Critiquing someone else’s manuscript

Just before the holidays, I walked into a local supermarket and lo and behold, there was an author sitting at a table selling and signing books.  Two ran through my mind.  One, this is an interesting place for a book signing and two, what’s the book about.

Like me, it was the individual’s first novel and she had a full time job and was also the author’s publicist and the book at an aviation theme, but was really a romantic novel.  So after chatting for a bit about the challenges of being first time authors with limited promotional budgets, we swapped signed copies of the books.

We agreed to keep in touch and maybe discuss joint promotional opportunities.  Fast forward to early this month and I get an e-mail from the author asking me to read a new manuscript because it involves a character who going off to fly in Vietnam War.  The author had researched by getting personal memoirs from a couple of A-4 drivers as well as one who, unfortunately, wound up as a guest in the Hanoi Hilton.

So, I’m in the process of reviewing and making comments to help make sure the book is operationally accurate.  What I am finding really interesting is the different style and seeing the work before it gets polished by an editor.  There are four “hards” in this process.

First, it is hard not to be an editor to correct perceived errors in style and grammar.  Or, to proof the work.  That’s for someone else to do

Second, it is hard not to critique the character development.  They’re the author’s to develop, not mine.

Third, it is hard not to critique the plot.  It’s the author’s story to tell and not mine to judge.

Fourth and last, what do you do when find fault?  It’s calling someone else’s baby ugly.  Now, the shoe is on the other foot.  I’ve had it happen to me and it is not a fun experience.  So we’ll see where it goes.

So, I’m taking a break from reading it and writing CHERUBS 2 to write this blog.  I just thought it to be an interesting challenge.

Marc Liebman

March 15th, 2013