The Nitty Gritty:
We hear it all the time. We have one chance to make a great first impression. Even well-published authors have their manuscripts critiqued before submitting to their agents or editor. It is doubly important for pre-published writers.
For years I have enjoyed helping writers finesse their manuscripts through thoughtful and informed feedback. I always feel honored to be part of a story’s evolution and a writer’s self-confidence. I would be delighted to help you, too.
- I studied the craft of writing long before earning an MFA in Writing (concentrated on Children’s and Young Adult Literature) from Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). I have critically analyzed and studied countless books, from YA to picture books and poetry.
- As an author, I have worked with multiple editors on a variety of projects, both trade and educational. I’ve written for magazines and newspapers, too.
- I currently have seven published books and more on the way—fiction and nonfiction.
- My MFA critical thesis focused on the creative approaches to picture book biographies and the often fuzzy nonfiction line.
- I have taught and mentored writers through SCBWI events, through private coaching, my online classes, and through The Highlights Foundation and The Writing Barn. You can see upcoming classes here.
The Genres I Welcome for Critique or Edit
Picture books—fiction or nonfiction.
Chapter books—fiction and nonfiction. Please understand the difference between chapter books, early readers, and middle-grade novels. Clementine, 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.
What You Can Expect From my Feedback:
Firstly, I will read your manuscript multiple times, allowing your story to objectively simmer. This contemplative time allows me to immerse in your story and ponder your chosen approach.
I offer two levels of critique/edit:
Developmental Critique: When you need help with big-picture craft points like structure, organization, focus, narrative arc, and character development, this is the critique for you. After careful examination of your manuscript (that first involves lots of scribbling on a printed version), I will prepare a two-to-six-page editorial letter with suggestions for addressing your manuscript’s specific challenges. I often prepare a color-coded outline of your narrative, too. When feasible, I will recommend mentor texts and/or craft-related books or articles that may prove helpful. Contact me with questions
Line edit: Once your story structure is solid, it’s time to pay attention to details like word choice, voice, pacing, theme, dialog, and page turns. Final finessing of everything mentioned at the developmental stage is appropriate now, too. I will prepare track change comments on your manuscript and an editorial letter that summarizes what is and isn’t working. When feasible, I will recommend mentor texts and/or craft-related books or articles that may prove helpful. Contact me with questions
*30-minute Skype or telephone call included with every critique!
Rates vary, depending on manuscript length, the complexity of the content, and anticipated time commitment. I will read a portion of your work (or full manuscript if a picture book or early chapter book) to determine a reasonable time commitment and fee.
I am currently open to critiquing:
Fiction and nonfiction Picture books
Picture book biographies
Chapter books up to 15,000 words— contact me for information.
Middle-grade novels— Contact me for price and availability.
Mentorship / Coaching
If you’re interested in ongoing mentorship and coaching, we can customize a plan just for you. For foundational instruction, do you want to be challenged with essay assignments and annotated bibliographies, in addition to manuscript work? That’s great! Would you prefer to put me on retainer for a set number of hours per month for critiques, focused instruction, or phone or Skype calls? That’s great, too! Let’s discuss how I can help you. Contact me for more information.
“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.
I Teach Writing, Too! Click here to learn more about current classes.
“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