A book doctor is focused on what’s wrong, the same way an ER room physician is focused on injury or sickness.
The book is mostly okay, the writer is almost certainly okay (maybe inexperienced but okay), and the book just needs to be finished satisfactorily. In cases like that we don’t need to fix the whole writer, or re-start or re-do the book. There is probably about one thing wrong, with maybe half a dozen symptoms of the fundamental problem, or there might be two or three things wrong with some persistent weird trouble that is a result of negative synergy. In any case, the book is almost there, doing the right thing would fix it, and you need a fresh set of experienced eyes and a big bag of tricks.
You call the book doctor when the book is so almost there.
When it feels like just a little bit more of a draft would do it.
As a book doctor, I move books from almost-publishable to better-than-publishable. Sometimes that means a short report identifying where the roadblock is; sometimes a detailed revision plan laying out every step to be completed; sometimes it means whole ghost drafts, following the revision plan and rewriting sentence by sentence. (Those last are expensive – the price of a first-novel advance or more – but three times, it’s been worth it to a publisher, and once to an agent).
I’m working my way out of the business, though I’d probably still take on the right project. (Right being defined as a book doctoring, not developmental editing, job, with decent pay and a source other than the author). I have about a decade of book-doctoring experience, having doctored about thirty titles, developmental-edited around a dozen, and done enormous amounts of agency reading, much of it focused on can/should this book be doctored.
But I suspect traditional book doctors will be extinct in half a generation or so. The things that used to make book doctoring a great job are mostly over with. The work is difficult and challenging, and most people can’t do it, so I charge a lot for it -- so much that I rarely had authors as clients directly. A publisher with $100k sunk into an unpublishable book, or an agent with a shot at a six-figure contract if only the book didn’t utterly blow, would sometimes come up with the money. But nowadays there are always six much-more-ready books out there from newbies; rather than have a book doctored, it’s cheaper to bury the poor thing, perhaps still twitching, and buy a new one from an unknown.
But I bet you'd rather not have your book buried, twitching or not.
So here's the bag of tricks, now available without a prescription.
Most of what I learned in that odd little trade of book doctoring was tricks. What I mean by a trick is something that works in a lot of circumstances, but has no theory behind it, and is unconnected to other tricks. (Whereas theories tend strongly to connect to other theories). If you will, technai, which you will find I’ve written about here and here.
Tricks, as we all know, come in bags. Bags like doctors carry ….
I’m going to walk you through my bag of tricks, things I’ve learned to do that can take a book from Just Below Not Quite to somewhere Well Above Just Barely if the problem is severe, and will improve a book that has the problem at all.
You might want to read the Provisos and Warnings, too.