Posted On August 21, 2009 by Print This Post

Benefits of a Book Doctor

It is with great pleasure that I welcome our newest visiting professor, Leslie Wainger, Editor and Book Doctor, to Romance University. BeforeLeslie Wainger making the decision to write for the purpose of publication, I picked up her book, Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies, and read it from cover to cover. It is now a sea of pink and orange highlights. All my questions were answered in an informative and personable way. I consider Leslie’s book my most valued writing reference guide and owe her a great deal of thanks.

Today, we’re here to talk about about her role as a Book Doctor. Read on to find out how a 30-year veteran can help take your manuscript to the next level. 

Tracey: Hi, Leslie! Tell us what it means to be a Book Doctor. 

Leslie: The main thing I do is analyze partial and complete MSs for authors. Each report is totally individualized to the book, with the goal of making it stronger and more marketable. I work with both unpublished authors and published authors who’ve hit a wall or are looking to make a change. 

Tracey: How long have you offered this service to writers? 

Leslie: This is the third year, but I’ve been an editor for 30. 

Tracey: What issues are you typically addressing when writing your analysis? Does it include grammar and plot structure? 

Leslie: I’ll talk generally about grammar if it’s an issue, but an analysis is not an edit, so I don’t go through and correct all the grammar. (I do offer freelance edits, but not only is that a much more expensive proposition, I will only do it for a book I feel is ready for an edit, not a book that still needs major structural work.) My main focus is on characterization, plotting, structure…the big-picture creative issues. 

Tracey: Do published or non-published writers use your service the most? 

Leslie: More unpublished than published, but I do work with both. 

Tracey: When does it make the most sense in one’s writing career to hire a Book Doctor? 

Leslie: Basically, if you’ve done everything you can think of and the book’s not selling, or you know there’s a problem and aren’t sure how to fix it, it’s time to consider a book doctor. Think of it as going to your GP. You know when you can’t fix something with aspirin and a bandage, and this is pretty much the same thing. I also vet query letters, which is less about the book itself and more about helping the author to sell it effectively. 

Tracey: What’s the turnaround time for a partial manuscript analysis? A full? 

Leslie: I don’t differentiate between the two. Everything goes in the same line-up. My turnaround has been running 6-8 months, because my analyses (4-12 single-spaced pages) are very time consuming, which is why they’re so thorough and book-specific. The turnaround for query letters is a couple of weeks. 

Tracey: Do you know if any of your clients have been published as a direct result of your service? 

Leslie: I know one incorporated my suggestions into a series she sold, but I’m not sure which version the acquiring editor saw. A number of other projects are on submission now, but that can be a lengthy process, so I haven’t heard news yet (and of course no one’s under any obligation to tell me). 

Tracey: What do you enjoy most about being a Book Doctor? 

Leslie: I’ve always liked helping and finding new writers, and that’s a big part of what book doctoring is about. 

RU Readers, there you have it. Do you have a burning question for Leslie? Be sure to post it in the comments section. Leslie’s generously agreed to pop in a few times during the day. 

Writing Romance for DummiesLeslie Wainger joined Silhouette Books as an editorial assistant in August 1979 and was part of the editorial team that launched the company’s first series, Silhouette Romance, as well as numerous series since.  

Her experience has brought her to her current position as Editor-at-Large, Single Titles. Now she works with a number of MIRA, HQN and Silhouette authors, including Linda Howard, Emilie Richards, Heather Graham, Curtiss Ann Matlock, Rachel Lee, Maggie Shayne, Kathleen Eagle, Susan Krinard and Sharon Sala.  

She is also the author of “Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies” (Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2004), the 2005 recipient of Romance Writers of America’s industry award and a freelance book doctor. Visit her site at  for more information. 

Please be sure to join us on Monday when Adrienne gets “straight talk” from Susan Gibberman, RWA’s 2007 Librarian of the Year.

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20 Responses to “Benefits of a Book Doctor”

  1. Good morning, Leslie. We’re so delighted to have you at RU!

    You mentioned the level of detail in your analyses. Could you share with us two or three of the most common problems you see with unpublished writers’ work?

    Many thanks,

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | August 21, 2009, 12:15 am
    • Hi Kelsey–

      One of the biggest is the author not knowing where/how to begin. It’s really important to hook a reader quickly, because so often the decision to buy (or not) is made in the bookstore after someone reads a page or two. I see too many MSs that wander, that don’t grab me, or establish an identity or a voice, anything to make me want to keep going.

      And then there’s the old “Show, don’t tell,” which these days I want to pair with “C’mon, at least tell me a little.” A writer needs to find a balance between action/dialogue and inner monologue/narration, and a lot of the MSs I see go too far in one direction or the other.


      Posted by Leslie | August 21, 2009, 10:29 am
  2. Hi Leslie,
    Thank you so much for joining us at RU!

    How would you describe your analysis style? Direct? Carefully crafted?

    Thanks, Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | August 21, 2009, 6:19 am
  3. morning and welcome leslie!!

    I own your book, and of course devoured it from cover to cover. It’s great! So informative, and full of great advice.

    First, I have to ask what that is on your arm in the photo? I can’t make it out! =)

    Second, how difficult is it to make an analysis and yet still remain true to the author’s voice?

    thanks for posting today!


    Posted by carrie | August 21, 2009, 8:24 am
    • Hi Carrie–

      That’s a lemur. I went to Madagascar in 2007 (the most amazing trip ever), and being climbed on by lemurs was a real highlight.

      Your question is a good one, also a hard one to answer. I (think I) do this (ditto when I edit), but explaining it is hard. Essentiallly, I try to keep in mind what the author intends with the book and how s/he’s chosen to get there, and not suggest anything that ruptures that, unless I think s/he’s truly gone wrong somewhere. It’s actually hardest to do this with a book where the intent and voice aren’t clear, and in those cases my first suggestion is usually to figure those things out, because they’ll affect how the author factors in and works with all my other suggestions.


      Posted by Leslie | August 21, 2009, 10:37 am
  4. Leslie–I like explanations such as you give. I learned much more about golf from a Golf for Dummies book–my friends laughed–but my game improved.A question: what is the difference between “a re-write” and a “revision?” One editor asked for one, another editor asked for the other. I didn’t know in either case what I should do. In both cases I asked, but still, I didn’t fully understand. Can you clarify? Celia

    Posted by Celia Yeary | August 21, 2009, 8:58 am
    • Hi Celia–

      Truthfully, I think these are really just different terms for the same thing. I suppose it could be argued that a rewrite requires more work than a revision, but unless the same person used both and intended them to mean different things, I’d just assume they’re interchangeable and not worry about it.

      Was that reassuring?


      Posted by Leslie | August 21, 2009, 10:39 am
      • Leslie–As reassuring as any explanation I’ve received, because it’s about the same answer I get from writing friends. Mainly, I know to stop worrying about it.As long as I know what the editor wants, I’ll be fine. Thank your. Celia

        Posted by Celia Yeary | August 21, 2009, 4:42 pm
  5. Hi Leslie, thanks so much for taking our questions. You said you’ve been an editor for 30 years so I’m hoping you might have an answer for this question. What do you think makes an author successful? Is it luck, timing, extra promotion, a fabulous voice, really fabulous books, or something else entirely? Persistence perhaps?

    I’ve heard some interesting numbers over the years about the number of writers that will actually resubmit when they get a revise and resubmit letter. The number was alarmingly low.

    Now that I reread my question, I’m not sure successful is the correct word. Effective perhaps? I hope you get the gist of it.

    Thanks so much,

    Posted by Alice Anderson | August 21, 2009, 9:00 am
  6. Hi Alice–

    Yes. Alll those things.

    I know that sounded flip, but the truth is that sometimes lightning strikes. The rest of the time you’ve got to do your best with all the factors you can control, make your own luck as much as you can, and then accept that factors you can’t control may end up helping or hurting, and then you’ll just have to do your best from there. The hardest thing about this business is that nothing, not even talent, guarantees financial/commercial success. But so long as you love to write and you are writing, then by at least one definition you’re succeeding.


    Posted by Leslie | August 21, 2009, 10:44 am
  7. Hi Leslie and thank you for being with us today. What is your advice for keeping the story exciting up to the end? I have a favorite author and, in looking back on his last few books, I find myself disappointed with the endings. It seems like he creates these wonderfully layered plots, but then the story falls flat because he doesn’t have time to tie up all the loose ends.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | August 21, 2009, 12:30 pm
    • Hi Adrienne–

      I’ve noticed this a lot, too, and not just as an editor/book doctor but as a reader, too. I suspect – especially when you’re writing a long book – there’s a natural tendency to want to just finish once you get close to the end. All I can suggest is that you fight it. Even if your first draft is in a bit of a rush at that stage, when you go back, make yourself look at things objectively and ask yourself if you’re giving each thread enough time to play out. I think just being aware of the problem takes you a long way toward solving it.

      Hope that helps.


      Posted by Leslie | August 21, 2009, 1:18 pm
  8. Hi, Leslie,
    Do you work in other genres? Specifically historical fiction?

    Posted by Wes | August 21, 2009, 12:41 pm
    • Hi Wes–

      Yes, I handle all genres of fiction, and in terms of age, anything for adults and also some YA. I read YA fantasy/paranormal and would feel comfortable there, less so with a high school “soap opera” type story. So, to sum up, yes, I do work on historical fiction, along with the various other genres.


      Posted by Leslie | August 21, 2009, 1:22 pm
  9. Glad you enjoyed, Arsento.


    Posted by Leslie | August 21, 2009, 6:52 pm
  10. Leslie,
    Thank you so much for answering all of our questions. We really enjoyed having you with us.

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | August 21, 2009, 8:23 pm


  1. […] Benefits of a Book Doctor | – view page – cached It is with great pleasure that I welcome our newest visiting professor, Leslie Wainger, Editor and Book Doctor, to Romance University. Before making the — From the page […]

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