Should I get an editor before a publisher or agent?
Before you start querying agents or publishers, you should write a great book. Whatever means you use to achieve it, you need to write the best book you can. That is the simplest answer possible. Publishers in the traditional publishing industry want books they can publish with as little extra work as possible. Literary agents want books they can easily pitch to their publishing contacts. No traditional publisher or literary agent wants to take on a book or a writer who hasn’t already come a long way on the road to being a polished author.
Your job as author is to show them that your book is ready for that. This is true whatever genre you’re writing: general fiction, women’s fiction, speculative fiction, children’s fiction, non-fiction, memoir…
If you want anyone to be interested in reading your book you need to go through editing. Professional editing highlights problems with your manuscript you won’t spot yourself. Plot holes. Weak character arcs and development. Narrative viewpoint problems. Style issues.
Before you hire an editor…
You need to also go back a step from hiring an editor. Let me explain.
Before you get to the stage of hiring an editor, you need to figure out how to write a good story. That means character development, point of view, structure, description, action, scene organisation… so many things to work into your manuscript.
You don’t have to get all of these story skills perfect before you send your work to your editor. But you do have to have given them a decent try. An editor can only work with what you’ve sent. They can’t turn a bad story into a good one. You know the saying: sow’s ear – silk purse.
Write a Great Manuscript
Editing is highly valuable. Before you query publishers and agents, you should get a professional edit of your manuscript. You can learn a lot from getting an edit too. You can take this learning with you into the next book you write.
That sounds frustrating to any writer, though. You want your manuscript to be sellable, don’t you? You don’t want that story and all those hours of writing to be just a learning experience.
The Business of Writing
Writing can feel pretty lonely. It can feel like you’re meant to figure it out all on your own, especially when you listen to some of the ‘advice’ in writing forums and groups. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Being a writer doesn’t have to be a solitary lifestyle. Being a writer doesn’t mean you have to learn through slow, painful experience. Investing in support means you can get where you want to be faster. You can get through the uncertainty about how to structure a novel, create great characters with strong motivations and goals, and hone a style and voice that your readers will love. You can make progress in leaps and bounds, not just in tiny steps.
This doesn’t mean you don’t need an editor before you try to land yourself a publisher or agent, if you’re planning to take the traditional publishing route. You still do. But it means that your editor will be able to help you tweak your manuscript enough to give you the best chance of attracting attention with it.