Critique Services

Top leaders, athletes, and performing artists have coaches to spur them to their very best—why shouldn’t you?

Writers from around the world have found results with our critique and coaching services. We’ve helped writers start or polish a project, get a short story or novel published, option a screenplay, and propel a poem to publishable level.

Critique services success story

MIPA contest finalists include Chiarkas
The 26th annual Midwest Book Awards from the Midwest Independent Publishing Association include one that we know well:

Nick Chiarkas, for Weepers (Three Towers Press, Milwaukee, Wis.). His novel is set in NYC in 1957. Category: Fiction-Mystery/Thriller. Nick was recently on panels at the Writers’ Institute in which he talked about the great help he received from UW-Madison Continuing Studies Critique Services and Christine DeSmet.

Winners will be announced at a gala in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday, May 13.

What we provide in our critique service

We critique a wide range of all types of writing, including:

  • Novels, novellas, short stories, articles and essays, screenplays, TV scripts, stage plays, and poetry
  • Synopses, nonfiction book proposals, and MFA application material
  • Children’s literature and picture books as well as Young Adult fiction

The critique includes a thorough analysis of your pages and a letter with suggestions. Expect a good amount of feedback. We believe in telling each writer what is working well and pointing out areas that can be improved, along with suggestions or options for making those improvements. Our critiques cover the important aspects including story structure, plot, scene work, characterization, theme, dialogue, setting, transitions, and style. In nonfiction book proposals, we help you shape the necessary items an agent or editor expects to see, including the marketing page, chapter outline, sample chapters, and your query/pitch letter.

We don’t do line editing but will point out problems in grammar, punctuation, awkward sentence structure, and similar things. We critique from the standpoint of wanting the author to publish proudly, whether that be with a large publisher, a regional publisher and small press, or a self-publishing situation. We welcome your questions concerning your marketing plan. Although we can’t find you an agent, we will be happy to advise you on how to go about finding one.

How to submit material and what format to use

To submit a manuscript, please contact Christine DeSmet ( before sending or e-mailing any materials. Unsolicited submissions will be returned unopened.

For novelists, we recommend that you try us out by submitting only the first chapter or so of your novel, maybe 15-30 pages, instead of the entire manuscript. It often happens that we spot things that you can correct on your own in the remainder of the novel without paying for further services. However, we’re also here throughout the year coaching writers all the way through their entire novels, and we’re glad to do that if you feel that’s warranted to get the job done.

For nonfiction book authors, we look at your separate pages and your book proposal. For all others, including screenwriters and writers of short stories, articles, and poems, please submit the entire piece from beginning to end.

Please submit your manuscript pages in professional format: double-spaced, Courier or Times New Roman 12-point typeface, one-inch margins (ragged right margin, not justified), page numbers upper right, title/name in upper left. Please indent all paragraphs five spaces or a half inch. There should be no extra spaces between paragraphs except for a scene break. Scriptwriters and poets should follow their particular formats.

Send your pages with a one-page or short synopsis that tells us the beginning, middle, and end of the story. That can be single-spaced. There is no charge for this page—it is for our information only. We also look at query letters at no charge.


We charge $5/page (or $5/300 words) for novels, short stories, nonfiction articles, essays, and nonfiction book proposals;
$4/page for screenplays/television scripts/stage plays;
$12/page of poetry.*

*Each poem critique includes up to one email exchange with questions plus one revision and a brief general comment. Submit no more than one poem per page. No matter how many lines on a single page, the charge for that page is $12.

$25 for:

  • Board Books 0-100 words
  • Early pic books 0-500 words
  • Pic books 50-1,000 words
  • Nonfiction books 500-2,000 words

$5/page for:

  • Early readers 200-3,500 words
  • Chap books 4,000-10,000 words
  • Hi-lo books 500-50,000 words
  • Middle grade 2,500-45,000 words
  • YA 45,000-70,000 words
  • Nonfiction memoirs 5,000-50,000 words

How to pay us and where to send it

You can pay by check or credit card. Please make your check payable to “UW-Madison.” After contacting us and becoming part of our schedule, send material to the appropriate instructor directly, or to:

Christine DeSmet, Critique Services
UW-Madison Continuing Studies
21 N. Park St., 7th floor
Madison, WI 53715

For the online payment link, please call our program associate, Laura Kahl at 608-262-3982.

Who reads and critiques material?

Naturally we want you to work with the writing coach of your choice. However, due to scheduling, not all of our writing coaches are available all the time. If we can’t accommodate your first choice, we’ll offer another suggestion that’s appropriate to your project.

Projects will be read by the following writing staff:

  • Fiction: Christopher Chambers, Christine DeSmet, Laurie Scheer
  • MFA projects: Christopher Chambers, Christine DeSmet, Laurie Scheer
  • Nonfiction projects: Christopher Chambers, Laurie Scheer
  • Screenplays, TV scripts, plays: Christopher Chambers, Christine DeSmet, Laurie Scheer
  • Poetry: Christopher Chambers, Angela Rydell

Whatever you decide to do, we wish you the best for your writing!