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What Is Book Doctoring, and Does Your Romance Novel Need It?

Updated 30 April 2024

The world of publishing is full of so much jargon and so many acronyms that learning them can feel like a full-time job. And that's before you consider that different editors and institutions have varying definitions for everything from copy editing to book doctoring.

One of my goals as a publishing professional is to, when possible, use real words instead of jargon, and when I can't avoid it, to make the jargon easier to understand. There are enough gatekeepers in the publishing world; language shouldn't be one of them!

In the spirit of this, this post will focus on defining the term book doctoring and why it might be exactly what your book baby needs.

What is book doctoring?

Book doctoring is a service that combines editing and ghostwriting. To put it in terms of a medical metaphor, book doctors look at manuscripts, diagnose their issues, and then, rather than writing prescriptions to treat those issues, they do the medicine's work themselves and go into the body to mend broken background stories, invigorate flat-lined character development arcs, and heat up lackluster sex scenes.

Book doctors are an especially great option for romance authors experiencing burnout, a big problem in the romance self-publishing world, where "rapid release" is gospel and reader demand can feel like a blessing and a curse. Matching the genre's pace while juggling the many tasks associated with writing a book—plotting, writing, revising, rewriting, marketing—can feel incredibly overwhelming.

And revision and rewriting are often the most overwhelming tasks for authors. They require you to look at both the big and little picture, to consider the romance novel and its readers when approaching a scene or chapter rewrite or restructure. Switching back and forth between those approaches is enough to give anyone a headache, let alone a romance author toeing the burnout line.

Even authors who aren't experiencing burnout can struggle with revision; deleting the words you spent so many hours crafting is heartbreaking. After all, there's a reason they call it "killing your darlings."

Worse, what if, after you've deleted extraneous content and rewritten pivotal scenes, you know something is still wrong, but can't figure out what? There's nothing worse than the sense of foreboding you get upon opening a manuscript file and knowing that somewhere in its depths lurks a problem you can't see or solve.

Luckily, that's where a book doctor can swoop in and save the day. They come in with objective eyes and genre expertise and take the weight of that manuscript off your shoulders.

And book doctors don't just make romance novels better; they also make the authors themselves better, because they allow them to take a much-needed step back from writing so they can rest their creative minds, which is key to maintaining the "fun" of self-publishing and writing romance. Otherwise, penning even the most swoon-worthy love stories can feel like drudgery.

How does book doctoring work?

Like everything in publishing, it's a process with multiple phases. Romance book doctoring usually begins with a meeting between the romance author and book doctor to discuss the aspects of the romance novel the writer is struggling with. If the writer is also struggling with confidence, Imposter Syndrome, or other aspects of the romance publishing process, the book doctor can offer support, encouragement, and, in some cases, referrals to other professionals who can assist with things like branding, promotion, or design.

Then comes the diagnostic phase, which is also known as developmental editing. The book doctor studies the manuscript and diagnoses its issues, then explains those issues to the romance author, how they will fix them, how long it will take, and how much it will cost.

The diagnostic phase is followed by the treatment phase. Depending on the book's needs, the romance book doctor might restructure the manuscript so the sub-plot arc and romance arc are evenly intertwined, or rewrite one of the main character's development arcs to more clearly show the ways their goals and motivations change throughout the book. Whatever changes the romance book doctor makes, they're done in the romance author's voice and style to maintain consistency.

Once all the writing is finished, the novel goes through the editing phase, where the book doctor edits the romance novel to ensure the style, tone, grammar, and spelling choices are error-free and consistent. And then it's sent back to the romance author for their feedback and approval.

The process usually takes a few months and can be a significant monetary investment, so take both your time and money into account if you're considering a book doctor. But with that time and money is a happily ever after for you, the romance author, and your book baby: a finished manuscript ready for release into hungry romance readers' hands (and Kindles).

How much does book doctoring cost?

As with every publishing service, from copyediting to proofreading, prices vary wildly, but generally speaking, book doctoring rates fall somewhere between a developmental edit and a ghostwriter, since the book doctor is performing a combination of those services on your manuscript.

Average book doctoring rates that I've seen in the last year range from $0.04-$0.06/word.

How do you find a book doctor?

Book doctoring is a bit of an anomaly in that many editors don't advertise book doctoring services, but will take on those projects when a client requests them.

If you've found a romance editor you love or think matches your needs, and they don't list book doctoring directly on their website, contact them and see if it's a service they're willing to discuss. And don't forget to ask about a sample edit to make sure you and that editor are a good fit. Book doctoring is an intense process, sometimes more so than editing, so it's imperative that you trust your editor.

I hope this post has given you a quick breakdown of what book doctoring is and if it's the right next step for your manuscript. And don't forget: if you're ever unsure what type of service your romance novel needs, you can book an affordable manuscript review.

Until next post, happy reading and writing!


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