The Book Doctor’s Little Black Bag is for people who are recognizably writing something that most of us would call fiction, be it ever so feeble. Raw beginners might cut themselves on the scalpels, eat the ointments, or get snarled up in the gauze. It will be better for everyone if you come back when you’ve finished at least a hundred thousand words of fiction or so.
Although some of this may be useful to beginners, you will find no systematic discussion of the basics here. If you’re not sure what the difference is between a protagonist, a protractor, and a protease, and you think a climax and a resolution is what happens at a parliamentary orgy, there are a zillion sources out there. Go to those.
You will find little or nothing here about the business of writing except perhaps some things about scams (to which non-agency non-publisher private book doctoring clients are often susceptible because they are desperate), including some eventual hints about how to know your book doctor is a quack, and perhaps a thing or two about how to negotiate with a possible book doctor. You won’t find my opinions about indie v. traditional, paper v. epub, all that. If they appear anywhere they will appear in my main blog, Approachably Reclusive.
I would be deeply irritated to learn that any workshop was trying to work through these tricks as the kind of list that some places have made of, for example, The Turkey City Lexicon. Many of these issues I discuss are peculiar things that you may never see, and others are only problems in some works and may be actually beneficial in others. The checklisty fix-up is one of several reasons why I’m on record as a workshop-loather: before deciding to check the oil, make sure you are working on a car rather than a cat, a cow, or corn on the cob. Many workshops don’t take that first step, because they are so eager to get on with dragging their writers over the next bed of coals or covering them with the next slathering of butter.
Nearly all of these tricks require that there be an existing text. (The diagnostic tricks in particular do). You can’t doctor a book you haven’t written yet. (And till you’ve written it, it doesn’t have problems, which is why so many people never start). So if you’re looking for the thing to improve that idea that you bore people at parties with, or those six pages of notebook paper you scribbled once in the bus stop – go write it. Finish it. Then come back.
These are tricks, not esthetic commands. Omitting to do them does not necessarily make your work worse. Doing them is not at all guaranteed to make it better. But experience has shown that many people like their own work better after the trick is done.
Don't read this with an eye to lining up clients for yourself. Having this bag of tricks will not make you a book doctor – not even a bad one, and in this current market, there’s not that much book-doctoring (as opposed to developmental-editing) work anyway. If you really want to be a book doctor, please bear this in mind: I did my first book doctoring gig around the time I finished my twentieth novel. That may have been a bit too soon. <<<NOT A JOKE OR IRONY.The tricks you’ll find here should be applied only to your own work, cautiously.
As they say in all the drug commercials, if it hurts, stop. (And consult a physician. I know a good book doctor who is available, occasionally, at excruciating and outrageous rates).