Agent and publishers are flooded with manuscripts daily. Remember this when you approach them. In order to stand out you need to convince them that you are not a waste of their time, so the very first thing you need is a completed and polished manuscript. Yes, finding an agent or publisher can take months or years, but you will be immediately disqualified if they ask for your book and it hasn’t met the minimum criteria. They will throw it away.
I would also recommend hiring an editor to look at it before submitting it. You may be under the impression that you can delegate the editing of your book to the publisher’s editors. This is a mistake. Here ‘s why: Because, as I said earlier, you need to convince the agent or publisher that you are not a waste of their time. If a book hasn’t already been through preliminary editing it may take months to get it ready for printing. A book that is already in good shape will go to market sooner and therefore is worth their time. Submitting a manuscript that needs work is the same thing as letting them know that you’re not ready to be published. Your manuscript will be on the discard pile faster than you can say “edit.”
Whether or not you decide to pay a freelance editor, I strongly recommend that you find someone other than yourself to edit your manuscript. Never assume that you will catch all your own typos and mistakes no matter how good a writer you may be. I have successfully edited books by other authors and I still can’t catch all of my own typos. The problem is that when you’re the writer you’re too close to the ideas in your head and you may even be reading the prose the way you correctly imagine it to be inside your mind, rather than the way your hands have typed it. A second pair of eyes is a good investment. If you can afford to pay for experienced eyes, it’s an even better investment.
So before writing a query letter, make sure that your manuscript is in excellent form. Yes, the publisher will have an editor go through it again and there may be more changes. But most of professional writing is rewriting and it’s a process. The deadlines for new drafts only help to make it more exciting (Writing humor. Just laugh.).
A great resource is the Editorial Freelancers Association where you can find freelance editors and other information, such as a guide to current fees so you can get an idea of how much this work will cost you. Remember that the number of hours it will take to edit your manuscript is dependent upon the strength of your writing skills. Manuscripts with more mistakes take longer to edit and therefore will cost more. It’s a good idea to go through your manuscript several times yourself before sending it to the editor. This can save you money in the long run. Also note that editing and proofreading are not the same thing. Proofreaders are cheaper, but they will not address any content, plot discontinuities, or style issues. They will only correct spelling, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes. Finally, make sure that any editor you hire is familiar with your genre. The styles of editing for different genres are not the same and getting the right editor can make a huge difference in the quality of your manuscript.