Hiring an editor, whether you are a business or an author, is similar to other hires. You need to background check, review qualifications and interview. However, you can learn more about the editor and ensure that person can do the job before hiring them with a sample edit.
Sample edits help determine if the editor is the right fit for the job. Sample edits also allow the author or business to understand if they can work with the editor and whether the editor or proofreader has the mastery to do the job.
Sample edits have numerous benefits for both editors, authors and businesses. This article will break down what sample revisions include, why they are beneficial and how to prepare a sample edit for a proofreader or author. Finally, I reached out to my fellow editors on Facebook to get their real-time impressions of why sample edits are helpful.
What is a Sample Edit?
Similar to the free food samples you used to get at Trader Joe’s or Costco before COVID-19, samples give an author or business client a taste of the proofreader or editor’s competence and style.
Sample edits are a piece of the author’s or business’ work such as a chapter, email or presentation that is given to the candidate to edit so the author or business can see if the person is right for the job.
Sample edits work for both the interviewer and interviewee. For the business or author, sample edits provide a tangible idea of what it will be like to work with the editor. For the proofreader or editor, it is a chance to prove their merit and see if the client is a good fit.
Benefits of a Sample Edit
For an author or business, the main benefit of a sample edit is the extra assurance a potential editor or a proofreader will bring to the job. Interviews and resumes can only go so far in giving you an idea of how a hire will perform or how they will interact with you when the work starts. I have heard several businesses and authors cut the interview process off after learning the editor had a personal aversion to the content altogether.
A sample edit helps define the role of the editor and how long work will take. In addition, the sample edit provides the opportunity to understand what you will be paying for and what you receive in return.
The sample edit is just as important to the editor or proofreader as to the client. The sample edit helps them peek into what the work will be like and how the working relationship with the client will go. The proofreader or editor works closely with the author or business throughout the editing process, so it is essential to understand if the client is a good fit for the editor.
Most importantly, because there are many different levels of editing, a sample edit can help the client and editor to get on the same page. For example, a client may say they only need proofreading, but when the sample edit comes in, the editor may realize the client needs more help besides proofing grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting.
Sample Edit Guidelines
Some business clients also require potential editors to test their editing skills before they are interviewed or hired. Again, tests or sample edits are a great way to move beyond a resume and interview to understand if the potential hire will be competent to do the job.
These tests can be paid or unpaid. If the test or sample is unpaid, the business should not require the candidate to submit to a lengthy test. Around 250 to 1,000 words or an hour’s work should give the hirer a good idea if the editor is up to snuff when the real work starts. The sample edit you provide the potential editor or proofreader should represent the type of work they will do regularly.
If you have in-house style guidelines, pass these rules onto the candidate to see if they will incorporate them in the sample edit. Let the candidate know how you want the changes communicated. For example, do you use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes? If so, let the editor know. This really comes in handy if you use markup on a PDF. Editing PDFs can be complicated for inexperienced editors.
Lastly, if the sample edit is work the company will be using in the real world, be sure to pay the candidate for the job and tell the editor upfront, so they understand the importance of the sample.
If you are an author looking to hire an editor, you will first evaluate the potential editor’s qualifications and references before asking for a sample edit. Some editors will already have a sample edit available on their website or by request. Keep in mind that some editors charge for sample edits, or roll the price into the work cost.
When evaluating several editors for a job, use the same passage of the book so you can compare candidates equally. Choose a sample from the middle of the book, so the potential editors stay focused on the action of proofing and line editing and avoiding developmental-level questions such as, “What happens next” or, “Why did the story end this way?” Also, be mindful of the editor’s time. You should be able to see the potential a candidate has within 1,000-2,000 words.
Besides making sure the potential editor or proofreader fixes all errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation, note any wording or phrases altered or eliminated that change the original intent or the style of writing. Suggestions provided by the candidate are great but should be constructive and follow the lead of the sample passage’s tone.
Are Sample Edits Useful?
I reached out to my editing-focused Facebook groups and asked for opinions on using sample edits and if they find them valuable. Here is what a few said:
Angela I.: I always do a sample edit. Usually three pages or so. In fact, sometimes I request it. It gives me an idea of the author’s writing ability and to judge how time-consuming the job will be. It also gives me a glimpse into the topic. I have done sample edits and turned down the job due to the topic or the writing level.
Jasmine W.: I enjoy sample edits. They allow me to be introduced to my potential clients in a different way. Plus, I get to meet some of the characters. And I admit, I prefer to edit stories I am interested in rather than those I am not. Lastly, if the author only wants a particular kind of edit, I give them a review of what I see. I don’t like the thought of just taking someone’s money just because it’s a job. I really want to be able to help out as much as I can, which means to inform them if they need more than a proofread or line edit.
Karin H.: I always do 1,000-word samples to get an idea of their writing and give them an idea of my editing style. I let them know a few overall thoughts on what I’ve read.
Monica D.: I’d say using sample edits is 50/50. I charge to sample edit their work, but then I deduct that from the total fee if they want to move forward. It also takes a couple of days for me to get a sample of their work back to them. With the sample I have ready to go, I can send it right away, and they don’t have to pay for the sample.
Aria G.: I can see why simple edits can be useful for line editing or copy editing, but I don’t see how to get a proper “sample “developmental editing from only a small portion of a manuscript.
Rachel G. I don’t do sample edits at all. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t believe a sample developmental edit provides value (and may actually be detrimental) to a writer. However, I do ask to see the entire manuscript before providing a quote. That gives me a very good idea of what a story needs in terms of the type of edit that needs to be done or what shape the manuscript is in. It also lets me know if I’m the right editor for the job. To be honest, I’ve been doing this for more than three decades, and only twice have I ever been asked to do a sample edit, and both those times have been in the last year.
Kristi H.: I’m one of those who offers a free sample edit to new prospects who don’t know my work. It’s one of my best business strategies. I can’t think of any prospect ever who’s decided not to work with me after the sample (time that I fold into my fee).
Andrew P.: As a relatively new editor, I regard free sample edits as part of the business developmental process. They also help build up experience looking at manuscripts and crafting critiques. I’ve given friends free developmental edits of whole stories and recently spent five hours doing a sample edit for an author who had approached 25 different editors to evaluate the ones he was willing to work with. And the strength of my sample edits, it seems likely the author will give me his business.
Leslie S.: I do free sample edits that are about 1000 to 1500 words. They form part of the project proposal. Also, I only do a sample (or a proposal) for serious new prospects that I’ve already vetted. These are usually for substantial projects that will take at least 40 hours, often much more than that, so the investment of an hour or two in a sample is worth it.
- They are a marketing tool – they show my scale to the prospective client.
- They are estimating tool – they help determine how much time the project will take, and how much it will cost.
- They help me determine the scope of work – also very important for estimating and ensuring the project doesn’t go off the rails.
- They help me determine whether or not I am the right editor for the project, or whether I should refer the client to someone else.
I do not offer sample edits unless a client request one. However, I do ask for samples of the writing or work to see if I will be of value to the client and if the work is a good fit for my skills. In addition, I believe I can get a good sense of the type, length and communication style of the client and project by discussing the examples over a phone or video call.
If you are an author or business looking to improve your writing, I would love the opportunity to help you. Please reach out to me to learn more about my services for authors and businesses and how I can make you look more professional.