Manuscript Critique Services
Info for Kids
Info for Adults
Click here to read a transcript of a live web chat about my writing journey!
Manuscript Critique Services
I now offer manuscript critique services.
Full Novel Critique:
If you've finished a draft of your novel and you're not sure how to approach the revision, I can help set you off down the right path. After two careful readings of your manuscript, I'll give you a detailed editorial letter with comments about plot, character, authenticity, and theme. I'll include suggestions on story structure, tone, voice, and any other writing elements that would benefit from revision. I'll also make specific comments throughout the manuscript, showing you places that work as well as places that need more attention.
First Chapter Critique:
Can't afford a full novel critique? Want to test me out? Try the First Chapter Critique. I'll give you feedback specific to the first chapter, examining such questions as: Have you hooked me? Have you set up the problem and character in an interesting way? Have you established a clear and unique voice? Is your writing flawless? I'll also let you know what you've led me to believe I can expect in the rest of the story and whether I would absolutely have to turn the page. Please note: Don't waste your money with this kind of critique unless you have already finished a complete draft of your novel. You have to get to the end before you can revise.
I charge $75 per hour. On average, a 200-page full novel critique takes me eleven hours. A ten-page first chapter critique takes me about one hour. Times will vary depending on the manuscript. I actually use a stopwatch while I work, so you are definitely getting what you pay for. I can give you the feedback in person, on the phone, or via the computer. Whatever is easiest for you.
Lots of people offer manuscript critique services. I don't know if I'm better or worse than anyone else. The important thing is to find someone who's right for you. One way to do that is to read my books and decide if you think I'm a writer you respect. Another thing to do is to ask yourself if you're ready for a thorough critique. My critiques are detailed and honest. I'll read your manuscript expecting it to be an award-winning best seller, and therefore I'll hold it to very high standards. My critiques are for serious writers who are willing to do the important work of revision. If that's you, check out these testimonials, then get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I highly recommend Brenda's services! She gave me an insightful, valuable, thoughtful critique of my manuscript!"
"Brenda will give your manuscript the careful time and attention it deserves. She focuses both on the macrodoes your idea make sense?and the microare you nailing the descriptions and dialogue? Better yet, when your idea isn't working, Brenda will brainstorm with you until you get it right. Like a literary 401k, Brenda matches your effortsthe more you put into your work, the more she will too. Whether you're just starting out or have years of experience, Brenda's services are the perfect match for writers at any level who want to create a great manuscript and really reach their own potential."
Amy Forstadt, writer The Adventures of Chuck and Friends (The Hub)
"I was feeling pretty low before Brenda Ferber critiqued my novel. While I was thrilled to have completed the first draft of my manuscript, I knew there were gaps and weak spots, and I felt too close to the story to know how to fix things. For someone like me, who lives for the writing and hates the revising, the concept of making final edits seemed too daunting..."
Christine Wolf (read the Read the full testimonial here)
"If it weren't for Brenda's critiques, I don't know if my debut novel, The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless, would have ever been publishedor certainly not as quickly. Brenda's critiques were spot on and have taught me things that not only improved that one manuscript, but all of my writing. I consider myself fortunate to know her."
Allan Woodrow, Author, The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless
"Brenda's spot on critiques were a blessing! I appreciated Brenda diving right in to the heart of my story. Brenda is able to help me understand a much clearer perspective on my characters and what drives them. Time with Brenda on my picture book ideas was always well spent. Her efforts continued to echo in my head through all my revisions."
Meggan Hill, Nico & Lola, Author, Harper Collins
"Prior to working with Brenda, I had no experience writing a children'sor anynovel at all. With patience and humor, Brenda critiqued my weekly submissions, pointing out plot problems and weaknesses in dialog, but more importantly, giving me expert advice on how to fix them. Brenda is so warm and kind that I always felt encouraged after my critique sessions with her. Eight months later, the manuscript that Brenda had helped me with was nominated for the Sue Alexander Award at the SCBWI-LA conference. Thank you, Brenda!"
Veronica Scrol, Chicago, Illinois
"Brenda's critique style combines positive reinforcement with constructive suggestions. Her suggestions helped me identify problem areas in my manuscript as well as possible solutions."
Info for Kids
When I was ten years old my Aunt Julie gave me a red checked diary for Hanukkah. At first I had no idea what to write in it, so I recorded what I ate (Froot Loops for breakfast, peanut butter and Fluff for lunch, skirt steak for dinner), what I received for Hanukkah (Sea Monkeys, three records, gold earrings that were too grown-up for me), and all the swear words I knew (I'll leave those up to your imagination!). Eventually I wrote about more important things like my family, my friends, my anxieties, dreams, and wishes. I was amazed at the power of writing. Problems became manageable as soon as I wrote them down. Memories became concrete. Life became clear. I was hooked.
If I could give one piece of advice to you, it would be to write in a journal. You don't have to write every day, but you should write as often as possible. By recording your innermost thoughts and feelings, you will learn about yourself and the world around you in an eye-opening way. You'll become comfortable expressing yourself with words. That will help in school and in life. Okay, so say you already write in a journal, are you reading, too? Read as much as possible. Read all kinds of books: poetry, fantasy, historical fiction, biographies, contemporary fiction, etc. If you find an author you like, read everything by that author. Then move on to someone new. If you'd like some book suggestions, click here. Read books more than once. The first time, read for pleasure. But when you re-read a great book, read it slower and think about what the author has done to make you feel the way you do. By doing that, you'll become a critical reader. And that's the first step to becoming an excellent writer.
There are many opportunities for you to write and share your stories and poems. You probably already write stories at school. Write more for extra credit! Maybe you can find a group of friends who all love to write. You can form a critique group where you share your writing and help each other to make your work even better. You can make copies of your stories and distribute them to family and friends. You might even want to try to get your stories or poems published in a magazine.
Here are some magazines that you could investigate:
Merlyn's Pen: Fiction, Essays, and Poems by America's Teens
New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams
Stone Soup, The Magazine by Young Writers and Artists
The Writers' Slate
The most important thing to remember about writing is to have fun!
Info for Adults
It seems as if everywhere you turn there's another class about writing for children. Many of them are wonderful. I took two classes through the Institute of Children's Literature, and they both helped me immensely. I've also taken advantage of local workshops and the wealth of information on the web. But one of my favorite authors, Linda Sue Park, imparted her wise advice about writing classes. She was speaking at the SCBWI-NY conference in 2003, and she said (I'm paraphrasing here) that she had been lucky enough to find the most amazing writing teachers: E.B. White, Lois Lowry, and Katherine Paterson to name a few. She didn't pay anything for the classes. They were offered free to everyone with a library card.
By critically reading books from outstanding authors, we can all learn how to craft compelling stories. If you want to write, you need to read, read, and read some more. Read across genres. Read everything by authors you love. Read classics. Read the newest releases. If a book doesn't work for you, figure out why. If a book does work, read it again and analyze how the author has succeeded. Ask yourself these questions:
What kind of descriptive details does the author include?
What does the author show you to make you like certain characters and not like others?
In the first chapter, has the author laid the ground work for the rest of the story?
How often does the author use dialogue?
What is the main plot of the story?
What is the subplot of the story?
How does the author interweave the main plot and the subplot? Are they related?
How does the author divide the chapters?
Why do you want to keep turning the page?
What is the message of the story?
How does the author surprise you?
How does the author build tension?
You might want to take a look at my reading page for some suggestions of outstanding fiction for young readers.
Besides reading, I tell all my adult friends who want to write for children that they should do two things: Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and find an excellent critique group. This should be a group of dedicated children's writers who will honestly appraise your work and push you to go further, dig deeper, and aim higher with every sentence you write. I was lucky enough to meet up with Carol Grannick, a talented author and critic, back in 2002 when I began work on Julia's Kitchen. Though we were both beginners when we met, we shared an optimistic determination to create fiction that would stand shoulder to shoulder with our favorite authors. We recently were joined by Jenny Meyerhoff, a former kindergarten teacher who will undoubtedly make a splash in the children's book world with her upcoming work.
How I Wrote Julia's Kitchen
There are as many different ways to write a novel as there are novelists. I can only tell you what I do.
The idea comes first. All my ideas come from the same place... real life. I just add a little imagination by asking "what if" questions. I start thinking, and soon I have a story.
I write directly on a keyboard. I can't think as clearly with a pen and paper.
I start with an outline. I know my beginning, middle, climax and end before I ever start to write.
I create characters before I start to write the story. I make up all sorts of stuff about them that will often change as I write. I also sketch pictures of my main characters so they seem more real to me. Even though I'm not an artist, these doodles really help me!
I try to write a few hours every day. If I skip too many days, I get very cranky, and my family suffers. Then I spend a whole day ignoring the laundry, the groceries, the to-do lists, everything. I just write all day, and my body and mind thank me for it. (So does my family!)
I meet with my critique group every other week and give them a new chapter each time. I can't say enough about my critique group. Knowing I have to give them the next chapter every two weeks keeps me going, and their feedback is invaluable.
After critique, I'll spend a day revising the chapter I submitted, but I won't obsess over making it perfect. It's still a first draft, and I know I have to get to the end.
Once I finish the first draft, I give the entire manuscript to my critique group to read. At this point, I usually think the story is terrible and that I've wasted a year of my life!
Which leads me to revisions. Ah... revisions. My favorite part of writing. As opposed to staring at a blank screen, I can now look at something and make it better. Everything changes. I create a computer file called "Cuts," and I put all the parts that need to be cut in that file. It's too traumatic to simply delete my beautiful sentences! I revise and revise and revise. I revise for clarity, character, story, and language. For Julia's Kitchen, I wrote four full drafts before I submitted it to FSG.
This is my map of Julia's Kitchen before the final revision
Once the manuscript is as good as I can make it, my editor reads it and sends it back to me with questions all over it. Almost every page has a question, and it's my job to answer them in the next revision. To keep track of all these changes, I use post-its. I start by giving each scene a plain yellow post-it. Then I use color coded post-its to indicate changes that need to be made, scenes to delete, scenes to add, things that need to be explained or changed, etc. With this post-it map, I'm able to revise scene by scene without losing my mind.
This is the book as I want it to be
After this revision is approved by my editor, we move on to line editing and copy editing where we make sure every word, every punctuation mark, every single detail is as it should be. Whew! Finally, the book comes out, and children everywhere have the chance to read about these characters and this story that started out as a little idea in my head. Pretty cool!