Critiques & Editing

I remember the tentative early years of my writing journey, when I desperately longed for someone to guide me and help me improve my craft. Now I am honored to be that person for other writers. Happily, I have celebrated the publication of many books that my mentees and critique clients entrusted me with, making me a giddy fairy godmother.

Why Me?

Since I started writing for young readers almost two decades ago, I have studied every aspect of craft across multiple genres. I even created a mentor text analysis process along the way—a popular topic I am asked to speak about at events. My fascination with the craft of children’s books inspired my pursuit of a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Writing, with a focus on children’s and young adult literature, from Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA).

As a critiquer and freelance editor, my specialty is fiction and nonfiction picture book manuscripts, but I’ve edited chapter books and novels, too. I have unique expertise with picture book biographies, and I frequently teach workshops and classes on the topic. Even my critical thesis was about the creative approaches to the genre-bending form.

NOTE: If I am not available to work with you and your manuscript on your schedule, I will gladly recommend freelance editors I trust. Contact me about my availability.

My current offerings:

Evaluation letter (the traditional critique):

If your manuscript is in an early stage, and you’re looking for big-picture feedback about your narrative’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than line-level feedback, this is your best option. After multiple readings of your manuscript, I will prepare a multi-page editorial letter with kudos for what already works well and suggestions for your manuscript’s specific challenges. Special attention will be paid to structure, point of view, character development, narrative arc, organization, theme, voice. When appropriate, I will recommend mentor texts and helpful resources.

Fiction picture books, up to 800 words — $175.00
Nonfiction picture books, up to 1,500 words — $275.00 (Plus $10 per additional manuscript page)
Middle grade and YA novels – CONTACT ME FOR PRICING

Developmental edit with line-level feedback

The most comprehensive option. At this level, you will receive a summary letter, plus comprehensive line-level comments and modeling on the manuscript. Special attention will be paid to structure, character development, point of view, narrative arc, organization, theme, voice. When appropriate, I will also recommend mentor texts and helpful resources.

Fiction picture books up to 800 words—$225.00
Nonfiction picture books up to 1,500 words—$325.00 (Plus $10 per additional manuscript page)
Middle grade and YA novels — CONTACT ME FOR PRICING


Children’s books or adult books — CONTACT ME FOR PRICING

Critique Clinique

Occasionally, I’ll offer and moderate a critique workshop, allowing small groups of about five writers to give and receive peer feedback, in addition to feedback from me. Subscribe to my e-newsletter to be among the first to know.


“Special thanks to…Donna Janell Bowman for being the best writing teacher and mentor an aspiring writer can ever wish for.” —Susan Hansen

“…your detailed feedback really did teach me a lot about my own process and approach- much more so than other writing “coaches” (professors in my grad program), so cheers for that. I will also say that you are a really good coach.  You gave critical but necessary feedback that showed thought and care for my work and my person.  I think it’s really easy for reviewers to pass off beginning writers as incompetent.  Instead, you took the stories seriously even with their flaws which is encouraging and gave me confidence to keep going.  That’s hard to do.  I feel like there was a lot of room for me to ask questions, which you responded to quickly and with resources. I hope that we can keep working together.”  –Katie P.

“Donna has helped me with two picture book biographies. Both experiences have been terrific. She is a careful reader with a great sense for what brings a story to life. Her comments are incisive and spot-on, but not pushy or insistent. She understands the story I am trying to tell and takes my work that extra step (or two or three) further to make it the best it can be. The value I get from my critiques with Donna is worth every penny spent.”  — Audrey Ades

More Kind Words

“I’m so happy that Donna critiqued my (non-fiction) manuscript. Donna’s suggestions reinvigorated my love for this subject (unlike other critiques I’ve had that make me consider giving up completely) and helped me see my narrative in a new light. I learned so much from her questions, exercises and the overall process that I know I will use for future projects.” –Kari Lavelle (who signed with an agent 6 weeks after critique)

“One of the best ways to improve your writing is to learn from more experienced writers. If you’re looking to take your manuscript to the next level, I highly recommend purchasing a critique from Donna. Her feedback does not skimp. She dives deep into your manuscript and will help you see what’s missing by offering many suggestions for improvement. She even did a color-coded outline of my book. I’ve never received a more thorough critique! Donna’s expertise and encouragement were pivotal in my path to landing an agent.”   –Kim Rogers

“The time and care that Donna took with my recent manuscript were obvious in the spot-on thoughtfulness of her editorial comments. The changes I made in response to her feedback were the ones that got this story over the hump and out on submission. Sharing that manuscript with Donna was one smart move, and it’s one that I’ll be eager to repeat.” —Chris Barton, award-winning author of THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH (Eerdmans, 2015) and WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS (Charlesbridge, 2016), and THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS (Charlesbridge, 2009)

“I couldn’t possibly have written my debut picture book, The Youngest Marcher, without Donna’s guidance. Her expertise in structure, voice, plot development and resolution, setting, and character made all the difference. I highly recommend her critique services; they’re worth every penny.” —Cynthia Levinson, author of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER (Atheneum, 2017), WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH (Peachtree, 2015), and HILARY RODHAM CLINTON: DO ALL THE GOOD YOU CAN (Balzer & Bray 2016)

“Donna digs in deep. Her expertise with non-fiction picture book biographies surpass the typical one-page critique. She will help you find the heart of your story and which way to focus your efforts moving forward. With years of practice, including an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, her critique will get you to the next level.”   —Cate Berry, VCFA graduate and author of the forthcoming picture book PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME P(Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins, 2018)

“I had struggled with a story for some time when I invested in a critique with Donna. Not only did I receive fresh insights, I felt like my book gained a champion – someone who would join me in willing it into the world and would also share the tools to help me find the universal in what had become intensely personal. Donna delivers – with kindness and compassion, grit and grace. Your best work deserves her focused attention.” —Aimee Thomas

“Donna has helped me with just about every book I’ve had published. She has a knack for getting in there and helping a writer to narrow their focus, to find the core of their story. Recently on a picture book project, when I was stuck on a plot point, Donna offered feedback that helped me to strengthen my story arc while understanding my character’s motivation better. That manuscript is now in acquisition with a major publisher. Thank you, Donna, for helping me to see the world through my character’s eyes.” —Don Tate, award-winning author, illustrator, and author/illustrator of many picture books including  IT JES HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW (Lee and Low, 2012), and POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON (Peachtree, 2015), and STRONG AS SANDOW: HOW EUGEN SANDOW BECAME THE STRONGEST MAN ON EARTH (Charlesbridge, 2017).