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What Does a Book Doctor Do?

"Editors are hungry for new stuff but have the attention span of a puppy," asserted independent book editor Anita McClellan at our November 2008 Q&A.

McClellan (former Exec Editor, Sr Acquisitions Editor, and Development Editor at Macmillan, Inc., and Harcourt-Houghton Mifflin Company - NY and Boston) works with emerging and established book writers. McClellan advises authors to try out three book doctors before committing large amounts of money to a full edit. She offers a $65 "try me out" coaching session (eg. her gut reaction/critique of the first 10 pages (2500 words) of a manuscript or book proposal. Check it out on her website

McClellan, who calls herself "personally resistant to the gate-keeping process of the publishing industry ("Their whole thing is to fight people off; my whole thing is to welcome people") believes that a well-written proposal can find a publisher, even without a literary agent.

A book doctor can help you, once you've written the best book you can and run it by your writers group, propose it in a way that editors will see it as marketable. A book doctor can also help if your work gets rejected over and over for the same reason and you can't figure out how to fix it. "We fix things," said McClellan. "We've been on the inside of the publishing industry; we lunch with agents and editors. We help you feed them what they want."

She says a good book doctor should have a website with this essential information: editorial and staff experience, books and author clients worked with, client references, specialty topics, organizational memberships (eg. Editorial Freelance Association), how the book doctor works (what the process is), payment method (by hour? page? project?) and payment schedule (prepaid or by installments?). Once you've chosen a book doctor, get a written project agreement that covers costs/expenses, mutual responsibilities, payment schedule, renegotiation clause, and a cancellation provision for both partners.

To build an audience for your book even before you submit your proposal, McClellan says, 1) a website is a must: it shows you're plugged into the realities of publishing a book; 2) instead of creating a time-consuming blog, post comments on your book's topic on other people's blogs, using an email signature that includes your URL and "author of forthcoming [title]"; 2) write/post book reviews of books by authors who write on topics related to the book you are writing, again using your URL and forthcoming book title.

McClellan displayed books she recommends book writers read: The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, by Susan Bell (Norton, 2007) and The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform: Leveraging the Internet to Sell More Books, by Stephanie Chandler (Quill Driver Books, 2008).

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