Monday, June 16, 2008

Getting a Second Opinion

Question of the day: Before you were published, did you work with a book doctor or independent editor? If yes, what was your experience like? If no, why not? For my first manuscript, I worked with a well-established editor and learned a lot. For my second manuscript, I didn't, but I'm wondering if I should let another set of eyes take a look, other than my agent. So what is your experience or opinion on book doctors/editors?

This is a tough question because you'll find people in the industry who roll their eyes at the thought of book doctors, but I'm not one of them. To answer the first part of your question: I didn't use one for my ms that went unsold, (the one I wrote before The Department), but I did use one (partially) for The Department. To clarify: I happen to have a friend (who reads this blog - hey, Trish!) who is a professional book editor. After getting burned with my initial ms, in that it got repped by an agent but didn't sell, I was skittish - as it sounds like you are - about going through the whole rigmarole again and ending up with the same result, when, conceivably, someone could have helped me with some obvious problems and smoothed them over.

So, anyway, my friend offered to take a look at the ms, but because this is her JOB, I insisted on paying her, albeit at her suggested very, very generous discount. We started with the first half of the ms, and when it became clear that the ms was already in good shape, I didn't waste her time (or, I guess, my money...not that it was a all, I'm just speaking casually and don't have a better word) on the second half.

But, even though she didn't have any major changes, she did smooth over a few odd transitions, suggest a few tweaks/changes here and there, and such, but more generally, she gave me peace of mind that I wasn't nuts - that, in fact, this book was strong enough to sell. In an industry where it's easy to constantly second-guess yourself (or have a false sense of your skills/talent), this was invaluable to me.

So where does this lead you? I think it depends on if you have the disposable income to spend, first of all. Book editors and doctors don't come cheap...and if they do, you better do an AMPLE background check on them to figure out why they're so cheap. Maybe they're just trying to build their credentials, which is totally understandable, but you do want to be sure that, conversely, you have someone who knows what he or she is doing. Of course, this can also be considered a career investment, so, in that sense, it's of course money well-spent...but it's still an unknown quantity: will you ultimately sell your book...and if not, is it really money well-spent?
You also, of course, need to consider not only your potential editor's credentials but whether he or she meshes with your style of writing. I'm sure that there are some top notch editors out there who would be as horrified by my writing as I was by their editing. Like all things in life, chemistry is key.

So, in sum, if you find someone who you trust and you can afford it, I don't see what you have to lose. But, of course, it's critical to remember that these editors and doctors don't a) rewrite the book for you - they might suggest weak spots, but it's up to you to fix them and b) they certainly don't guarantee a sale. That is all up to you (and a dandy agent).

Readers - weigh in on the pros and cons of book doctors. Anyone else ever used one?


Jen A. Miller said...

I haven't done book doctoring, but I have looked over manuscripts for a very few select friends based on my experience as a book reviewer.

But when I say very few, I mean less than a handful and one was my brother. Not sure if that helps, but that's my experience.

Trish Ryan said...

I've never used a book doctor, but I a friend with a masters degree in creative writing looked at my chapters, along with another friend who reads a ton of books and knows how to articulate what works and what doesn't.

I'm a huge believer in getting extra eyes on your writing before sending it out. Not all the feedback is helpful, but when I can check my ego at the door long enough to hear what they're saying, the end result is SO much better.

Barrie said...

I haven't used one. However, I know two people who have and did get published. One of them had several unpubbed books under her bed before going the editor route. So, it seems like it was a good decision. I think the trick is to really do your homework and make sure you've hired someone who can help.

Anonymous said...

I hired an editor (with strong creds) to take a look at my manuscript after I'd finished the first half of my novel. I'd written non-fiction for over a decade, but I really didn't have a clue whether I had any knack at all for writing fiction. She gave me great guidance on where I needed to shore up the story and, more importantly, gave me confidence that I had what it took to take it there. It was worth every penny I spent. And a total bonus . . . she's become, in the three years since, one of my dearest friends!