Critique Services


Athletes and performing artists have coaches to help them achieve their best—why shouldn’t you?

Our critique service offers serious, honest, and supportive feedback to help you continue your development as a writer, prepare a manuscript for publication, or complete a writing project in progress.

Critique services success story

Sean Higgins, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, publishes in The Iowa Review
The Blaze-Orange Freak Tag, a story by Sean Higgins, was selected as a Finalist in a contest at The Iowa Review, and will be published in an upcoming issue of the magazine. Sean worked with Angela Rydell through Continuing Studies' Critique Services, and told her he used her edits and feedback as a springboard for his final draft. "Angela's critiques were invaluable—not only for the story, but for my overall growth as a writer. Her knowledge of craft—along with practical, actionable edits—equipped me with the proper tools to roll up my sleeves and renovate an aimless short story into something I'm very proud of. Something picked up for publication."

Read more success stories below»


How Does It Work?

You submit your manuscript and receive feedback by email. The manuscript receives a close reading by one of our experienced, highly qualified writing consultants who then composes a written critique that assesses the work and gives specific feedback. The critique is a thorough, honest analysis of your manuscript that notes what is working as well as providing suggestions and strategies for revisions.

Who Do I Work With?

Our writing consultants are experienced authors, teachers, and editors who have helped many writers improve their work and get it published. See the bios to learn more about the consultants.

  • Christopher Chambers [fiction, nonfiction, poetry, scripts, MFA applications]
  • Christine DeSmet [fiction, scripts, résumés]
  • Kevin Mullen [resumés, graduate school application essays]
  • Angela Rydell [poetry, MFA applications]
  • Laurie Scheer [fiction, nonfiction, scripts, resumés]
  • Tim Storm [fiction, nonfiction, MFA applications]

Do We Critique?

We critique a wide range of writing including:

  • Novels and Novellas
  • Autobiography and Memoir
  • Short Fiction and Flash Fiction
  • Creative Nonfiction
  • Screenwriting and Playwriting
  • Poetry
  • Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction
  • Children's Books
  • Genre Fiction (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, etc.)
  • Journalism & Feature Writing
  • Book proposals and synopses
  • MFA applications
  • Resumés & Cover Letters

How Much Does It Cost?

  • Prose manuscripts (novels, short stories, nonfiction book proposals, etc.): $5/page
  • Board Books and Picture books: $25
  • Screenplays/television scripts/stage plays: $4/page
  • Poetry: $12/page of poetry (one poem per page)
  • Résumés, cover letters, and CV-to-résumé conversions: $25. (Include a brief description of the job you’re applying for and/or specific job posting, and your timeline.)
  • Essay editing for applying to schools/colleges, $25
  • One-on-one meetings about your academic application essay or other writing concerns are welcomed by our Writing Doctor, Kevin Mullen, $50/30 minutes. Multiple meetings welcomed. Meetings can be by telephone, in-person, or Skype.

How Do I Register?

Contact Christine DeSmet: 608‑262‑3447 (christine.desmet@wisc.edu) to register. You may request a specific consultant, or we can recommend one. Let us know if you have an upcoming deadline so that we can work with you to meet it. Pay by check or credit card. Checks payable to “UW-Madison.” Credit cards, email Laura Kahl (laura.kahl@wisc.edu) for the online payment link.

After you’ve registered, email the manuscript to your writing consultant who will be begin the critique.

Manuscripts guidelines: double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman or similar typeface, one-inch margins (ragged right margin, not justified); title, name and contact information on first page, number subsequent pages. Scripts should follow industry standard format. Include a brief (one-page) synopsis with excerpts of longer manuscripts (no charge for this page).

Critique Services Success Stories

Alan Perry of Eden Prairie, Minn., publishes in literary journal; places in contest
The online journal Gnarled Oak will publish Alan Perry’s poem “Crossing” in its upcoming Issue 10. The poem memorializes a ferry boat/tanker crash on the lower Mississippi River on Oct. 20, 1976, where 78 of 96 people were killed. This is the first time one of Alan’s poems will appear in an independent literary journal. “As an aspiring poet, I've already piled up a number of rejections from other journals, so getting this news…was pure joy!”

Alan was coached by instructor Angela Rydell through UW-Madison Critique Services. He contacted her to say thanks for mentoring him. “Your careful, persistent and helpful feedback over the past several months is a key reason I found a publishing home for ‘Crossing’! I want you to know how much this first poem being published means to me and the fact that you were the mentor that helped get it across the finish line.” And shortly after getting that good news, Alan learned his poem "In Your Wake" took 3rd place in an annual contest of the League of Minnesota Poets. Alan wrote the poem while in the online poetry course “Poetry: Getting to Good,” also taught by Angela Rydell.

Sean Higgins, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, publishes in The Iowa Review
The Blaze-Orange Freak Tag, a story by Sean Higgins, was selected as a Finalist in a contest at The Iowa Review, and will be published in an upcoming issue of the magazine. Sean worked with Angela Rydell through Continuing Studies' Critique Services, and told her he used her edits and feedback as a springboard for his final draft. "Angela's critiques were invaluable—not only for the story, but for my overall growth as a writer. Her knowledge of craft—along with practical, actionable edits—equipped me with the proper tools to roll up my sleeves and renovate an aimless short story into something I'm very proud of. Something picked up for publication."

Norma Jenckes of Pawtucket, RI, receives honors in Galway Kinnell Poetry Contest
Norma Jenckes’s dramatic monologue, "A Tour of the New Botanical Garden," was awarded Honorable Mention in the Galway Kinnell Poetry Contest, held as part of the annual Pawtucket Arts Festival. Norma’s been working with instructor Angela Rydell through our Continuing Studies Critique Services to hone her poetry. She said she used the feedback to balance the poem's nuanced historical context with good crafting. "Taking the advice of Angela Rydell, I was able to make the contents of the poem more accessible."

MIPA contest finalists include Ernst and Chiarkas
The 26th annual Midwest Book Awards from the Midwest Independent Publishing Association include 2 that we know well:

Kathleen Ernst, for A Settler’s Year, photographs by Loyd Heath (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, Madison, Wis.). Category: Arts/Coffee Table Books/Photography. Kathleen has taught for UW-Madison Continuing Studies in the past and was the keynote for the June 2016 Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop & Retreat in Madison, Wis.

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.

Marion Young, Texas, takes home 2 Silver Awards in IBPA
Marion Young’s picture book, Love Circles the World, illustrated by Christina Mattison Ebert, has won 2 silver awards in the Independent Book Publisher’s Association 2016 Benjamin Franklin Awards. Marion worked on her book extensively with Christine DeSmet through UW-Madison Continuing Studies Writing Critique Services.

Love Circles the World is an enchanting peek into cultures around the globe. Its message of love and family is so simple it’s sublime. People of all cultures share love with each other or with nature, despite their differences or perhaps in the midst of their differences.

Marion won silver for both Children’s Picture Books 0-3 and Best New Voice: Children’s/YA. The IBPA members include librarians, bookstore owners, reviewers, designers, and editors.

Jonathan Muzzall's story in New Ohio Review
Congratulations to Jonathan Muzzall of Helena, Montana, for the publication of his short story, A Whole Lot of Men with Guns, in the New Ohio Review, issue 18, published this fall 2015.

Jonathan used our Critique Services and received help from writing coach Christine DeSmet to polish the story. Jonathan’s stories have also appeared in RosebudBeloit Fiction Journal, and elsewhere. He lived in Madison, Wis., for ten years before moving to Helena where he now works for the Lewis & Clark Library.

Margaret Goss, Madison, has first novel published
The Uncommitted, a first novel for Margaret Goss, Madison, was published in paperback by Three Towers Press (an imprint of HenschelHAUS, Milwaukee). The novel is about a young mother (Josephine Reilly) who discovers she’s a messenger between the dead and living — a discovery that makes her and those close to her the target of an invisible evil. The setting is suburban St. Paul, Minnesota.

Margaret attended Writers’ Institute and also received critique services from staff member Christine DeSmet.

The Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA) gave first-place winning gold to the cover design of Margaret Goss’s 2015 suspense/thriller novel. The award-winning artist was Clarissa Yeo.

Poet Patricia McConnell of Portland, Oregon published again!
Avalon Literary Review will publish Patricia McConnell’s poem "Enduring Goodbyes" in their September issue. She honed her writing skills working with Angela Rydell through UW-Madison’s Critique Services, as well as the online courses “Poetry Writing: Getting to Good” and “Poetry Writing: Taking the Poetic Leap,” and is currently dabbling in flash fiction through the course “Fiction in a Flash.”

More successes for Tim Caldwell of Mount Pleasant, MI
The printed version of the Crab Creek Review (2014, Volume 2) came out in December with Tim Caldwell’s short story, “The App,” and his beautiful story featuring a little boy and his grandfather, “Natural Wonders,” will be published later this week (around March 28, 2015) in the on-line journal, The Penmen Review. Tim got critique help for both stories from Christine DeSmet of UW-Madison Continuing Studies.

Diverse Voices Quarterly, Volume 7, Issue 24, is available as well on the Crab Creek Review website or on the Kindle. It has Tim’s personal essay, The Fire Chief.

Tim Caldwell, Mount Pleasant, MI, published in literary journals
Tim Caldwell’s short story, “Time and Again,” has been published by the Ginosko Literary Journal, Edition 15.

Another story, “The Library,” will appear in Westview, a semi-annual publication from the Language Arts Department of Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

Tim honed his writing with UW-Madison Continuing Studies Critique Services, working with Christine DeSmet.

Harold Thorpe has new children’s book published
Harold William Thorpe has just released another children's chapter book. Grayson's Garage is available from Little Creek Press, located in Mineral Point, Wisconsin.

Harold is a retired UW-Oshkosh professor and associate dean. Harold began his fiction writing career by participating in our Critique Services and programs including the Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop & Retreat in June and the Writers’ Institute. He now has several books published. Little Creek Press has also participated in our spring conference.

Tim Caldwell, Mount Pleasant, MI, published in literary journals
Tim Caldwell’s short story, “Time and Again,” has been published by the Ginosko Literary Journal, Edition 15.

Another story, “The Library,” will appear in Westview, a semi-annual publication from the Language Arts Department of Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

Tim honed his writing with UW-Madison Continuing Studies Critique Services, working with Christine DeSmet.

Harold Thorpe captures regional history in his new novels
Harold William Thorpe is the author of the O’Shaughnessy Chronicles, a series of epic family novels set in Iowa County, Wisconsin in the early-to-mid 20th Century. He is also the author of the Good Friends Storybook series for children that mixes adventure, quirky talking animals, gentle lessons about friendship, and Wisconsin history. Both the adult and children’s series are published by Little Creek Press in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Aubrey's Attic, the latest of the Good Friends Storybooks, is now available online. 

Harold's new website is designed to connect readers to his books, but also to expand their knowledge of the history, geography, and culture of the settings for his stories—Iowa County, Door County, and Butte des Morts, Wisconsin. Check it out at haroldwilliamthorpe.com. Harold has participated in our June retreat and our Critique Services. His publisher, Little Creek Press, participated in the past 2 editions of Writers’ Institute.

Pat McConnel of Portland, Oregon publishes poem in literary journal
Pat's poem "The Mammogram" was published in the Spring, 2014 issue of Enhance Magazine, an online and print magazine. She has taken the online courses "Getting to Good" and "Taking the Poetic Leap" with Angela Rydell, and worked with Angela through DCS's critique services.

Pat says, "It has been a pleasure and a very positive learning process to work with Angela Rydell in her online classes and with her critiquing service. Angela works in a thoughtful and direct manner when editing. I appreciate it when she can tell me where I need to 'show rather than tell' and when she points out those places in my poems where I have led the reader astray by not expanding on a theme or straying from an established metaphor. In addition, I value Angela's encouragement to stay with a poem that has good bones and keep revising it. I have had 2 poems published since starting my online work with Angela and the UW online classes."

Pat is writing and publishing poetry at 70 years of age.

Denise Dalton, Vermont, publishes her first novel
Out of the Ashes is Denise Dalton’s new women’s fiction novel and an especially good one for those who love “foodie” books. It’s set in the restaurant world. The character of Julia Harmon fell in love as a teenager with George, but then his betrayal sets her on a twisting path that takes her cross-country. Find out more about the book at Denise’s website, www.denisedalton.com. Denise received help with her novel from Christine DeSmet of our UW-Madison Continuing Studies Critique Services.

George Smullen’s debut mystery thriller set in a state prison
Using his 26 years as an educator in the Wisconsin state prison system—including time as a hostage in a prison riot—George Smullen has written a dandy, fast-paced thriller with gritty reality. The lead character in A Price to Pay is a former war hero who gets a job at the prison just as an undercover female investigator shows up to look into the dirty dealings at the prison, including a murder cover-up. George wrote his novel using our Critique Services and mentor Christine DeSmet, UW-Madison Continuing Studies.

David Girard—new novel and new Indiana writers’ group
Indiana resident David Girard has published the novel, Passing Through The Gate, to stellar reviews. The coming-of-age story is about 2 young boys at a Midwest boarding school who come upon a mystery that puts them in grave danger. Also, David and several other writers have started “Booking Culver: The Maxinkuckee Writers’ Group.” Check them out online and on Facebook. David received critiques from staff member Christine DeSmet and attended our annual Writers’ Institute and Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop & Retreat.

Chicago writer Pauline Gruber publishes to rave reviews
Pauline Gruber’s new YA novel, The Girl and the Raven, published by Dragonfly Ink in December 2013, is getting rave reviews. It has a great cover and premise. It’s about 16-year-old Lucy Walker who is a half-witch and half-demon, drawn to both good and evil. But she wants a normal life and needs to choose. She’s also got big problems: how to keep her demon dad from killing her boyfriend, how to keep the witches in her life from killing her dad, and how to keep her non-supernatural friends safe. Pauline’s book, available at Amazon, received help through our Critique Services and Christine DeSmet of our staff.

Whitefish Bay, Wis., writer Jon Kolb publishes crime novel
A real-life, bizarre crossbow assassination of the owner of Van Trier’s restaurant in Milwaukee years ago inspired Jon Kolb’s new crime novel, The Summer of Rain: Odyssey of a Young PI, published through Booklocker.com and available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble (paperback and electronic versions). Jon has used our Critique Services with Christine DeSmet for help with some of his short stories. Good going, Jon, on that novel!

Critique Services alum Melissa Stanziale published again!
Melissa Stanziale, Johnston, Rhode Island, had her short story "To Be Thirsty" accepted by Blood Reign magazine. It will be in its first digital issue that comes out on Dec. 13, 2013 (Friday the 13th), and it will also be in its print anthology issued June 2014. Melissa’s story went through our Critique Services with Christine DeSmet.

Rhode Island writer Melissa Stanziale published
Melissa Stanziale, Johnston, Rhode Island, had her short story, “Blue Meat” accepted for summer 2013 publication by the British horror magazine, Tales of Obscenity. Melissa used our Critique Services to polish the story; it was critiqued by Christine DeSmet, UW-Madison Continuing Studies.

Colleen Rowan Kosinski signs with AKA Literary Agency
Colleen Rowan Kosinski of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, has signed for representation of her middle grade/YA novel, A Promise Stitched In Time, with Terrie Wolf of the AKA Literary Agency. Colleen used our UW-Madison Continuing Studies Critique Services and worked with Christine DeSmet.

Rose Garcia’s first YA book earns high praise
Houston, Texas, author Rose Garcia is garnering some nifty reviews for her first YA novel, Final Life, the first book in a new series. It’s a paranormal romance about a girl you moves from Michigan to Houston, and on top of that major change in her life she discovers she’s lived eight past lives and there’s now a Transhuman hunter who wants to make sure her current and ninth life is her last. You can find out more on the internet, including at www.RoseGarciaBooks.com. Rose used our Critique Services and worked with Christine DeSmet.

Simmi Goyle of California wins 20th People’s Pilot Contest
Simmi Goyle, Redondo Beach, California, has earned first prize of $500 and several other valuable prizes in the “People’s Pilot Contest” for her new TV series pilot called “Body & Soul.” In addition, she’s a finalist in the movie category of that contest with her screenplay, “The Astronaut.” Her TV show script features a woman doctor and magical elements. The contest judge said, “Whoever puts this on the air is going to be very, very happy they did.”

Simmi’s scripts went through our Continuing Studies online courses and critique services with instructors Christine DeSmet and Laurie Scheer.

New Authors with great book covers!
Den Adler, a long-time attendee of our Writers’ Institute conference and a Critique Service client, has a new book out in time for holiday giving called Janesville, published by Arcadia Publishing, a well-known publisher of postcard books. Den’s book features 228 postcards giving a pictorial history of Janesville, Wis., where Den resides. He and his wife Judy used their own collection of cards in addition to those found at the Rock County Historical Society and local collectors.

Critique Service client Carl Miller, Palm Beach, Florida, is a new first-time author with a suspense, The Fires of Remorse, from Whiskey Creek Press. Check out his hot cover, pun intended. Carl said he’s really a hometown Wisconsin guy because he attended grade school in Milwaukee, Wis.

Sheri Matheson, Portage, Wis., is the author of Night of the Wolf, with a distinctive wolf cover, a historical suspense novel that includes details of the famous Peshtigo fire that occurred the same day as the even more famous Chicago fire. Sheri’s book is found at www.buybooksontheweb.com.

Congratulations, Den, Carl, and Sheri!

Several writers from our programs announce good news
Amy Gangl (online screenwriting course), Middleton, Wis., and her writing partner, Brooke Miller Hall (attended various UW writing programs), placed 8th in the 2010 Writer’s Digest script category with their screenplay “Babymoon Blues.”

W. Lionel Williams (critique services), Hempstead, NY, has published A Lamb to the Slaughter/Hope and Defeat in the High School Classroom through IUniverse.

Cathy Douglas (“Take Your Characters to Dinner” online course with Angela Rydell), Madison, Wis., had her poem “Mother’s Maiden Name” published in the online version of Verse Wisconsin. And her story, “The Video Game,” was published in a recent issue of Lorelei Signal as well as the Mystic Signals Anthology.

Dr. Phillip Dibble (online dialogue course), Mission Hills, Kansas, is the author of The Fundamental Things, a book from Authorhouse.

Kathee Jantzi, Lake Mills, Wis., has story published online
Check out EveryDayFiction.com for a story called "Why Not Me?" by Kathee Jantzi, Lake Mills, Wis. Kathee's attended many of our programs and has used our Critique Services for her novel.

Mark Blumenthal, Twinsburg, Ohio, wins script contest
With his drama script, “Neither One Knew,” Mark Blumenthal won the Ohio Independent Film Festival screenplay competition this June, which had a field of nearly 200 submissions. Prior to the contest, Mark’s screenplay was critiqued by Christine DeSmet of our staff. Congratulations, Mark! Logline for “Neither One Knew”: After killing a mob boss, “Lady Bull” got a new identity complete with a marriage and two little boys. Now the mobster’s nephew shows up seeking revenge.

Stage play by Marilynn Anselmi, Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in finals
Marilynn Anselmi, Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and writing as M.A. Barner, has learned her full-length play, “Raising Ricci,” a family drama, is a finalist in the MTWorks NewBorn Festival. Marilyn traveled to New York City for a script reading of her play on July 21. If the play makes it through the next round, it’ll continue in the running for the NewBorn Award and possible full production. Marilyn’s play was critiqued by Christine DeSmet of our staff.