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Should one invest in a professional editor before querying?

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Let's say you have completed a novel. Since you're not totally naive, you have also complete a few drafts, where with "few" I mean at least more than two.

You are at a point that your book seems good; while it could certainly be better, you - the author - need some external input on how to fix the last, hopefully few, issues left. Let's imagine that doing another draft by yourself is not feasible at the moment just for the sake of the question.

Do you call in a professional editor or you start querying to publishers?

I understand that this might seem like a no-brainer. If you book isn't the best it could be, you should (ideally) query. Yet, in my limited understanding, major publishers are supposed to give you at least some kind of editing service.

Related: At what point does an author deal with an editor?

Edit: I've just noticed a very similar question from 8 years ago. I'm adding it as related. My question seems slightly different, but I may be wrong; please see if it's a duplicate.

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I didn't pay for a professional edit before querying and it didn't stop me being offered rep. Agents will tolerate some mistakes, knowing it will need a professional edit.

However, that was my second book, it had been through several drafts, and I'm fortunate to have a writers' group comprised of published authors and a creative writing university lecturer. They provided structural feedback and line edits before I submitted, so I was very confident that the novel was the best it could be.

When I did get a professional developmental edit, very little was changed as my writers' group is very ... professional!

Yes, major publishers will assign an editor to do a developmental edit (that is a structural edit) and a copy edit (line by line analysis) and finally a proofread (usually by a different professional since that requires a fresh set of eyes). But they do expect your novel to be almost publication ready before this. If it needs a lot of work, they just won't take it on because they don't have the time/money to invest in overhauls. Particularly for new authors who are a risk to begin with.

If you are in ANY doubt that your MS isn't the best it could be, and especially if this is your first novel, I would recommend a professional developmental edit if you can afford it. I used The Literary Consultancy on my first novel and they were very good. If you can't afford it, I would recommend finding a writers' group comprised of professional writers. You cannot see the wood for the trees in your own work and you should always have it read by someone who understands the craft before submitting (not family and friends). If you can get that for free - excellent!

Remember, this is a one time opportunity. Agents don't usually read twice unless they were really intrigued the first time and are happy for you to redraft and send again. Also bear in mind that you will be up against serious competition. Agents get submissions in droves!

Good luck!

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  1. I think the answer will vary on your specific situation.
  2. There are many 'in-betweens,' between not hiring an editor and hiring an editor.
  3. If you do hire an editor, that editor needs to be a good fit for you and your book.

My answer to this question is to look at your budget and see what you can afford.

a. If you have no money at all for this, you can still test a few editors out, for a few pages. Maybe five pages total. In my experience, about half the freelance editors looking for work will be willing to show you a sample of their work on your opening pages. One thing you might notice from this is that each editor will return a different set of comments back to you.

Also in the 'free' category is finding a beta reader to swap stories with. As you provide feedback on their story, they provide feedback on yours. Try a chapter at a time, at first. You can find beta reading groups on Facebook.

b. If you have a few hundred dollars you are willing to spend, you can hire editors to edit the first fifty pages of your manuscript. This is a common length to ask for editing on, because you then see the issues you are bringing to your writing. It's also a not-uncommon length for querying purposes. In other words, if you have the first fifty pages edited (and I'd again suggest hiring a couple different editors for the task because they will give you different feedback, which is enlightening in multiple ways). Then you can incorporate what you like from the feedback and start sending queries.

Since queries often entail only sending the opening of your book, and since a vanishingly small percentage of first novels find a publisher, you might want to no go further than this before testing the waters with agents and publishers.

c. But if you have a thousand dollars or more to spend you could plunk it down on an editor. I really discourage this if this is your first novel. You'd learn more in the long run to get some books on fiction writing and editing from the library and learning to do as much of the work as you can, yourself. Sure, you might still decide to hire an editor down the road, but you'd do so with a manuscript that is already stronger than what you likely have at the moment.

Other free options for you include joining a writers group. Sharing excerpts on any of the forums that exist for this purpose. Printing your novel and reading it on hard copy. I think any of these approaches might be more wise in the short term.

Last thing. There are multiple editor types. Developmental editors look at plot and structure. Line editors/copy editors look at punctuation, grammar and consistency. Proofreaders check that there are no glaring errors in the proof copy.

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