Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Manuscript Critique Service

I normally offer this service through an online agency, but there's nothing coming in from there at the moment, so I thought I'd open up a direct channel, and offer what I look at as a sort of literary MOT.

So here's the skinny:

Who am I?

I'm an internationally-renowned, award-winning professional author; a novelist, short story writer and poet; songwriter, playwright and critic; translated and published in nigh on a dozen countries; winner and nominee in multiple high-profile awards; judge in the 2012 British Fantasy Awards; with over twenty years experience workshopping as part of the Glasgow SF Writers' Circle (other grandees including William King, Gary Gibson, Mike Cobley, Neil Williamson and Phil Raines); currently a professional editor with the Writer' Workshop, providing in-depth feedback on manuscripts; my first novel, VELLUM, was described by no less than Lucius Shepard as "at very least, the Guernica of genre fiction."

Who are you?

You're a writer at whatever level with a novel manuscript (of 50K words plus) you'd like feedback on. Maybe you've shown it to family and friends and got positive responses, but you're not sure how much weight to put on them. Maybe you haven't shown it to anyone, unsure if a workshop group will give you feedback of substance or just well-intentioned but less-than-useful backslapping. Maybe you think your work is pretty damn good, but you know your own bias, want an objective judgement. Maybe you have niggling doubts that you can't quite resolve into articulable problems. Maybe you can see exactly what's wrong, but don't know where to begin with fixing the issues. Maybe you're bogged down in a work that feels an insoluble mess, but the idea at the heart of it is one you're still in love with, one you know would make a great book if you could just bring your skills up to scratch to thrash it into shape.

What can I offer you?

What I can offer is:

1) The report: an in-depth critique, an analysis of your text on every level, from the basics of manuscript presentation through to the more high-level aspects of general narrative structure and dynamics. I'll aim to provide this within a month of the manuscript's arrival and my agreement to work on it, and you can expect the report to be a minimum of 10K words. In the past, actually, reports have stretched as high as 30K words, which is a mark of just how thorough I'll go if need be.

2) A follow-up call: when you get the report back, there may well be things you'd like to clarify in it, ideas on how to proceed that you'd like to run by me, so included with the report is the option for an informal back-and-forth via phone or Skype, to be arranged at our mutual convenience. I'll happily extend this to cover aspects of the business, if you want advice in that area.

What exactly are you in for?

The purpose here is not validation or support. As with an MOT on a car, I'll be reading for issues, on the look-out for flaws to fix, with absolute honesty a prerequisite--or you simply won't be getting your money's worth, after all. I like to think I'm like that doctor in The Big Lebowski--a good man, and thorough, so my aim is always to galvanise rather than discourage, but if a book needs me to be brutally blunt, I won't soft-pedal or sugar-coat the bottom line. I will do my damnedest to find a workable solution to any issue though, and one that's sympathetic to the book's ambitions, as best I understand them. The aim is to make the book the best it can be, to help it achieve the standards it sets for itself, not to fit a mold of my personal preferences.

Reports are usually broken down into sections, so as to deal with every aspect of narrative from the ground up. I'll cover: manuscript presentation; basic prose quality; narrative prose quality; Point of View and voice; dialogue; action (problems of logic, activity, deposition, skimwriting); description and exposition; worldscape (problems with premises/conceits, the basic environs, creatures, cultures); setting (staging, blocking, dressing); character; formal narrative structure on the scene, chapter and act level; general plot dynamics (the narrative trigger, the core conflict, the resolution.)

If you look at the Writing 101 entries under the Learn menu option above, you'll get a sense of the depth I'm liable to go into, as and when required, the sort of elbow-deep advice I'll be giving, unpacking your text to explore the techniques you could and should be using. With close reference to your text, I'll be aiming to give clear practical guidance on every aspect of the craft, not just a broad description of flaws and potential fixes, but the next best thing to a book on writing tailored specifically to your manuscript.

How do I arrange a critique?

In the first instance, send me a query email at, with "MS CRITIQUE" in the subject line, attaching a copy of your manuscript in MS Word .doc or .docx format. I'll send confirmation so you know it's got through. Then, once I've had a glance at the text, if I think I can help you, I'll send you a quote. If this is agreeable, you can make a payment to me by Paypal, and I'll set to work.

I might not think I can help you, whether it's a matter of time commitments or the nature of the manuscript, so please don't be offended if I decline. If it's a work of franchise/fan fiction, for example, I can't help you make it legally publishable, so craft is a moot point. If it's a work of literary genius, I won't take your money--not if all I'd have to say about it is this rocks. And while I'm comfortable critiquing a whole range of approaches, from the most high-flown and experimental pomo to the most commercial category fiction, if I don't think the idiom fits my skillset, I'd rather someone else had a satisfied customer than leave you feeling disgruntled.

How much will it cost?

The fee is £50 per 10K words, to be paid in advance by Paypal, so we're talking about £500 for a novel of the average 100K words. It's not cheap, I know, but there's a substantial amount of time and work goes into these reports; I'd say that's a fair rate.

For more information, if you have any questions or concerns regarding what's entailed, feel free to drop me a line at



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