Why Manuscript Critiques are Like First Dates and What Exactly is an Editorial Letter —

I am a firm believer that humans should help other humans. A couple of people have asked me about manuscript critiques.

So, I’m going to take a quick moment and explain about manuscript critiques and how it relates to dating and being your best self.

What tip can you give to best approach another writer’s manuscript in critique?

Here’s the thing: Critiques are like mini-relationships.

If you go in there and look at that piece of work (be it a person or a manuscript) with an insecure attitude, you are going to do harm even if you don’t mean to do harm.

I’ve broken up with critique groups because members would make one published (former bestselling) author cry every single time they all met. It wasn’t because she was the one who was insecure. It was because they attacked her writing over and over again, viciously.

Yes, I yelled at them before I quit. Yes, I was a little drama queen about it. I was a new author back then and like now, I get a bit self-righteous.

2. Since critiques are like mini-relationships, try to present your best self as a critiquer. Do not go in there with an attitude. Do not go in there insecure and hoping to cut someone down in the guise of helping. So not cool.

If you’re on a first-date do you really want to be snarky? Do you really want to spend the whole time showing off how smart you are about narrative arcs or quotation mark punctuation?

I hope not. If so? You and me? Not dating.

I think the best dates and the best critiquers talk about specifics (good and bad) but also listen to intention. It isn’t about them showing off. It isn’t about them being jealous about how hot their date (or their date’s manuscript) is. Instead, it’s a connection. It’s a communication. It’s about making the real world or the writing world (in the form of the manuscript) a slightly better place.

3. If you’re in a critique group or a workshop, beware of the group mind or group think mentality. This goes for dates too.

Have you ever gone on a date and felt like the person you were talking to wasn’t just presenting his/her opinion but the opinion of:

a. Mom.
b. Best friend.
c. Stephen King.
d. Everyone they went to high school with.
e. A president (past or present)

Sometimes group critiques can be like this with everyone’s individual opinions melding into the opinion of the OH GREAT ONE.

The OH GREAT ONE can be:

a. The tenured professor
b. The alpha female
c. The alpha male
d. The super-published author
e. A muppet with a butcher knife

If this starts to happen, and especially if you can see that the Oh Great One’s opinion is hurting the person who is being critiqued, and especially if you don’t agree with the Oh Great One’s opinion, please PLEASE please do not be a lemming. It’s sometimes so hard, but remember your opinion is just as worthy as the alpha’s opinion, and the award winners, and presidents.

And the person who is being critiqued NEEDS TO HEAR YOUR OPINION, too. Don’t be afraid to have a different opinion. It’s totally allowed and needs to be heard.

For all you non-writers out there or my friend, William, an editorial letter is what you get after the miracle happens in the traditional publishing world.


The editorial letter is typically suggestions from the editor about how to make your book made of awesome.

Editor #1 has not given me any editorial letter. He is a very mysterious man. He simply told my agent, “I don’t think we need to do anything.”

This makes me nervous.

Editor #2 has given me multiple editorial letters on a single work, which was my book NEED!

Anyway this editor who may or may not be Michelle Nagler? She mails them. They are full of suggestions like, “Carrie, you have said the word ‘hands,’ 5,342 times in this manuscript. Would you mind changing that?”

Or, “Um … the entire middle is a bit … It sags. It needs a tummy tuck. Can we speed up the pace?”

Her letters were amazing because they were so detailed and structure oriented. I loved them because they gave me ideas about revision. Occasionally, I would read a comment and have a panic attack, but then within 20 minutes I was always ready to fix things.

Editor #3 gave me editorial letters on the phone. They weren’t actually letters. This editor who may or may not be Andrew Karre? He would talk, reading off his notes about the book. I would take my own notes while he talked. The topics were often about theme and character and he would say things like, “I think it’s about longing.” Or sometimes he’d say, “You know. There are no details about the physical world. How would those details show where the heck she is and longing?”

Then I would get 1,004 amazing ideas and be all jazzed up to write.

This would happen a couple times during the process for some books. In one book it only happened once.

Once, my editorial letter (on the phone) was: Carrie! You changed EVERYONE’S name. Is there a …? Yeah, is there a reason for this?

I also know that this editor does not always work that way. He emails letters. He snail mails letters. He’ll do anything his author needs.

Here’s the thing: Just like dating, critiquing is a relationship and there’s a lot of trust involved whether the person critiquing is another writer or a reader or an editor.

All good relationships?

Well, they are about respect and communication. The intentions should always be about making the strongest book ever and encouraging the author to do just that.

I’m over here on the internet and so is more of my writing and my books and podcast, Dogs are Smarter Than People. I’m also a writing coach and have a new six-month class coming up at The Writing Barn.

And every day, my animals and I wobble a bit and share inspiring bits on Twitter.

Originally published at https://carriejonesbooks.blog on November 6, 2019.

I’m an internationally bestselling and New York Times bestselling author, writing coach, podcaster, speaker, human, & editor.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store