Good critique services are hugely valuable. Bad ones can be worse than useless.
Bear in mind two things. First, professional authors all have their own ‘in-house’ critique service, via their literary agents and publishers (plus, quite likely, their own professional novelist friends). So by purchasing such services yourself, all you’re doing is getting the help that the pros get automatically. And of course, since you’re that much less experienced, your own need for those services is probably greater.
Secondly, poor critiques can be hugely damaging: they’ll send you off into spirals of wasted energy and literary dead-ends.
When looking for a good critique service you should consider:
1) Is your manuscript ready?
If you haven’t yet edited and revised the manuscript carefully yourself, then it probably isn’t yet good to go. A critique service doesn’t mean YOU don’t have to put in the hard miles yourself. You do! Sorry about that.
2) What are the professional qualifications of your editor?
In our view, your editor should either be a professional writer with a major publishing firm, or be a commissioning editor (possibly recently retired) at a major publishing house. It’s no good going to someone whose track record is only in creative writing teaching or who has only ever worked with minor publishing houses. You need someone whose credentials match your own ambitions.
3) What kind of costs are you looking at?
For an average length manuscript, you’ll probably be looking at about £400-£600 / $600-$900. Any less than that, and you’re probably not buying a sufficiently in-depth service from an appropriately qualified editor. Any more than that and you may be paying more than you need.
4) Can you see a sample report?
You certainly should be able to ‘try before you buy’. The Writers’ Workshop has some of its sample reports available for scrutiny here. Any decent critique services company should be able to offer the same.
5) Will you be offered follow-up discussion?
It’s often not just a question of getting an editorial report, no matter how good. You also need to be able to ask questions and seek clarifications. Make sure that’s part of the package before you sign up.
6) Will good manuscripts be recommended to literary agents?
If your manuscript is strong enough to be put in front of literary agents, then you should expect that kind of support and (in our view) you shouldn’t have to pay anything additional for the service. Needless to say, you’ll also want to check your critique services company’s track record and you’ll want to know that they have strong, current and extensive links with literary agents.
The Writers’ Workshop is the leading provider of critique services for all writers of fiction and non-fiction. Find out more about what we do here. See some sample editorial reports here. Get to know the full range of what we can offer here.