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Should You Hire An Editor Before Querying Agents?

Should You Hire An Editor Before Querying Agents?

It had been a year and a half since I finished my first novel. I edited this baby until I couldn’t, and so had my critique partners, beta readers, and sensitivity readers. I sent out one round of queries.

All rejected. 

I revised, then sent out more. 

More rejections. 

I revised again, feeling like I was banging my head against a brick wall. I’d fixed everything I could think to fix and brainstormed endlessly with my critique partners. Of course, there would always be different plot routes to take, but would it still be the story I wanted to tell? Would it be better, or just different?

I didn’t want to query again until my book had drastically improved. But I couldn’t figure out what to change. The agents didn’t give specific feedback, so it was difficult to pinpoint what wasn’t working. Was it my query letter? The pacing of the opening pages? The voice? 

One idea had been lingering in the back of my mind: hiring a professional editor before trying again to land an agent. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the traditional publishing industry, the common route authors take is: finish manuscript + get an agent + go on submission to publishers + get a book deal + be assigned an editor. 

Hiring a professional editor before querying is a controversial topic in the publishing world. Many people don’t understand why you would spend big money on an editor when you’re given one for free once you sign with a publisher. I’ve heard it called “cheating” or worse. But the truth is, publishing is HARD. The industry sets trends years in advance. Much of it is luck and timing, who you know, or even how many followers you have on Instagram. Welcome to the real world: it’s not all about talent. They say it takes a village to raise a baby, and well, it takes a village to get a book published, too. It’s ridiculous to think that you aren’t good enough if you need an editor before querying. After all, you’ve hopefully already had help in the form of beta readers, critique partners, and sensitivity readers. 

No one does it alone. Not J.K. Rowling, not Sarah J. Maas, not Stephen King. So why should you feel like you have to? I kept my mind open towards hiring an editor, but I didn’t know it was right for me until I met Sylvia. 

I met her on a website which helps authors find editors, and I connected with her instantly. Still, there was one big set back: the money. 

There are different levels of edits: developmental, line, and copy edits. Developmental focuses on big changes to the story: plot, pacing, character arcs, etc., and it’s the most expensive. We decided that developmental was the way to go, and she charged $3,741.93 for her services. 

Now, before you run away screaming (which I almost did), know that Sylvia’s feedback was invaluable, and worth every penny. 

Here are 5 examples of ways she made my work better:

1. Cliches: From her time working in the industry, Sylvia knew which cliches agents and publishers don’t like. One of the reasons why agents rejected me could have been because they saw one of those cliches–ones I didn’t even know not to use.

2. Tying together loose ends: do you ever feel like your novel is just a bunch of plot threads that you keep trying to tie off, but they slowly become unraveled anyway? Same. Sylvia helped me connect three seemingly unrelated plot threads in my novel–so at the end it came together as one big satisfying conclusion, instead of several random sequences of events.

3. Professional, unbiased views: most likely your critique / beta / sensitivity readers are not industry professionals and / or aren’t published. And they probably have some relation to you as a family member, friend or follower. Even though they might promise to be unbiased, they probably won’t be. An editor is literally paid to be 100% honest. Is a male character who seems sweet, charming and compassionate actually coming across as aloof, angry and brooding on the page? Your friends know you love these characters, and they might cushion the blow. Your editor won’t. Plus, editors won’t just tell you it’s wrong; they’ll tell you how to fix it. Also, it’s a lot easier to reject feedback from someone who isn’t a professional.

4. Voice and texture: Slyvia also included line editing with my developmental edits. She helped me not fall into the trap of huge blocks of descriptions and info-dumping when worldbuilding. She was able to tell me what needed to stay and what needed to go in relation to the larger story. 

5. Making those opening pages shine: agents and publishers always start out with the first couple pages of a manuscript. If those pages aren’t captivating, they won’t keep reading. Sylvia helped me change my first five pages into something that was faster paced while maintaining the worldbuilding I needed. 

I can’t say yet if hiring an editor before querying helps you get published. I’m currently still working on my edits and plan on querying again later this year. But even if I get more rejections, I’ll know I did everything in my power to get published.

Not everyone needs to hire an editor before querying. Many people don’t. Maybe you don’t need to spend that kind of money, but I knew it was right for me and my book. 

And I have absolutely no regrets. 

Meet Hannah

Hannah is author of Autumn’s Tithe a YA fantasy novel inspired by irish folklore