Should You Trust a "Book Doctor" with Your Fiction Manuscript?

An increasing number of "Book Doctors" are coming out of the woodwork as self-publishing options become more attractive. If you want to get your book published yourself, without the pesky interference of a traditional publishing house, you might hire a book doctor to look over your fiction manuscript before you actually send it to print. This helps eliminate those embarrassing grammatical mistakes that might come back to haunt you ten years down the road.

A "book doctor" is somewhere between an editor and a ghostwriter, a professional who performs substantive editing where needed, while still looking for the typical errors that writers make in their prose. They might change three commas and return it largely untouched, or you might receive a nearly re-written fiction manuscript from the one you initially submitted. Either way, should you trust a book doctor with your fiction manuscript?

Potential Benefits

The great thing about hiring a "book doctor" for your fiction manuscript is that you gain a second pair of eyes that is completely objective. It isn't like handing your manuscript over to a friend or relative and staring at them until they read the last page. Instead, you gain the perspective of someone who doesn't feel obligated to feed you compliments. This can be largely refreshing – that is, of course, if you have thick skin.

According to SFWA.org, most book doctors give the author a choice of different levels of editing. In addition to proofreading, copy editing and substantive editing, they might offer a fiction manuscript critique, which pinpoints weak areas in your writing and makes suggestions for improvement, without actually altering the text. The major benefit to hiring a book doctor, therefore, is that the author gets the most control over what is done to his or her manuscript.

Potential Drawbacks

Of course, hiring a "book doctor" isn't always a good idea, primarily because there are more scams than legitimate editors in this business. Many book doctors work for unscrupulous agents and publishers that bilk hard-working writers out of their money, and although there are many great editors in the marketplace, you have to be careful when you make your selections.

Unfortunately, trusting a book doctor to edit your fiction manuscript doesn't mean that it's guaranteed to be published, or that it will come out the way you want it. Even if you plan to self-publish, you probably have ideas for how you want it to come out in the end, and hiring the wrong book doctor can dash those dreams.

Also, hiring a book doctor isn't an inexpensive undertaking, and many charge hundreds of dollars for a full edit of your fiction manuscript. This isn't a scenario where you always get what you pay for, and a poor editor can charge high prices just as easily as a competent one. This is where prudence and an understanding of the market take center stage.

What to Avoid

As mentioned above, you should never trust your fiction manuscript to a "book doctor" if you have been referred there by an agent or publisher. In most cases, they receive a commission from the flat fee you pay the editor, and the results are unlikely to boost your career.

It is also important to look at the sales copy used by a book doctor on his or her web site. If he or she is promising to get your fiction manuscript sold, or to improve your chances with literary agents, or to recommend the script to someone in the publishing industry, your best bet is to run in the other direction. Furthermore, some book doctors will claim that you can't sell a fiction manuscript without professional editing, which simply isn't true.

Making the Decision

In the end, you can trust your fiction manuscript to a reputable, talented "book doctor" who doesn't make impossible promises, but you do have to be careful. Screen all candidates carefully before forking over your hard-earned cash, and don't be afraid to ask for a CV and references. A true professional will respect your desire to protect your intellectual property.

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