Nine Signs of a Scam Book Doctor

By: Jerry Gross

Working with an expert, ethical book doctor can often make the difference between being published or remaining unpublished. Conversely, working with an unqualified, unethical book doctor can often be hazardous—even fatal—to your career.

You’ve worked hard to save the money to hire a book doctor. Make sure that the book doctor you hire will turn out to be a good investment. Here are nine signs that someone who claims to be a professional book doctor may be trying to scam you.

1. A scam book doctor states that you can’t get published unless you hire a book doctor.

You may hear that editors and publishers demand that a manuscript be professionally edited before they will consider it for publication, or that agents won’t take on a client unless the writer first works with a book doctor to polish the manuscript.

Not true. Agents and editors still take on manuscripts that need a lot of work, but, to be candid, they don’t do it too often because they are usually overworked and overwhelmed by the volume of material submitted to them. That’s why working with a good book doctor can at least improve your odds of being accepted by an agent and an editor.

2. A scam book doctor guarantees, or at least implies, that his editing will get you accepted by an agent.

Not true! No reputable book doctor can make this statement because no book doctor can persuade an agent to represent a project that the agent does not like, believe in, or see as commercially viable. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and editors and agents often see a manuscript’s potential through very different eyes.

3. A scam book doctor guarantees, or strongly implies, that once she’s edited your manuscript, an agent will definitely be able to sell it.

Not true. The vagaries, shifts of taste, and trends in the publishing marketplace are such that agents themselves cannot be sure which manuscripts will be salable.

4. A scam book doctor admits (or you discover) that he has a “financial arrangement” with the person or company who referred you to him. In plain English, this means that he kicks back part of his fee for the referral.

This is inarguably unethical. There should be no financial relationship between the book doctor and the referring party. If one exists, it can adversely affect the honesty and integrity of his evaluation of your manuscript, or both.

5. A scam book doctor does not guarantee that she will edit your manuscript personally.

Since you are hiring the editor for her specific expertise, insist that she guarantee in writing that she will edit the manuscript herself. If she won’t do this, look elsewhere for an editor.

6. A scam book doctor tells you that he can’t take on your project, but will subcontract it.

However, he won’t tell you who will edit it, and he won’t provide you with that editor’s background, samples of that editor’s work, or any references. And he does not give you the right to accept or refuse the editor he suggests.

If you do decide to work with another editor because the one you wanted is overbooked or otherwise unavailable, then you have every right to know as much about the person recommended by him as you know about the editor making the recommendation. You also have every right to decide whether you want to work with the editor whom he recommends.

7. A scam book doctor won’t provide references from authors or agents she’s worked with.

Obviously, the editor won’t provide you with names of dissatisfied clients, but you can learn a lot by gauging the enthusiasm (or lack of it) with which the client discusses working with the book doctor. Ask questions: “Was she easy and friendly to work with?”; “Was she receptive to ideas?”; “Was she available to discuss her approach to line-editing, critique of the manuscript, or both?”; “Did you feel that you got good value for your money?”

8. A scam book doctor won’t provide samples of his editing or critiques.

Engaging in a book doctor without seeing how he line-edits or addresses problems in a manuscript is akin to buying oceanfront property in Arizona from a real estate salesman on the phone or on the Web. Talk is cheap, but good editing is expensive. Make sure you are buying the expertise you need; demand to see samples of the editor’s work. If he balks, hang up the phone!

9. A scam book doctor sends you an incomplete Letter of Agreement that does not specify all the costs you will incur, what she will do for each of her fees, a schedule of payment, and a due date for delivery of the edited or critiqued manuscript.

Every one of your contractual obligations to each other should be spelled out clearly in the Letter of Agreement before you sign it. If changes are agreed upon during the course of the author-editor relationship, these changes should either be incorporated into a new Letter of Agreement that both parties sign or be expressed in rider clauses added to the Agreement that are initialed by both editor and author. There should be no hidden or “surprise” costs at the time of the final payment to the book doctor.

A final caution: Be convinced that you are hiring the right book doctor before signing the Letter of Agreement. Not only your money, but also your career is at stake!

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