Meet Book Doctor Leslie Wainger

- by BlogMistress

Welcome Leslie Wainger, book doctor and editor. During her career in publishing, she has edited New York Times, Publishers Weekly and USA Today bestsellers. If you need help with a new manuscript, Leslie may be just the person you should know…

Most people who’ve been in publishing for a while – and that means all the NINC members reading this, obviously – have come across the term “book doctor” at some point. And most of those people have moved on, thinking quite correctly that the manuscripts they’re writing/editing/representing don’t need any doctoring. But there are times when the objective eye of a book doctor can be helpful – and not only for unpublished authors, though they do make up the majority of my clientele and most likely other book doctors’ clientele, too.

Lots of writers publish that first book and never look back. There may be a snag here or there, a book that gets turned down or a move to another publisher or agent, but essentially things go smoothly, and if not everybody can become a New York Times bestseller, neither can everybody who wants to sell a book or make a living writing succeed, so if you’re selling regularly and making that living, you’re way ahead of most of the world.

But there are times when there’s more than a snag, and there can be a lot of different causes.

Maybe you want to move from series to single title. Maybe you want (or need, if no one’s publishing your chosen genre anymore, as is more or less the case with short Regencies) to switch genres. Maybe circumstances kept you from writing for a while, and now the market’s moved on and you can’t figure out how to catch up. Or maybe you and your agent have a project you both believe in, but no one’s biting and you can’t figure out why.

Whatever the cause, the fact that you have a list – and possibly a long one – of previous credits isn’t helping. And that’s where a good book doctor, one whose credentials make her (or him, but I can’t stand the she/he thing, so I’m just going to stick to female pronouns throughout this whole thing) a good resource for the kind of thing you’re writing or want to write. My basic service, the one pretty much everything else springs from, involves analyzing a full or partial manuscript and offering up a personalized game plan for strengthening it, or even editing a project if you’re looking to go big and want to submit a manuscript in perfect shape, maybe for what your agent hopes will be a big-money auction.

Rather than go on at length about who I am and why I’m great, which is the kind of thing I really can’t stand doing, I’ll just say that I’ve been in publishing for almost 30 years (I’m sure I was a child prodigy), starting in series romance and now editing fiction of all sorts: thrillers, romantic suspense, historical and contemporary romance, mysteries, women’s fiction, fantasy and paranormal…pretty much anything.

I still work part-time for Harlequin’s single title division (editing mainly for MIRA and HQN, though I handle a few series books, too) and have a full list of authors, most of whom I’ve been working with for years. On the side, I do book doctoring, which means I’ve seen some fabulous projects and others that will probably never sell, but every author has gone away with information for making her book better, and then it’s up to her to take that information and run with it.

Good book-doctoring doesn’t come cheap (though it’s also not prohibitively expensive), and it does take time, though rush projects can be negotiated if there’s real time pressure. It’s not something everyone needs, and I would never try to convince you that it is, but it is a genuine help to some writers. So I’m here now to answer any questions you may have about the process, whether you think your book needs a doctor or whether you’re just trying to demystify things in case of future need, or even because you want to recommend book doctoring to a friend, whether a new writer or a veteran.

I’ll expand on whatever you want me to, and you’ll also find more info on my website (, which may also spur more questions. Whatever you’re wondering, I’ll try to answer, so have at it. After all, it’s not every day you have a publishing hyphenate (editor and literary medical professional) in your sights.

Thanks to Dara Girard for inviting Leslie to blog with us today.


  1. Hi Leslie,

    Love the picture! I just dropped by to say hello. You should be getting my partial any day now. I’m looking forward to receiving your recommendations on how to improve my manuscript.

    Have a wonderful day! Tracey

  2. I am learning so much on this blog. I didn’t know there was such a person as a book doctor.

  3. Nice to see you here, Leslie. I’m a lurker on this site, looking for great info.

    I’m guessing one of the best places to learn more about you would be at your website–except I’m here, not there. Yet.

    Have you ever turned down doctoring a manuscript? If so, why? How many mss by unpubbed writers have you doctored that went on to sell and did you buy them or another house?

    Thanks for being here!

  4. Hi Leslie,

    One of the problems an unpublished author encounters is receiving a rejection without any feedback. Or the feedback is pretty generic and the author is left scratching her head.

    How specific are your comments?
    If you feel a book is not marketable – perhaps because it is just too boring or odd or … whatever, do you tell the author outright?



  5. Hi All–

    Sorry for the late reply. I was away for the long weekend visiting a friend, and while I was there, I bought two sugar gliders! Anyway…

    Hi, Tracey. I’m looking forward to reading the book.

    Hi, Estella. It turns out there are a number of book doctors out there – though when you look into them, some of them literally doctor (as in rebind) old books, not manuscripts.

    Hi, Delta. I’ve turned down a couple of MSs because either the author needed a more or less immediate turnaround, or it was clear that the author just wanted to be complimented or at least not to receive any substantive commentary, so I wouldn’t have been able to do the job to my own satisfaction.

    As to sales, so far only one book (part of a trilogy, and I had comments on the concept, so that sort of counts as three *g*) has sold, a number have real potential and are being revised, and – to be honest – the rest have an uphill battle. The trilogy sold elsewhere, though I wish I’d been able to acquire it.

    Hi, Anne. Your questions overlap slightly with Delta’s, so take a look at what I told her, too. re: my comments – They’re very specific, usually 8-11 pp on a complete MS, a bit less on most partials. The truth is that I know some authors, even with that kind of guidance, aren’t going to be able to make the book publishable, or at least are unlikely to be able to, but I don’t flat out tell anyone that, because I may be wrong and they may pull it together. What I do talk about very honestly is that the revisions are extensive and challenging, and that it’s the author’s call as to whether to do the work or apply the lessons in my analysis to a new project. I also talk about marketing where appropriate, ie: that something falls between genres or is in fact a different genre from what the author thought. Again, as I said above, it’s all very specific to the individual book, but I try to be both positive as much as I possible while also being honest.

    Hope that helps.