On Editing: When Critiquing a Friend’s Novel

For December, Kris and I decided to swap manuscripts and edit each other’s work. We both have first drafts completed, but that’s about it. Neither one of us knows where to go from there on our current WIPs.

We’ve read each other’s work before and we’re also part of a writer’s group where we give and take feedback. Yet, whenever I look at someone’s writing, someone I know and I’m close to, I always find it harder to critique.

Don’t ask why, I can’t explain it, but that’s just how I feel.

With that being said, here’s what you should do when editing a friend’s novel.

On Editing: When Critiquing a Novel for a Friend

Editing is editing, but editing your own novel is quite different than editing a friend’s. When a friend asks you to look over their work, they’re trusting you with their babies, they’re blood, sweat, and tears. They’re allowing you to take a trip through their imaginative mind, peek into their fictional world and play with their characters.

What to do when a friend asks you to edit their novel


Before I get into all the details about what you should do if you agree to critique their novel, I thought I’d mention that it’s okay to say no.

You have your own writing to focus on. You have your own life to live. If taking on a whole novel to critique would be too much, then say so. Your friend will understand and maybe you can take a peek at their work some other time.

You don’t want to agree to critique their novel and then let it sit for months on end, do you? That wouldn’t help the writer and it would add on more stress for you.


Speaking of letting the manuscript sit for months… If you agree to critique their work, work out a deadline with the writer. Tell them you’ll have their novel back to them within a month or two months or whatever works best for the two of you.

Having a deadline will allow both of you to plan accordingly. The writer can anticipate the feedback and prepare for their next round of edits while you can get into a routine as well as save your own writing time and help a friend.


You want me to critique your novel? Okay, well what do you want me to look for?

Does the writer want your opinion on the character development throughout the story? Is there a point in the novel where the plot feels stuck and they don’t know how to fix it? Maybe they just want your opinion on the overall story.

Give your honest feedback, but be sure to answer specific questions from the writer. You don’t want them e-mailing you later saying, “Thanks, but what did you think about this…?”

Editing is hard, but editing for a friend is harder.

Remember, this is not your story.

You might have had the protagonist kill the villain at the end as opposed to letting him go. However, your friend created this world, the conflict, the resolution, the characters, and everything in between. You have no idea what other plans the author has in mind for their novel.


You didn’t write the story, it wasn’t your idea to begin with, so don’t compare it to your own writing and rewrite it. Make suggestions, dish out new ideas, but don’t be offended if the author decides not to use them.

Everything you say, positive or negative feedback, will be taken with a grain of salt. If anything, the writer is seeing how a potential reader will take on the moral of the story. Maybe their point wasn’t clear enough or maybe it was spot on.

The power of Suggestion

With that being said, when you write your feedback you need to keep in mind that the writer may or may not listen to it. Be sure to word your feedback in a nice way that it’s just your opinion.

It doesn’t help to say, “This is good, but I would have done it like this…”

Instead say, “This part just isn’t working out for me because [give reason]. Have you thought about doing this…?”

Or, you can stop at, “This part just isn’t working out for me because [give reason].”

The writer may or may not want your suggestion, but they’ll listen to what’s not working with the story. If it didn’t work for one audience member, it might not work with everyone else.

If you don’t know what to pin-point in the story, check out this list of 35 critiquing questions. You don’t have to answer them all, but it’s definitely a good starting point and will help the writer out a lot.

Positive and Negative feedback

When critiquing a novel, you always want to find things that work well and things that don’t work well.

The negative feedback helps them improve. The positive feedback give them some reassurance that their writing isn’t terrible, something that all writers believe about their stories.

So, feel free to find something negative about the story even if you loved it. It may not be a problem for you, but other readers may not get it. Or, it could be something as simple as them constantly spelling defiantly definitely” wrong.

If the story wasn’t your cup of coffee, find at least one or two positive things to say about the story. The story can’t all be awful. Maybe you enjoyed one of the secondary characters or there was a scene that was pretty funny and worked really well with the plot.


Most authors ask for feedback because they don’t know where to go next. They’ve read and reread their story, but there’s always something that needs changing. It’s hard for them to quit editing with each new draft because, let’s face it, we all search for perfection within our novels.

As the editor, it’s your job to reassure the writer their novel is up to par. It may not be its best yet, but you have to cheer them on and give them the willpower to keep going.

That’s where the positive and negative feedback comes in. That’s where your suggestions come in handy.

You’re allowing the writer to give someone to talk to about the ups and downs of their novel whether it’s the novel itself or the journey. By being an editor or beta-reader, you’re being a good friend.

Have you ever critiqued a friend’s novel before? How did you guys handle it? Let me know in the comments below!

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