Substantive Edit or Manuscript Critique

A manuscript critique and a substantive edit are very similar services. They both deal with the big picture aspects of a story. They evaluate how well the storytelling elements have been handled and how the work can be improved. This evaluation, in both cases, is delivered in the form of an editorial report.

Both a manuscript critique and a substantive edit cover the following storytelling elements: plot, structure, characterization, theme, point of view, pacing, timeline, narrative techniques, language, and readership.

You may be wondering, if they cover the same topics, what makes them different? Imagine them as nesting dolls. A manuscript critique is nestled inside a substantive edit.

In both cases, you will receive an editorial report analyzing the big picture stuff mentioned above. But in a substantive edit, you’ll get the editorial report plus notes and edits in the manuscript pages.

What does that mean? Well, while a manuscript critique provides you with a report which points out an issue, explains why it is an issue, and suggests ways to fix the issue, a substantive edit does all of that and flags occurrences of that issue in the actual manuscript.

Simple as that.

Which Service Should You Choose?

So, how do you decide which service is for you? It comes down to your style of learning and your budget. A manuscript critique is the cheaper option because it requires less work (flagging issues in the manuscript is time-consuming). But it also requires you to apply story craft theories that you may have only just learned to your own writing. This can be difficult because being so close to your story makes some of these issues very tricky to spot.

Some people need or want lots of examples. In this case, a substantive edit is the way to go. Not only will you learn some important writing craft theories, but you’ll see in your own manuscript your strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re still unclear on the difference or want more information, please let me know in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Substantive Edit or Manuscript Critique”

  1. Demetrius Butler says:

    Hi, Genevieve! Thank you for that thorough breakdown of the difference between a manuscript critique and a substantive edit. I’ve never understood it as clearly as I do now. It’s unique that you took the time to explain that; and appreciated. I don’t have a novel, but I do have a memoir manuscript. It is a grounded and interesting story. Would you be willing to read it, and provide a service for it? And if so, what would each option cost?

    1. Genevieve says:

      Hi Demetrius! I’m glad you found this helpful and have a better understanding of editing services now. Unfortunately, I do not edit memoir but if you email me with a little more information (such as word count and a brief description of what the memoir deals with) I can refer you to some editors who specialize in the genre.

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