Among authors, we call a manuscript critique a “beta read.” A critique might be different for each person, so I can only say the kind of feedback I offer. I focus only on content, not technicalities. In other words, I focus on the story and its structure, not spelling, punctuation, or grammar.
When I give a critique, it includes a line-by-line commentary within the document via Microsoft Word Track Changes, along with an “editorial letter” via email.
Line-by-line commentary includes pointing out awkward wording and overused words/phrases, clarifying meaning, and polishing language while maintaining the author’s voice and style. As I read through the manuscript, I will stop to jot comments and make fixes.
Once I finish this read-through with commentary, I write the editorial letter. The editorial letter includes my overall thoughts on the story and writing style. This is the part where I talk about fictional development, characterizations, dialogue, pacing, plot, the overall story arc, world building and setting. I will point out the things I loved (the things that are working) and the elements that I believe need to be strengthened. I try to give ideas and suggestions whenever possible, though it’s up to the author if they want to incorporate those suggestions or not.
During my years as a writer, I have given and received hundreds of critiques/beta reads. I have received critiques that lifted my spirits with positive encouragement, and I have received critiques that crushed me with harshness. I even had someone once tell me, “If you publish this, it will ruin your reputation.” That is notwhat a beta reader should do. I will always be honest with readers, but there is a line beta readers should not cross.
Every reader is different, as far as what they need. Personally, I want a beta read to feel like I’m being coached. I want to feel like the person critiquing me wants to see me succeed, not to break me or make me abandon my project. I try to give writers the types of critiques that I need. It’s my job to seek out the good in a manuscript, and to try and envision the height of what the story can be. Drafts are like bare bones. A critique should help the author discover ways to add layers—the muscle and flesh—to bring the story to life.
It is my goal that when a writer receives their critique from me, they will feel energized and excited about the project, ready to dive in and overcome any obstacles that might have been standing in their way. I want to be the cheerleader of every author and manuscript that comes my way.