Today's post addresses the second part of Sian's question:
When did you know you were ready to approach editors? Did you have your manuscript completely finished with multiple rewrites?
Fiction projects absolutely must be complete and polished before new authors approach agents or editors. Non-fiction is often handled differently, going through a proposal phase first. Since my book was a novel, yes, it was finished with multiple rewrites before I began to query.
While finishing the first draft, I collected and saved the comments from my critique partners as the book unfolded. In special cases, I rewrote scenes or chapters, but for the most part I saved their comments for later and pressed ahead with the next chapter. When I finally reached the end of the first draft, I knew I had a lot of work to go back and fix. I had stacks of notes to prove it.
It took a few months but I systematically went through the manuscript with those notes in hand and changed the things I knew needed to be fixed. These were issues that my critique partners raised that I agreed with. I should say here that I agreed with almost all of their feedback. There were a handful of smaller details that I liked the first way, so I left them alone. A point of interest is that when the book finally sold, one item I didn't fix got called out by my editor. Guess I should have listened the first time.
I changed all the things I'd written in my notes and made a final pass through the manuscript correcting passages and sentences that I thought I could improve. Of course I spell-checked it multiple times.
Then I was at a cross-roads. Send it out as-is or get a professional opinion first? I had little confidence in myself as a writer. Even though my critique partners were mostly encouraging, a part of me wondered if the book would read amateurish to a professional reader. I ended up hiring an author who also worked as a freelance editor.
His feedback was positive and he caught a few plot elements in the story that I made sure to clarify or clean up before querying. He also copy-edited it, which was all the better. When our exchanges were finished, I felt like I had done everything I could do. It was time.
My advice to anyone about to query is to get the book as clean, perfect, and totally polished as you possibly can before you send it out. If you can afford it, hire an editor. If you can't, give it to someone who hasn't read it yet, preferably to someone who is not a relative or a friend.
I had read here, there, and everywhere about the importance of turning in a polished manuscript so I really took it to heart. I feel like that advice served me well so I pass it along here emphatically.