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Manuscript Evaluations vs. Structural Edits

An author looking for big-picture edits has two options: a manuscript evaluation or a structural edit. Since these two services address the same elements of the manuscript, it can be difficult to know which one you need. Here's a breakdown to help decide which service is right for you.


Note: The information in this post is specific to AClarke Editorial. Other editors might define manuscript evaluations and structural edits differently.

Before diving into the specifics, here is a handy chart comparing a manuscript evaluation to a structural edit.


Chart comparing a manuscript evaluation to a structural edit

There is a fair bit of crossover between the two, but there are some important differences.


What's the Same

Both the manuscript evaluation and the structural edit work at the developmental level. The goal of both is to build a strong structure for the manuscript. This means making sure that all the necessary elements of the plot are present and in the correct order and that the narrative and characters are engaging. This step is concerned with the what. What the story is about and what it is comprised of.


Both services address the strengths and weaknesses of the following:


  • Plot and structure (organization)

  • Characterization and character development/arcs

  • Dialogue and its relation to characterization and plot development

  • Setting/worldbuilding

  • Believability of the narrative, characters and world

  • Authorial voice and effectiveness of the voice and style for the narrative

  • General observations on the strength of the writing


Both types of edits will suggest additional material that might be needed or material that should be cut. Either service can be a single round or multiple rounds of edits.


Manuscript Evaluations

A manuscript evaluation is exactly that: an evaluation. Authors receive a detailed written report between 15 and 30 pages complete with examples, ideas and next steps to capitalize on the manuscript's strengths and improve on its weaknesses.


The editor creates the report by making a single pass on the manuscript and taking notes. These notes are then transferred into a written report. Each written report is broken into the following sections:


Premise, Plot, Structure, Characterization, Dialogue, Worldbuilding, Point of view, Voice, Believability, Research, Length, Mood/Tone, Title, Legalities, Writing Ability, Style, Reading level/appropriateness, Formatting, Writing Resources, Books for Inspiration

Each section will have a few sentences to several pages detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript along with suggestions for improvements. Examples will be given with page references to make it clear what is being discussed. Some sections may be omitted if they are not relevant to the manuscript.


For a manuscript evaluation, the report is the entirety of the feedback the author receives. There are no edits made on the manuscript itself.


In addition to a written report, authors are welcome to ask questions about the feedback given and to bounce ideas around via email. Conversations over Zoom or phone can also be used at the author's request.


Structural Edit

A structural edit is an in-depth edit that includes multiple passes and work products. The first pass is to take notes on what is working and what is not. These notes come in the form of comments and edits on the manuscript. Notes about the general strengths and weaknesses are compiled into a 5 - 10 page overview, similar to the manuscript evaluation, but less in-depth. The details are covered in the manuscript comments.


Subsequent passes on the manuscript will delete unnecessary text, add in or outline content that should be added and rearrange paragraphs and chapters. This is when additional documents are created to send to the author along with the edited manuscript and editorial letter. This could include


  • Plot Outlines

  • Chapter Outlines

  • Timelines

  • Character Maps/Family Trees

  • Worldbuilding Maps outlining settings, magic systems, cultures and species/creatures


Almost all structural edits will include a plot and/or chapter outline, however, the inclusion of the other documents will depend on the work the manuscript needs. Each document will map out the elements of the manuscript and provide ideas for improvements. Each one of these documents is designed to operate as a road map during the revision process.


The structural edit also includes a review pass once the author revisions are complete. This is a read-through of the revised manuscript with a page or two of notes covering any remaining changes that are needed.


As with the manuscript evaluation, authors are welcome to ask questions over email and can request a Zoom or phone call.


So Structural Edit or Manuscript Evaluation?

As with most editing-related questions, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. To make the decision that is best for you, consider the following.


Personal Preference

Are you someone who likes a detailed guide of what to do with lots of support? Then a structural edit is for you. If you like to figure things out on your own and just need some guidance, then a manuscript evaluation is a better fit.


Stage of Manuscript

Is your manuscript more of an outline than a full draft? Then an evaluation is probably the best option. Structural edits are best suited to manuscripts with a completed, early draft.


Confidence/Ability

The stronger you are as a writer and (almost more importantly) the confidence you have in your writing ability, specifically with story and structure, the more likely you are to do well with a manuscript evaluation. For newer authors or authors who might be unsure of themselves, or the specific manuscript they are working on, a structural edit can help with author growth and development.


Rounds

A manuscript evaluation only includes a single round of edits. A structural edit includes an edit round and a review round. Do you feel your manuscript will need multiple passes from an editor? Then a structural edit might be for you.


Price

Speaking in general terms, a structural edit is usually 2 to 3 times the cost of a manuscript evaluation.


Timeline

Manuscript evaluations take about half the time of a structural edit for a single round.


If you are still unsure what service you need, please reach out with any questions and I will be happy to talk you through the options specific to your manuscript and its needs.

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