What’s the difference between a professional edit and a critique?

MichelleOn Writing, Uncategorized2 Comments

Critiques are mostly honest (and typically free) overall impressions of a manuscript. The process of exchanging peer critiques has been instrumental to my growth as a writer, and many successful authors and editors would argue the same. But while the benefits of critiquing—and peer critiquing especially—are endless, they are not the end. If you think you don’t need an editor because you’ve already had your story critiqued, think again.

Here are some of the differences between a professional edit and a critique, and why your story needs both.

Critiques identify potential problems.
A professional editor fixes problems.

Before submitting a manuscript to a professional editor, many writers choose to have their story peer-critiqued (or beta-read) first. Betas are responsible for reading through sections of a manuscript or the entire work, and identifying potential problems. They offer reader reactions throughout, perhaps an overall evaluation at the end. They point out things that confuse them, or scenes they find unnecessary. They may suggest the author expand certain areas or add extra layers to a character or sub-plot.

An editor will also point out issues that may remain after the manuscript has been critiqued, but as a knowledgeable professional in her field, she has the insights and ability to help fix those problems. The author is not left with what to do, but suggestions of how to do it. Depending on the type of edit, the editor may even make the changes herself – with the author’s permission, of course.

Critiques address the big picture.
Editors see the whole and focus on the details.

As stated above, critiquers and beta readers aren’t typically looking at the details of a manuscript; their responsibility is to point out what works and what doesn’t, while giving an overall impression of the story. This kind of feedback is invaluable, but ensuring the happiness of your beta readers does not guarantee your novel’s marketability or likability with readers outside of your sphere.

Editors see the whole of the text, then key-in on the small details, checking their alignment with the novel as a whole, a single unit. After ensuring the novel is compelling and consistent and error-free, editors may then help with your synopsis, marketing, querying, and even publishing your manuscript.

Critiquers are amateurs – mostly.
Editors are professionals – mostly.

Writers seeking feedback on their manuscript may turn to a number of people, typically other writers seeking feedback in return, friends and family who care about the writer’s project, or readers who just love to read. In most cases, these critiquers are amateurs. While they can certainly offer feedback based on their preferences, they probably don’t have enough exposure to the publishing industry to polish your manuscript as effectively as a professional.

Whether they work for a Big 5 publishing house or individual self-published authors, professional editors have their hands in the publishing industry on a daily basis. Each editor may work on four to six manuscripts in a month; they may be presented with a dozen more, and they see what sells and what doesn’t. They keep a pulse on the market, the trends, what readers are asking for, in order to better serve their clients. Professionals won’t tell you what they think; they’ll tell you what they know.

Finding the right individuals to critique and edit your manuscript can be a daunting task. What questions do you have about the process? Maybe you need help finding beta readers, or your manuscript is ready for a professional edit. Send an email to michelle@mjbookeditor.com, and I’ll be happy to help you.

Happy writing!


“The most original of authors are not so because they advance what is new, but more because they know how to say something, as if it had never been said before.” | Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Next week’s blog: How much should you pay for a book editor?

2 Comments on “What’s the difference between a professional edit and a critique?”

    1. Hi Godboy, thanks for the comment! To find out if an editor is “any good”, you could research their credentials, look at samples of their previous work, and read testimonials from their clients. But the question you should really be asking about any prospective editor is, “How do I know if the editor can improve MY manuscript?” The best way to be sure of that is to ask them to do a sample edit, using an excerpt specifically from your book. Do they understand your work? Are their suggestions in alignment with your vision for your book? A sample edit is an excellent way for both you and your prospective editor to “try” each other out. I hope that helps? Thanks again for replying to my blog!

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