Critiques, Editing, Coaching

Donna Janell Bowman (she/her) is the award-winning author of many books for young readers, including STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS (Lee and Low Books), ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree Publishers), KING OF THE TIGHTROPE: WHEN THE GREAT BLONDIN RULED NIAGARA (Peachtree Publishers), and the forthcoming co-authored autobiographical picture book WINGS OF AN EAGLE: THE GOLD MEDAL DREAMS OF BILLY MILLS (Little Brown). Donna’s books have earned awards and honors from the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and American Library Association (ALA/ALSC), as well as starred reviews, Junior Library Guild Selection, nominations for a dozen state book awards, and inclusion on Best-Books-of-the-Year lists.

Armed with an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts (Children’s and YA focus), Donna enjoys inspiring writers of all ages as a speaker, freelance editor, and instructor. She has taught writing classes and workshops for SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), the Writing Barn, The Highlights Foundation, and through the private offerings listed on the Class page here.

When evaluating texts, a logical mind and poetic soul fuel Donna’s eagle-eye approach to logic, narrative structure, character development, theme, and voice. Whether she is analyzing a mystery, a verse novel, a high-tension adventure story, a picture book biography, a rollicking fiction tale, or a contemporary relationship story, she is a sucker for narratives that pack an emotional punch.

Many of Donna’s former mentees and editing clients have progressed to signing with agents and securing book deals.

Admittedly not a Jill-of-all-trades, Donna is not the best editor for dystopia, sci-fi, paranormal, high-fantasy, or horror.

In addition to editing directly through this website, Donna is a member of the Angelella Editorial team. 

Mentorship / Coaching

Whether you’re looking for foundational instruction on the principles of writing or ongoing help to get your manuscript submission-ready, we can customize a plan for your needs.

Customized monthly coaching/mentorship plans — rates vary.

Standalone career or craft consultation via telephone or Zoom—30 minutes—$60
Standalone career or craft consultation via telephone or Zoom—35-60 minutes—$100
 Contact me for more information or to schedule a time

Critique or Edit

I am Available for:
Editing * Critiquing * Coaching * Ghost Writing

Picture books—fiction and nonfiction.

Chapter books—fiction and nonfiction. Please understand the difference between chapter books, early readers, and middle-grade novels. June B. Jones, Magic Tree House, Captain Underpants, and Critter Club are examples of chapter book series for different age ranges. The average chapter book is 6,000 – 15,000 words. If you need further clarification, feel free to Contact me.

Middle-grade novels—up to 50,000 words.

For other formats or genres, contact me.

What You Can Expect From my Feedback:

For every level of feedback, I will read your manuscript multiple times, allowing your story to objectively simmer. I will then make copious notes before composing your editorial letter and/or the track change comments on your digital Word document. My multi-step process allows for deeper analysis and thorough feedback.

Rates (Subject to change)

Initial Assessment: There’s no point in you spending money on a full critique until you know that your manuscript is ready for it, so I will assess the first 1000 words of your project WITHOUT CHARGE and then respond with suggested next steps—either a written critique or a brainstorming phone call. Contact me to be added to my schedule. 

Standalone consultation via telephone or Zoom—$60 for 30 minutes.    $100 for 35-60 minutes

Developmental Edit letter (the traditional critique): This is your best choice if you’re looking for big picture feedback about your narrative’s strengths and weaknesses. After multiple readings of your manuscript, I will prepare a multi-page editorial letter with suggestions for addressing your manuscript’s specific challenges. Special attention will be paid to structure, character development, narrative arc, organization, theme, voice. When appropriate, I will recommend mentor texts and helpful resources. An optional 30-minute post-feedback telephone or Zoom call is included.

Fiction picture books up to 1,000 words— Contact me
Nonfiction picture books up to 1,000 words— Contact me
(10¢ per additional word over 1,000)
Contact me for multi-revision or multi-manuscript package discounts.

For chapter books and novels, Contact me

Line-level feedback (like a critique on steroids): If you’re looking for line-level feedback, this is the option for you.  At this level, you will receive a summary letter, plus track change comments on the manuscript. Specific edit suggestions will address sentence-level feedback as well as the points covered in the Developmental Edit. When appropriate, I will also recommend mentor texts and helpful resources.  An optional 30-minute post-feedback telephone or Zoom call is included.
Fiction picture books up to 1,000 words— Contact me
Nonfiction picture books up to 1,000 words— Contact me
(13¢ per additional word over 1,000)

For chapter books and novels, Contact me

For other services, like final polishing, proofreading, query letters, or synopsis— $65 per hour, two-hour minimum

For ghostwriting, contact me. 





Manuscript Workshop

The pilot workshop was a big hit! Stay tuned for future opportunities to receive a critique from me AND a small group of your peers in a Zoom manuscript workshop.


“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

“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)

“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).

“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