Book writers hiring manuscript 'docs' with blue pencils

November 25, 1990|By New York Times News Service

Ovid Demaris has written several best sellers, but when he finished an early draft of his new non-fiction book about a Las Vegas con man, he picked up the telephone and called the doctor -- Renni Browne, a "book doctor" equipped with a blue pencil and the ability to diagnose weaknesses in manuscripts.

Most books are still edited at the publishing houses that acquire them. But more and more free-lance editors valued for their analytical skills are hanging out shingles, and authors and publishing houses are increasingly calling upon them for advice.

"From my experience, there's very little editing being done in the publishing houses anymore," said Mr. Demaris, the author of 15 hard-cover books, fiction and non-fiction, including "The Last Mafioso," "Ricochet," "The Vegas Legacy" and "The Green Felt Jungle."

"Some editors are interested just in getting the book," Mr. Demaris said. "Then they forget about you -- or they get fired or leave."

Book doctors have been around at least since the 1930s, when Lawrence W. Lamm and Louis Copland doctored many manuscripts for Doubleday. But their numbers were few.

These days, however, many writers lack faith in the editing process at publishing houses. Other writers, novices, want their manuscripts polished before they even submit them.

Joseph Wambaugh, frequently a best-selling author, said he couldn't imagine publishing a book without having it examined by his "doctor," Jeanne Bernkopf.

"She doesn't write a word," he said. "But she asks questions that in having to answer make me improve my own work."

Outside editors don't come cheap. Depending on the level of services, which range from the analysis to line-by-line editing of the entire manuscript, they charge as much as $5,000 but average about $2,500 a book.

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