In a recent episode of a sitcom set in the offices of a New York publisher, one of the super glamorous editors holds up a manuscript and says, ‘We want the author because she’s a big name, but her manuscript is limp,’ (wrinkles nose in disparaging way). ‘We’d better send it to a book doctor.’
‘What’s a book doctor?’ asks her wide-eyed assistant.
‘Oh,’ says the editor, waving a perfectly manicured hand in the air. ‘They’re people who are stuck at home with kids and happy to do some freelance work for peanuts.’
At this point I’m looking at the TV and our glamorous ‘editor’ with mingled fury and disbelief. OK, I know it’s only a sitcom. But even in that context it’s difficult to hear this critical job dismissed with quite so much contempt.
In the light of which, I feel obliged to put the record straight.
We book doctors, for that is what all of us at United Ghostwriters are when we wear our editing and manuscript rescue hats, make the difference between a manuscript that lands in the bin and one that ends up as a bestseller. So while in the sitcom world we might be dismissed as minor cogs in the publishing wheel, we are actually an exclusive and vital group.
We pride ourselves on being top-rated professionals, able to diagnose and treat the most dire of manuscript cases – those that are too short, too long, too repetitive, missing key information, in need of a complete overhaul, or, as the ‘editor’ so succinctly put it, limp. In short, we can bring a dying manuscript back to life, inject fresh energy and interest and get to the heart of what it really needs in order to stand out.
Book doctoring demands experience, expertise, precision and skill. It requires a calm head, a steady hand, a passion for words and a finely tuned sense of how they need to be strung together to bring meaning, enlightenment and joy. We give a manuscript a distinctive voice. We add the structure and the shape, the pace, momentum, mood and texture.
Without us, the whole publishing process grinds to a halt. The publisher, the author, the publicist, the distributor and the bookseller – everyone in the chain relies on the book doctor to breathe life into a struggling manuscript and to transform it from a malnourished shadow of a concept into an all-singing, all-dancing success.
When we have done our job, everyone is happy. At which point the book doctor, with a nod and a smile, will slip quietly into the background, to be forgotten until the next emergency.