My Manuscript Evaluation Checklist

With all the submissions I get I use my intuition and my checklist to see how they fare. While it is mostly gut reaction I need the checklist to balance out my feelings so I can best evaluate the content and quality of the material I’m looking at.

I’ve received some great queries lately so if you want to know how to get from the query stage to me interested in taking your work further I share my checklist showing what I look for when I read your work:

  • Does the beginning work? Does the ending work?
  • Does the plot have good pace, does it make sense, and is it a natural outcome for the premise?
  • Do I care about the outcome of the characters?
  • Do the characters stick to their traits?
  • How many subplots are there? Do they have appropriate attention with what you’ve set out to do in the novel?
  • Is the writing of high, lasting quality?
  • Is it special? Will it stand out on an editor’s desk and in a bookshop?
  • Does it have a good, marketable hook?
  • Is there a market for it?
  • Will I go to bat for it?
  • Can I think of five editors right away that would like it?
  • Do I think I can sell it?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

4 thoughts on “My Manuscript Evaluation Checklist

  1. Excellent! Very Helpful! Great insight on the agent’s mindset. While reading, do you ever skip around…maybe jump to the end first? Or do you always read beginning to end on all submissions? How much effort do you put into a reading if the beginning just doesn’t do it for you? Just wondering how far an agent will go before they decide a manuscript they once thought sounded outstanding turned out to be a dud.

    Great blog as always!


    1. Our minds are not full of witchcraft and secrets, I promise! There is a method to our madness…

      I always read beginning to end because that’s what the reader who buys your book will do. If I have to look for a fab sentence on pg 35, then it isn’t really a book, but a word search! Your manuscript needs to be polished when it arrives in an agent’s inbox. (This is my personal strategy though and other agents might read differently.)

      If I know the premise is great that will help me push through if the beginning needs work, but that is a big maybe.

      It is a lot of intuition and emotional reaction to the ms. If the writing is great, but the pace or plot isn’t holding up that might carry me so far, but ultimately ALL the pieces have to be in place: plot, character, pace, themes, voice etc.

      But, a ‘dud’ to me might be right for someone else, so you never know what someone else will see in a ms.

      I look for books I connect with and want to fight for–and all the points I noted above.

      I think the underlying question you are asking though is whether agents will take a chance on editing and spending time in development with a writer’s work if the ‘checklist’ isn’t met. The answer is yes. If I love the author’s work/ambition, quality of their writing, voice and see potential in it I will work to get my checklist to where it needs to be with a writer before we sent it to editors. I have signed clients who did not fulfill the ‘checklist’. However, the potential needs to be there and the work needs to be scratching the surface of perfection.


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