If you asked 10 editors how they approach sample edits, you’d probably get 10 different answers. Some editors charge for sample edits, some offer samples for free and some don’t do sample edits at all. Some editors begin on page one, and others edit an excerpt from the middle.
So if you’re a new freelancer, how do you decide which approach is right for you?
Here are some of the reasons that I offer free sample edits — and the considerations that could make me change my mind someday.
The pros of sample edits
Sample edits can prove your value
Hiring an editor can be nerve-racking, especially for new authors. What does an editor do? Are they waiting, red pen in hand, to run roughshod over the author’s vision? Is it possible that the manuscript is already perfect as it is?
Then there’s the sticker shock. Why hire the more expensive editor when this other site has people offering to edit a novel in 24 hours for $50? A sample edit is your chance to demonstrate the value of investing in professional editing.
For me, sample edits lead to conversions. Prospective clients who received a sample edit along with their quote have hired me far more often than those who saw the fee first. If I someday see steady conversions from a quote alone, I might reconsider my policy on sample edits.
It’s important to find the right fit
Sample edits show the prospective client what you have to offer — not only your editorial skills, but also your communication style in queries and emails (or phone calls, if that’s part of your practice). If the author loves your work, great! You’ve gained a client. If not, then you and the author can both move on. The right editor is out there for each writer.
Editing is invisible
Sometimes authors are told by peers to assess editors by looking at previews of their clients’ books. The problem with that? It’s impossible to see an editor’s work from the finished product alone.
If a book is tightly plotted with beautiful prose and not a misplaced comma in sight, that might be evidence of excellent editing at each stage of the process. Or it might have been a manuscript that was always strong and needed only a light editorial polish.
Likewise, a book riddled with plot holes or errors could be a sign of an inexpert editor. Or it might have been thoughtfully and professionally edited, only to have the author reject many of the edits. It happens — especially in self-publishing, where the author is the sole arbiter of editorial decisions. (That’s not to say it’s the norm: I work with many indie authors who are committed to doing the very best for their books!)
In the end, the only way to see an editor’s work is to see an editor’s work.
The cons of sample edits
Whether you charge for them or not, sample edits take time. For some editors, it’s matter of principle: they do not work on spec. You might decide that your time is best spent on existing clients’ manuscripts and the ongoing work of building your business.
There are other ways to show your skills
Content marketing (for example, writing blog posts or creating videos) is an efficient way to share your expertise and your editorial viewpoint. Once the content is posted, there’s no limit to how many authors can learn from it — all while you remain free to work on your existing projects.
This even works on a smaller scale. When I answer an author’s question on social media, I’m helping that author with their specific situation, but I’m also providing guidance for anyone else who may read that thread. I’ve gained a number of clients because they read my replies to someone else in a writing group — sometimes months after the fact!
You don’t know what you don’t know
An author may not be equipped to assess the quality of a sample edit. Imagine three sample copy edits to a sentence: Editor 1 makes no changes, Editor 2 adds a comma and Editor 3 recasts.
Did Editor 1 overlook something, or did Editor 2 introduce an error? Perhaps the style guide leaves room for editorial discretion! Did Editor 3 find the best way to correct a problem, or did they overstep the scope of a copy edit? When authors compare sample edits, their assumptions about what’s correct can sway their view of each editor’s work.
Finding the right system
The beauty of freelancing is that you can set up your business in the way that works best for you at any given time.
Where do you stand on sample edits?
Previous post from Laura Bontje: Editing Picture Books without the Pictures
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