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Frequently Asked Questions about Book Doctors/Freelance Editors

  1. What does a book doctor or freelance editor do?
    Book doctors and freelance editors can provide a range of services. They edit manuscripts, work with authors on revisions, perform editorial consulting, provide reader's reports and ghostwriting.
    A book doctor more often works for authors and is hired directly by them. A freelance editor may also be hired directly by an author but is also often hired by publishers or agents to edit manuscripts.
  1. Should I hire a book doctor/freelance editor?
    A book doctor or freelance editor can provide professional feedback on your manuscript. If you feel you need or want the feedback of a professional and you are prepared to revise your manuscript based on this feedback, then this could be helpful for you. Ideally, the book doctor/ freelance editor will give you a clear picture of how editors at publishing houses will react to your manuscript, with the one difference being that the book doctor/freelance editor will write you a long letter detailing his reaction, the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, and suggestions for improving the weak areas, while the editor at the publishing house will simply send a rejection letter (unless he buys it, of course).
    If you are not prepared to revise the manuscript based on the book doctor/freelance editor's feedback, then you would be wasting your money.
  1. How do I find a reputable, competent book doctor/freelance editor?
    This profession is filled with people looking to take advantage of unsuspecting writers. That said, there are some very skilled practitioners out there who passionately love what they do and will provide excellent service. You must be very, very careful in hiring someone.
    As discussed with agents, it's dangerous to simply pull names out of directories such as Literary Market Place. If you must do this, make sure you ask the book doctor/freelance editor all the questions in #4 below.
    The best way to find a good book doctor/freelance editor is to be referred to him by an author who used his services and found them satisfactory. If you don't know many other writers, you can pick up information at writers' conferences or conventions, or in on-line writers' resource areas. You do have to be careful about from whom you get advice, though. I recently talked to a writer who nearly ruined her career following bad advice she'd received on-line.
    If you submit your work to agents, sometimes an agent will refer you to a book doctor/freelance editor if he feels your manuscript needs some revising before he can represent it. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing.
    A Good Thing
    If you have researched your agent beforehand and feel secure that he's reputable (see "Frequently Asked Questions about Literary Agents"), then you can feel assured that his suggestion is made with your good and the good of the manuscript at heart. Good agents sometimes refer authors they see as "borderline" to a book doctor/freelance editor. This indicates that the agent believes it likely that with a focused revision, the manuscript will be strong enough to represent, though he will make no promises.
    A Bad Thing
    BUT, if you haven't researched your agent beforehand and you're not sure of his credentials, you may very well be in the middle of a scam. As I said in the "Frequently Asked Questions about Literary Agents," anyone can say he's an agent. Some of these clever, profit-minded souls have discovered that authors are wary of agents who charge fees. So instead of charging fees, they refer you to a book doctor who charges you a fee. The book doctor then pays a percentage of that fee back to the agent as a commission.
    Now, in and of itself, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with the book doctor paying the agent a commission. The agent has taken the time to read your manuscript and to direct you to someone who can help you, someone the agent feels is capable of guiding you through the revision process to a manuscript that will likely be of publishable quality. So the agent is being compensated for that.
    But in practice, most of the agents who have this type of relationship with a book doctor are not reputable, competent agents. They do not make a living off of commissions made by selling books to publishers; they make a living off of commissions made by selling a book doctor's services to authors. They do not have the good of the book at heart (they'll often refer every author who submits a manuscript to a book doctor, no matter how good or bad it is--they often don't read the book at all), they have not selected this book doctor because he is the best one to help you, and they have no intention of ever representing you. Many of these agencies are merely hollow fronts designed to draw in customers for book doctoring. They have not sold books to publishers and have not even submitted any books to publishers.
    Telling the Difference
    The only real way to tell the difference between these two situations is by checking the credentials of the parties involved. Is the agent an agent with whom you would like to work (see "FAQ about Literary Agents")? Is the book doctor/freelance editor reputable and competent? See question number four.
  1. What questions should I ask a book doctor/freelance editor before hiring him?
    As with a literary agent, it is critical that you check the credentials of a book doctor/freelance editor before you agree to work with him or send him any money. Ask him the following:
    • What are his credentials and background? Has he ever worked for a publisher? In what capacity? Has he ever been published himself? As with an agent, anyone can call himself a book doctor. Some book doctors are simply English teachers, others are published authors, and others are experienced editors.
    • Can he point you to any books in the bookstore that he has edited? Is he named on the acknowledgments pages of those books?
    • Will the book doctor edit your manuscript himself? One of the most notorious book doctoring services is run by someone with very impressive credentials, but the actual work is done by a large staff of college students. After you receive the critique of you manuscript, can you call the book doctor to discuss it in detail? This question will usually reveal whether the book doctor is going to do the work himself. If not, he will not want you to call him with a lot of questions about a manuscript he hasn't read.
    • How many manuscripts does this book doctor edit per year? More than fifty indicates either that he's not doing the work himself or that he's doing a shoddy job.
    • Do you feel comfortable talking with and dealing with this person? Do you respect him enough to carefully consider all the advice he gives you? If not, you're wasting your money.
    • What exactly will you be getting for your money? If you will be receiving an editorial letter, approximately how long will it be and what exactly will it cover? Will the book doctor write comments on the manuscript itself? What type of comments and approximately how many? Make sure also that the book doctor tells you all fees up front.
    • How quickly will the work be completed?
    If all these questions are answered to your satisfaction, then you've found a good book doctor/freelance editor, one who will help you improve your manuscript. If not, keep looking.

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Updated Nov 30, 2002
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