Monday, July 16, 2007

The Doctor is In

People often ask me what a book doctor does. It can be a confusing term, since some "book doctors" repair or rebind books, and I wouldn't know where to start to do that. My line of work is to critique manuscripts that writers want to get ready for representation or publication. The hardest part of the job isn't the mechanics of pulling a manuscript apart; it's hurting writers' feelings.

One of my favorite books is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird; in it, she warns writers to stay away from those who are cruel in their assessment of someone's work. And she's right. So I try not to be cruel, and I try to find what's good in any manuscript I receive. I remind writers that my opinion is just one of many. I'm only an editor; I leave all-knowingness to God. All critique is subjective. What I don't like another editor might love. I try to give an honest, kind reaction to the book's various strengths and weaknesses as I see them. Since I've had plenty of my own work rejected, I know how it feels. Pouring cold water on someone's hopes is not what I want to do.

Still, I'm sometimes surprised at what people will send for critique: Books that are full of grammatical errors, misspellings, typos, and other types of carelessness that tell me perhaps I care more about the book than the author does. So here's a little tip. If you're going to send a manuscript to anyone--editor, agent, or publisher--you be kind, too. Make sure that what you send is the best you can possibly make it at the time. That means taking care of the details as well as the big picture. It's hard for a reader to see that bigger picture when he or she is being bogged down by slipshod execution. Give it your best shot. And I will, too.

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