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"What do you do after you've finished draft one and had beta readers review? Hire a professional editor? More beta readers?"
This is a great question, and one that kind of ties into a big part of working a novel, namely, how do you know when you're ready to submit?
This answer, of course, is going to vary writer to writer. But generally, my process looks like this:
- Draft the book—first draft.
- Take a break from the book.
- Revise—second draft (which often requires many rounds of revisions).
- Send to first round of critique partners.
- Revise with first round notes—third draft (which also often requires many rounds of revisions).
- Send to second round of critique partners, plus sometimes first sensitivity readers.
- Revise with second round notes—fourth draft (which also (surprise!) often requires several rounds of revisions).
- Send to sensitivity readers I haven't already sent it to.
- Revise with sensitivity readers notes—fifth draft.
- Send to agent.
If I didn't have an agent, step ten would be to start querying. Basically, that's the point where I say, "okay, I've made this as good as I can for now—it's time to get some industry opinions." That's the point where I believe I've taken all the steps I can to make my work as good as it's going to get for now.
While I personally never hired a freelance editor to work on my manuscripts (mostly because, to be completely transparent, I couldn't afford it), I am, as most of you know, a freelance editor. So I'm very well aware that many writers work with freelance editors before querying—which is cool! As an editor, I do everything I can to point out the problem areas and make suggestions to help my clients better prepare their manuscripts for submission. Very rarely have I worked with a client where I thought they were already pretty much ready to go (I can think of maybe two or three cases total, in nearly a year of freelancing)—so I do think it can be helpful to work with an editor before you submit, if that's something you can afford.
As a freelance editor, however, I always recommend working with critique partners and betas first, before you hire a freelance editor. There's a ton you can learn from other writers—for free!—so that you get the basic stuff out of the way before you work with a professional. So if I were to work with a freelance editor, I'd personally make that my Step 10, before I sent the manuscript off to query.
Ultimately, here's what you want to make sure you cover before you start querying:
- Have I made my work the best I can reasonably make it at this time?
- Have I worked with others to make sure I've fixed problems I couldn't catch on my own?
- If representing a (or many!) marginalized group(s), have I worked with sensitivity readers and taken their notes into account to make sure I've respectfully and accurately portrayed that marginalization to the best of my ability?
The steps you take—and how many steps you take, and in what order—are going to vary both on your manuscript and your own process. I now take many more steps that I did years ago when I first started out—and it's not a coincidence that my work has improved markedly since then. But what's important is you're honest with yourself about whether you've really done enough to get your manuscript ready—and when you reach that point, you take a deep breath, and let your work fly.
What steps do you take to make your manuscript query-ready?