Writing Critique Services

Critique Services

Photo of DCS building at 21 North Park Street, Madison, Wisconsin

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.

How Does It Work?

You submit your manuscript and receive feedback by email. The manuscript receives a close reading by one of our experienced 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.

  • Christopher Chambers [literary fiction, creative nonfiction, memoir, poetry]
    Chris (MFA, Univ. of Alabama) has twenty-five years of experience as an editor (Black Warrior Review, New Orleans Review, Midwest Review). He’s worked with hundreds of writers, and work he’s edited has appeared in Best American Poetry, Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The O. Henry Award anthology, New Stories from the South, The Utne Reader, Flash Fiction Forward, Flash Fiction International, and The Pushcart Prize anthology.
  • Christine DeSmet [fiction, scripts, résumés]
    Christine (BA, MS, UW-Madison), an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, teaches online courses and coaches/critiques writers at UW-Madison Continuing Studies. She directs the annual June Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop & Retreat, where she leads a master class for novelists.
  • Kevin Mullen [resumés, graduate school application essays]
    Kevin (PhD, UW-Madison) is the associate director of the UW Odyssey Project. He has taught writing for more than 10 years. At many events, he assumes the moniker of the Writing Doctor and helps writers with a range of ailments.
  • Angela Rydell [poetry, college application essays/personal statements]
    Angela (MFA, Warren Wilson College) has been a writing coach and instructor for Continuing Studies since 2006. She’s a recipient of the Poets & Writers’ Writers Exchange Award and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her fiction and poetry have been published in many journals.
  • Laurie Scheer [fiction, nonfiction, scripts, resumés]
    Laurie (MA, DePaul Univ.) is a writing mentor, professional speaker, instructor, and the director of the annual UW-Madison Writers’ Institute for Continuing Studies. She has published two books and is the founding editor of the Midwest Review literary journal.
  • Tim Storm [nonfiction, fiction, college application essays/personal statements]
    Tim (MFA, Pacific Univ.) is an award-winning writer and teacher whose work has appeared in a number of journals. His passion for storytelling and its inner workings informs his teaching, editing, and mentoring.

What 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.): $6/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 overview for improvements plus editing: $85. (Include a brief description of the job you’re applying for and/or specific job posting, and your timeline.) Scholarships/financial assistance may be available.
  • Essay editing for applying to schools/colleges: $100
  • 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 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

Robert Allen: Two poems accepted for literary publication

Robert Allen’s poems “Shells on the Beach” and “Furious Hearts” were recently published in Foliate Oak’s December 2018 issue.

He took both poems from first to final while working with Angela Rydell through UW-Madison’s Critique Services. Please join us in applauding Robert’s newest publications.

Kristine Zeigler’s first short story anthology puts spotlight on water wars

Writer Kristine Zeigler has published her first anthology, Cover This Country Like Snow and Other Stories (Pupfish Press, 2018).

Kristine is a third-generation Californian and environmental non-profit leader focused on preserving nature. She worked with Laurie Scheer through our Critique Services while composing many of the short stories for this book that focuses on the water wars.

Notes Laurie Scheer, “She is a perfect example of a writer who took her passion for a specific place and merged historical facts with personal wisdom to tell her stories about the Owens Valley, California – then and now.”

In these ten stories set before, during, and after the water wars between the sophisticated City of Los Angeles and the rural underdogs from the Owens Valley, the characters want one thing—to survive. Here are swashbuckling, daring, and undisciplined explorers and miners, a former prisoner at a World War II relocation camp, abused and displaced Native Americans, and even one very ancient tree, brought together across time and terrain to tell their tales. Cover This Country Like Snow evokes the Wild West in its adventure, heroism, and majestic mountain vistas. But where land and water are involved, so too is cowardice, greed, and the violent ambitions of humanity to harness the power of nature—at any cost.

From Caleb True, Dynamo Verlag Press: “There’s something very contemporary about her writing—think Pierre Michon or Sabina Murray. And there’s something very old school about it as well—the way novels used to be written, when history and nature were inseparable from fiction, like Cather, Stegner, London.”

Short story by Jane Curtis accepted for literary magazine

“Easy to Be Hard,” a short story by Madison writer Jane Curtis, has been accepted for publication by Rosebud literary magazine for their 25th anniversary December issue. She worked on the story with Christopher Chambers through the manuscript critique service.

Sarah Carlson sells YA novel

Sarah Carlson, Fitchburg, Wis., has sold her YA contemporary novel, All the Walls of Belfast, to Turner Publishing.

The novel set in Ireland will be released in bookstores and via e-book format in March 2019.

Sarah’s path to publication included a step-by-step approach using several UW-Madison Continuing Studies resources. She utilized Critique Services with Christine DeSmet for her writing and a query letter, and then joined a critique group and novel-planning course taught by Angela Rydell. She attended Weekend with Your Novel, Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop (where she received an advanced full-manuscript critique from Lori Devoti), and finally Sarah attended the Writers’ Institute (where she pitched and got her agent).

Congratulations, Sarah!

Nick Chiarkas wins John E Weaver Award

Nick Chiarkas, Middleton, Wis., has won the John E Weaver Excellent Read Award bestowed by the Earthshine Media Group for his novel, Weepers.

The award honors John Weaver, writer and founder of the Fox Croft Group, now part of Earthshine Media Group. For twenty years, Weaver worked with authors doing literary publicity and founded the Book Cover Award. He died of cancer in April 2016.

In writing his novel, Nick called on experts in UW-Madison Continuing Studies Critique Services and also attended the Writers’ Institute and Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop & Retreat.

Nick is among the speakers at the 2018 Writers’ Institute.

Joan Gray’s essay in Santa Clara Review

Madison, Wis., writer Joan Gray has taken part in numerous in-person and online writing courses with instructors Christine DeSmet, Laurie Scheer, and Angela Rydell, and she has attended both our Write-by-the-Lake Retreat and Writers’ Institute conference over the past few years.

Her essay “Game of Hearts,” originally titled “Grandpa’s Last Move,” has been published in the Winter 2018 issue of the Santa Clara Review.

Joan has sent the following note to her instructors: “My thanks come from the bottom of my heart for always being there, critiquing my work, encouraging me, and never ever discouraging me. For all of the millions of words that I wrote and you critiqued, I thank you again.”

Poet Robert Allen publishes poem in literary journal

Even after 147 submission attempts, Robert Allen did not stop submitting or revising. On his 148th try, his poem “Upon Hearing My Footsteps,” was accepted by the Aurorean, and will be published in an upcoming issue. Robert worked with Angela Rydell through UW-Madison Continuing Studies Critique Services, and his hard work paid off. Congratulations, Robert and Angela!

Julian Renner’s script takes top prize in Scottish film fest

Congratulations to Julian Renner for winning the 2017 Scottish Independent Film Festival’s  category for unproduced screenplay with “Land That I Love.”

Julian wrote the screenplay with coaching help from Christine DeSmet, faculty associate at UW-Madison Continuing Studies and instructor of its online course in screenwriting, which Julian used to get his script career underway. “Land That I Love” is about a West African school girl prostitute, trapped by her circumstances, who believes she’s found true love when a mining executive offers her a chance to go home with him to the United States.

Julian lives in New Rochelle, New York.

Laurie Buchanan’s nonfiction book a finalist for national award

Boise, Idaho author Laurie Buchanan’s Note to Self: A Seven-Step Path to Gratitude and Growth (She Writes Press) has made Aspire Magazine’s list of the Top 10 inspiring and motivational books for September 2017. The book was also named a 2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards Finalist. Laurie utilized Critique & Coaching Services of UW-Madison Continuing Studies for her book. She is a recent past guest instructor at Writers’ Institute.

Read more critique services success stories