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Which Is Better: Get A Manuscript Evaluation Or Have Your First Draft Edited?

Once you finish your first draft, which is better for you: do you get a manuscript evaluation so you can revise the work yourself or do you have it professionally edited right away? Both options are valuable, and they depend on what you want to do with the manuscript to prepare it for publication. Read on to see which path is best for you!

You did it, you star! Against all odds, you plowed ahead, laboured, sweat and swore, and now, while its little eyes may go in different directions and it seems all knees and elbows, you have done the thing that most people only dream about doing: you’ve written the first draft of your book.

Now comes the next step, which is to take the gangly mess that is your existing draft and get tactical: revise, tighten, and refine, so it ultimately becomes the book you wish to share with the world.

What does that next step look like?

There are two options for what to do at this point:

  1. Get a professional manuscript evaluation to help you with self-revision
  2. Hand the draft over to your editor for developmental or substantive editing
text in black pen

1. Manuscript Evaluation + Self-Revision

After letting the work sit at least a week (but preferably not more than a few weeks), you’ll review the manuscript to clean it up a bit before submitting it to your editor for a comprehensive manuscript evaluation.

This deep review lets you see how your draft is working as a complete entity through a skilled outsider’s eyes. Your editor will read the manuscript thoroughly 2x, which enables them to speak to its development and purpose as well as to all of the strands of writing craft that make up the finer points of the work.

In a lengthy editorial letter (anywhere from 10-20+ pages) they lay out their assessment of what the draft is showing itself to be and provide suggestions and strategies for what can be cut, added, or reconfigured to get it into its best form.

Their letter becomes something of a road map you can follow as you revise the book based on their specifications and your own creative impetus.

At this point, you can either:

  • hunker down and do the revision process either entirely on your own
  • involve your editor in a collaborative capacity as you lean on them for coaching support through the process and their editorial guidance with the manuscript itself.

Click the image below that contains the appropriate editing checklist to help you keep organized with your revision after your manuscript evaluation: 

Then, after all that work, having taken the draft as far as you can, you hand it over for developmental or substantive editing, copy and line editing, and proofreading as you prepare for the next exciting part of having a book manuscript: publishing.

2. Go Straight Into the Editing

If, now that you’ve written the draft, you’ve done the good work you set out to do and don’t have the time, energy, or skills to squirrel away and revise the book on your own, a manuscript evaluation won’t do you any good.

Instead, after taking a quick stab at cleaning up the manuscript as much as you wish, you can hand it straight over for developmental or substantive editing.

Depending on your energy and interest, you may ask your editor to simply take what you’ve provided and make it work, or you may wish for your editor to involve you in the process in a somewhat more collaborative capacity, which is also a rewarding approach.

Which is better: Get a manuscript evaluation or have your first draft edited right away? The Variables


Manuscript evaluation + self-revision = lower cost

If you’re willing and able to revise the manuscript yourself, a manuscript evaluation is a solid investment in helping you through this exciting next step. The letter’s careful articulation of what you should pay attention to in revision— and how to do it— will point you toward being able to make those adjustments on your own, saving hours in your editor having to do it for you.


Once you do get to the point of having your manuscript edited, your editor may then have less to maneuver in their first pass on a substantive or developmental level and can focus their energies at the line level as they help refine the work for eventual publication.

Pro tip: most writers who do manuscript evaluation + self-revision will still require a developmental or substantive edit, but it will be:

a) a lighter process for the editor since you will have done much of the work already

b) potentially bypassed entirely if you feel the book is structurally sound, letting you go straight to copy editing.


open three ring notebook

Manuscript evaluation + self-revision = creative control


Whether you’re a seasoned writer or this is your first work, once you’re armed with the feedback from the manuscript evaluation (or its more comprehensive cousin, developmental feedback), you then have all the creative control to further sculpt and shape the draft yourself.

This option valuably gives a writer of any level of experience the hands-on opportunity to further your acumen and skill as a writer.

As one of our writers said about working on his first manuscript, “I’m going to school on my book!” (And I’d wager a guess that even Joyce Carol Oates who has written hundreds of works would feel the same).

chicago manual of style

Having your first draft manuscript edited = cuts to the chase efficiently, effectively, and avoids frustration

Skill and Interest Considerations

Regardless of your experience as a writer, at some point in the process, you will know when you’ve taken the book as far as you feasibly can:

  • Perhaps the work is very long and winding or complex
  • You have worked on the manuscript for a long time and are too close to it to see it impartially
  • You are simply “done” and either can’t or don’t want to look at it anymore.


Your gut will tell you when it’s time to hand over the manuscript for developmental/substantive editing (or copy/line editing if you’ve already renovated the draft yourself). Listening to your body and mind is the most effective and efficient way of getting your manuscript up and running toward being publication-ready.

Self preservation

Once your editor is on the case and puts their hands on the draft, you can relax (or try to!): the bones of the project are in place, so the editor’s job is to simply raise the essence of the book into its best, brightest, and most “it only better” form.

A good editor will ensure your voice, tone, purpose, and story remain intact, so to see your ideas, words, and purpose all shiny and performing at their peak is thrilling. It’s a lot like watching a facet of yourself you’ve always known was there arrive and be a badass, and it’s wonderful.

In both cases, once your editor is partnered with you on the manuscript and intrinsic to your process, it’s an alleviation, a relief, and an insurance policy (against you crumbling in a heap of frustration and for you being able to launch a great book into the world).

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Why Are These the Only Two Steps?

The playing field for all genres of literature and ideas on the page is broad. Millions of writers wish to share their work in the marketplace. Literary agents and publishers are inundated with hundreds of submissions each week, and self-published works vie for the spots at the top of online bookstore lists.

How you set yourself apart is by ensuring the work you present to the world is clear, clean, purposeful and fresh, and above all, meaningful to your reader. This is where an editor will be the best investment you can make for your project.

Whether you get to where you wish to go via the manuscript evaluation and revising the work on your own or you straight away hand the work over to your editor, having the kind of partner who can clear a path and show you the way forward is invaluable.

You’ll see …

Whether you’re ready for:

We’ve got you.

Reach out any time, so we can talk to you about what you need and how we can help you get your first draft ready for publication!

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