Thursday, November 1, 2012


A couple of months ago I had one of those wretched nights when you know something unpleasant is going on in your body. Although I was very feverish and thought I must just have one of the vicious viruses going around, I needed a ‘second opinion’ from my doctor. I will always be very thankful for that decision. Within a few minutes she had rung the ambulance, inserted an intravenous drip and given me a shot of morphia to ‘tide me over’, as she put it, for the fifty minute trip to the hospital. One not-so-small kidney stone had caused a blockage which had caused an abscess which had caused my whole system to be poisoned.

Have you ever thought of authors needing a ‘second opinion’ on their manuscripts before they are submitted to an editor or agent for that most important decision? Some writing their very first novel may need a third, fourth – even fifth opinion. So who can writers consult for those opinions?

I was very fortunate to have a very knowledgeable doctor who immediately realised the gravity of my situation and acted accordingly. But I certainly needed those folk at the hospital who did those vital tests needed for the ‘third opinion’ hospital doctor to ask the specialist, the urologist, to give the fourth opinion and order the correct treatment he had been trained to give.

And what about the people who have been asked for opinions on another writer’s sweated over efforts to present the story they have taken a long time to finish. How should they respond?

My doctor knew I was very sick – which incidentally I did not know at the time – and acted appropriately to help me. I am so glad she had been well trained to know what needed to be done. So writers need to be careful who they ask to read their manuscripts. Family members and good friends may be okay for that ‘first opinion’ but not be the best qualified readers for the second. They can say whether they enjoyed your story or not, but because of your close relationship may not wish to hurt you if they do not think it is a good story. Some may also be too hesitant to point out problems in your fiction writing technique. I also hasten to add that it may not be wise to ask some friends with writing experience to read your efforts, especially if they are not readers or writers of your particular type of genre. I have also discovered that writers only of non-fiction – yes, and even editors too of non-fiction – are not always the right folk to ask to check your fiction manuscript.

And there is another problem for those of us who know other published authors in our genre whose books we like and would like to pluck up courage to ask. Most are so busy they rarely have time to read whole manuscripts sent to them – especially by beginner writers. Over the years there have been published authors who have started their own businesses as manuscript assessors. There usually is a charge of course because these writers are using their own writing time to try and help others.

One such author I know of is Jeanne Marie Leach.

She has her charges listed on her website. For example, she offers what I think is a very fare first offer:

No charge for basic read of first 5 pages – which determines extent of editing necessary.

Do click here and check out her website.

Omega Writers in Australia has one free manuscript appraisal up to 50 pages each year as part of their help for their members. Other writers groups and organisations also offer help in various ways. It is VERY worthwhile being a member of a good writiers organisation.
There are thousands of folk writing novels, including Christian Fiction. Being just a reader who wants to become an author is not enough these days –perhaps it never was? The competition to get our books out there to readers is fiercer than ever today. To have any chance to be successful in having readers be so blessed that they rave about our novels, we have to seek to achieve the highest standard we can. Attending workshops for writers, studying “how to...” books are essential for anyone who wants to write a novel.

Whatever you do, please recognise that especially if you have had little training for writing a novel of any genre, you most likely need at least a ‘second opinion’ to make it the best you possibly can before trying to find a publisher – or also self-publish of course.

I have tried to help other writers over the years but like many other published authors, there have been too many times I hate to have had to say, ‘Sorry, I am afraid my own commitments right now schedule right now does not give me enough time to do your manuscript justice.’

Please leave a comment about any other authors you know of, and especially any you have had personal experience with, who currently can offer help with fiction manuscripts.
Mary Hawkins is a best-selling inspirational romance author.
Over the years she has enjoyed mentoring writers and trying to share what she has been learning about writing novels. She has enjoyed many speaking appointments and has presented workshops at various writer's groups, including Romance Writers of Australia and in recent years at the Word Writers events in Queensland sponsored by Omega Writers and Wombat Books. She lives in Tasmania with her husband Ray, who is also a published author of the 31 Day Devotional books and a contributor to the ICFW Friday Devotions. She is currently trying hard to get back into completing her 18th manuscript as she continues to recover from septicaemia. Mary's novel, Return to Baragula, is the first book featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance ncing in November.


  1. Mary, I love your commitment to see other authors rise up - and understand your time restraints!
    I recently found a great author/editor in the USA - but after my MS - she has closed her door - and is writing herself.
    I'm looking forward to checking in again to see if there are other helpful authors added the comments listed as 'available'

  2. So thankful you took time to read my manuscript, Mary. Yes I consulted several specialist, but I believe you were the surgeon!! xx

  3. Very helpful and sensible blog, Mary! My heart goes out to new Christian authors in particular, but like you, I don't always have the time to help. I will accept some editing tasks on occasions, but not right now. Maybe next year! The Society of Editors websites in each state list accredited editors, and the NSW Writers' Centre at least has manuscript assessment services, but I can't suggest any particular people on those lists. Re having family members as first time readers of our manuscripts, I can see the dangers, but I have actually found it helpful--providing these people will be honest with you! I have found they at least love me enough not to want to see me fall flat on my face or be embarrassed by what or how I write!

  4. Wonderful post Mary, especially helpful to new writers! Yes, getting the right ones to give opinions has always the difficult part. And as we all know, the opinions of even the experts generally differ considerably. Keeping within the genre is wise. I used Meredith Efken of Fixtion Fixit and she is an A-plus surgeon. That's when we as authors need to be thick- skinned!

  5. Mary, great post. It's so true - you need lots of consultation! And I'm sure authors must get swamped with requests for help.

    I don't know of any authors who do fiction manuscript assessments. I know of an American Christian fiction author who does editing, though I haven't used her services so can't give you any more insight (

    I feel awkward self promoting, particularly since I don't have the writing experience that all you wonderful people have. But I believe I know what makes for good reading. I've just completed an editing course with the NSW Writers Centre, and we spent a good session purely on fiction editing. I am in the process of starting out in freelance editing. If anyone is in need of editing and would consider giving me a try then feel free to get in touch :) (

  6. Hi Mary,
    I really appreciate the analogy you've made but so sorry you had to go through all that. No matter how long we've been writing for, we always need great editing help.

  7. Thank you all for some very good comments. A surgeon, Jo? LOL. You were one excellent "patient" and put up with the surgeon very well. Saw your "Though The Bud Be Bruised" in our local shop this morning and told the staff it was a must read, especially for every church leader. and I am so glad you had all those "opinions" so it became such a page turner - at least for me that book is.

  8. Jo, anyone who has family members they can trust for honesty and expertise is very fortunate. I do know about the lists of editors and assessors at our australian State Writing Centres but unfortunately most of them are very expensive for beginner writers.

  9. Thank you for your input, Helen. Do you have a website or blog you could let writers know about your experience and what you can offer?

    1. Mary, my website is still in production, but it will be at I plan to have it up and running by the end of this month.

  10. You are so right, Paula. I sure still need editing for content as well as line editing. We simply can get too close to our "babies" and too often miss the flaws. Rita, how did you find Meredith? I do remember from time to time on American Christian Fiction Writers some names mentioned but could not remember them all, even tried to find a list on their website without success.

  11. Mary, thanks for sharing your excellent advice for new writers. I haven't paid for a manuscript assessment, mainly because I've been blessed with excellent critique partners and received super-helpful feedback from writing contests. Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck's 'My Book Therapy' has various options for fiction writers that some of you may find helpful.

  12. For those who are interested, I do both critiquing and editing. We always do a five-page sample to determine the extent of the job and to see whether we are a good fit nor not.

    You can reach me at judith(at)judithrobl(dot)com.

  13. Thanks for that Mary. I have had Omega writers do a 50 page edit as part of my membership and found it very helpful. It is often hard t find peopel we can trust to be honest and up front about faults. hope you're starting to feel better now. you have been in my prayers.

  14. And I sure wish I'd been a member of Omega before my first couple of Baragula books went to the publisher, Dale.
    You are so very blest, Narelle! Now you have been accepted by Harlequin's Heartsong Presents line you will be keeping your group busy. Thank you, Judith and Helen. all the very best with your editing!