You’ve hit save, and you’ve read through your draft a few times. So, at long last, it’s time to start submitting, right? After all, it will be edited in-house before it’s published!
Think again! There are several reasons that you might (or might not) need an editor for your book before you start submitting it.
You have spent hours in, around, and with your book. You won’t likely notice that you’ve started three paragraphs in a row with the same phrase, or that you have minor inconsistencies in plot or characterization. Someone approaching your draft with fresh eyes will notice, including your agent, editor, and reader. If you can objectively criticize and edit your own work, then go for it (preferably several times). Agents will want to know that you are able to accept criticism and to interact with the book yourself, instead of relying solely on an editor. However, there are times when it would be best to hire a set of professional eyes that aren’t yours, especially if you are a debut novelist.
Hiring an editor may be the difference between an accept or a revise and resubmit request from a prospective agent. It’s all about the work that your manuscript may still need. Professional editing is not necessarily going to give you an edge at the querying stage: agents won’t prefer a manuscript that has been professionally edited over one that hasn’t. In the end, it will come down to the book itself. However, submitting a submission-ready book should be a priority, and sometimes that means that it needs substantial tidying. If you do decide that you need an editor, hiring a freelancer is often the way to go. There are many editors–some with full-time publishing jobs–who would be happy to edit your book on the side.
If you have a writing group, beta readers, or other means of critique and feedback, you may not need an editor. However, if your colleagues have not pointed out many specifics, you may need a second (and possibly paid) opinion: first, or even fourth, drafts are rarely perfect. Don’t focus on a copy edit early on, especially if there are substantial plot, characterization, or other major changes to make. Pay attention to the bigger picture. You don’t want to waste time perfecting every sentence; especially if the manuscript is going to undergo a huge overhaul and a lot of those sentences will be lost along the way. Instead, focus on making it as readable as possible. Small copyedits and proofreading will always be necessary before print, but they will not likely detract from the overall book if an agent can look past them.
And now, how do you decide what’s best for your book? Talk to people in the industry: your mentors, other authors, and publishing professionals. Read blogs, check twitter, and exhaust all your resources. Check the prospective editor’s reviews, past projects, preferred genres, and rates. You’ve spent all the time and effort to research for the writing side, and now it’s time to research the rest!