Let's just say there are a LOT of options and LOTS of ways to spend money.
So many options it's similar to the assortment of goodies offered to kids in Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. But which types of professional writing advice are everlasting gobstoppers and which ones are the candy bars that don't have a gold wrapper?
Here's my take on things:
1) Budget "some" money toward developing your craft.
Unless your first name is William and your last name is Shakespeare, you probably won't improve your skills without getting some type of industry advice––either through a critique group, a professional editor, and/or books and conferences.
How much money you budget probably depends on where you are in your journey and your personal financial situation. And to be honest, it also might depend on how serious you are about taking your work to the next level. Reading books on the craft is great at a minimal level, but getting concrete advice about your own work is much more valuable. It's difficult to see our own strengths and flaws.
2) What's the best use of my budgeted money?
If you can afford it, beginners and pre-published writers should try to attend conferences in order to hear from agents and editors and find out what they are looking for. Also, what they are tired of reading and hearing about. If it's a topic that readers aren't buying anymore, you can bet that they won't want to acquire it either.
Those farther along in their careers might spend more on paying to have their revised WIP get a set of fresh eyes from a developmental editor. I still attend writing conferences, especially the well-attended kidlit conference in Los Angeles, but more to use that as a social springboard to to keep in touch with writers I've met over the years.
Joining SCBWI (for those writing for babies through teens) or a myriad of other writing organizations (Romance Writers of America // International Thriller Writers etc.) geared toward your specific genre is a great idea. You will meet like-minded individuals (either in person or on a forum) and these people will become your confidantes, and hopefully, your cheerleaders.
3) Pay for a Professional Critique
There are different ways to do this. First of all, you should be in a critique group (either face to face or an online group) so you can get lots of free advice, as well as give it to others. But sometimes you're just not sure if the advice you're getting is meaningful, especially if all the writers in your group are beginners themselves. I'm not saying it's still not valid––they are telling you the way a reader views things-–but they might be giving advice that's too general (I like it! or It moves a bit slow here), or advice that really isn't helpful (you spelled there wrong).
Secondly, paying for an extra critique at a writer's conference can be iffy. Oftentimes, it's very expensive ($100 for five pages and 15 minutes of face time), but if your material is very close to being published, an agent might request the full and you're on your way. More often than not however, you'll get solid advice at a big cost. Still, I made some contacts that way but never grabbed the brass ring. Plus, they're only giving advice on five pages, which may or may not be your premier
So I suggest doing your research on finding a developmental editor in your price range that has lots of experience and having them read your entire novel. It's costly (anywhere from $500 - $2500), but you learn a TON and it can make your novel ready to be acquired. Ask lots of questions of several editors and gauge from their responses whether you think you'd be a good match. You might even ask to talk on the phone to them. Ask how much experience they have editing your genre and/or age group.
When I paid for developmental editing twice (both books were eventually sold to traditional publishers, btw), I searched for the right freelance editor and was rewarded greatly by getting excellent advice. **If interested, my amazing freelance editor for Flip the Bird (coming Fall, 2016 with HMH Books for Young Readers) was Maria Mooshil. She was an editor for the Chicago Tribune for many, many years and is now doing freelance work. She brought great insight to the motivation of my characters and was a fabulous sounding board of ideas. Contact her for rates and availability at: firstname.lastname@example.org***
I didn't do this large and more expensive project however, until I was very close to publishing my book and already had an agent. Meaning it might not be worth it if you are still a beginner and have a looong way to go to work on your novel. There's just too big of a window for them to hone in on fixing everything. Don't be surprised if the freelance editor asks for a sample of your work before they accept the job. Like I said, if you're too far off, it might be too big of a task for them to try and help you.
So do your homework, keep on perfecting your craft, write daily, and soon you'll be on the shelves and in the hands of readers! Good luck on your journey. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section. I hope that soon you'll be jumping for joy when your book is published.
'Til next time,