come to fruition because they are so revealing and personal in a way that a piece of picture will never quite match. Sure, fiction can impact a reader to their core, but just not the same way a memoir can.
What a wonderful report you give to the writers. I do not envy your job though, I know some writers who look at their work as if they were their children and cannot take any recommendations, they think it is a criticism and they take it very personal. Thanks for sharing.
William, I think the lesson learned there for writers in that boat should be if one is unwilling to take any recommendations then they are probably not ready for publication. Even though sharing drafts can be a giant and terrifying step, the reader is the one who ultimately completes the making meaning transaction. The more reader reactions that can be gauged before the final version is published, the better.
That was a great report. Very thorough and in-depth. I know your clients love you.
Jason, and I love my clients 🙂
Jeri, to offer an affordable readers report is a great idea. And reading it I truly believe authors on a budget will benefit from it.
Catarina, that’s great to hear coming from someone as thorough as you.
Wow, Jeri! Even as an overview, it was pretty thorough and informative. Too bad we wouldn’t make a good match (me being high fantasy and all that). This sounds incredibly useful and affordable.
Loni, I know! High fantasy would be a stretch for me as a genre when it comes to critiquing, but if you ever throw anything else into the mix, maybe we can see what happens.
Jeri, this is a wonderful service you are offering to authors. By putting yourself into the spot of reader and pointing out things that could jump out to them as possible over the top or unrealistic is great. I think your wording in the letter is very clear. You are top-notch!!
Christi, I truly wanted the reader report to be a genuine reader response. While I touch on some literary elements, the main goal is to shape my feedback into a compilation of all the things many readers might note when reading but not necessarily be able to express to the writer.
I have so much to learn Jeri. I had no idea that this service was available but now that I do, you will be the first I seek out when my time arrives. You, and several members in our group, have been very inspiring to me and I look forward to building on that relationship.
Tim, it’s been great seeing you get more into the idea of writing a book someday. I’ll be here when you’re ready if you decide to go that route.
This is such a thorough critique for less cost. Nicely done, Jeri. I want to read this book so I didn’t read the letter to save spoilers. From reading most of it I can tell this is invaluable feedback and Beta readers don’t come close to it. Very interesting. Thanks for this!
Lisa, beta reader feedback really can be hit and miss. By sharing this sample response letter, I hope other will be convinced of the great value such a letter can serve. I hope you enjoy Mandi’s book 🙂
I think the idea of a reader report is great and all but for me, having it edited oh so carefully is most important at this moment. (PS Are you too busy for mine?)
Anyway, maybe that reader report would be great for someone who doesn’t know if their stuff is good enough to put out there, so they can play it safe with a report from you.
Duke, my schedule is looking good for June for openings as I have a few shorter projects lined up, but no long ones as of yet.
Well having the pleasure of working with you on my projects for so long, I already knew how wonderful you are. 🙂 now everybody else can see what great thorough work you do too!