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More on vetting editors: work samples

Finding a best-fit editor for your project can be a chore. There’s a sea full of editor-fish but not one of them are alike! A writer must consider what sort of editing their manuscript needs and then seek out editors who provide that kind of editing. They might also want to seek out an editor who has worked with their genre. But how helpful (to the writer) is it if they find an editor’s website or social media page containing a laundry list of genres and the names of a couple of types of editing? Probably not very.

It seems fair to say that writer’s want to know that an editor will provide them with both quality service and clear corrections and suggestions for their manuscript before they spend money on editing service. So how can they know they’re going to get quality service from any of the myriad of editors (and self-proclaimed editors) on the internet?

A growing list of criteria for vetting editors perennially circulates social media, usually including some or all of the following:

  • avoiding marketplace sites where editing services and prices are a “race to the bottom”;

  • checking for professional membership badges or credentials;

  • reading testimonials from the editor’s previous clients;

  • interacting with the editor on social media channels;

  • asking for the editor to complete a sample edit;

  • asking to see a sample of the editor’s work.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I would argue that interacting with a potential editor on social media or scheduling a phone or video call would give a sense of the professionalism of the editor (how they interact with you and with others) and perhaps reveal the depth of their knowledge and expertise about writing, editing, and self-publishing.

Testimonials, portfolios, and work samples

However, asking to see a sample of the editor’s work seems like another sure-fire way to see whether an editor is “legit” or not. A professional editor with a website should have a testimonial or portfolio page. Testimonials, for the uninitiated, are praise from previous clients that help bolster the credibility of the editor and the services they provide. A portfolio page may include any number of things: a list of book titles (by genre, usually with author names), a carousel of book covers, or short paragraphs describing what it was like to work with a particular client on their book.

Just like no two editors are the same, no two portfolio pages are the same. If an editor has signed an NDA, they may not legally be able to share anything about their previous projects (if unpublished) beyond the author’s name and the genre of the book. The editor could still share about the editing experience with that particular client without giving any details about their book away; however, none of these examples really show anything beyond “this editor has had a steady stream of clients who write in this genre and have been satisfied with the editor’s work.”

If an editor can’t place examples of their work on a portfolio page, then they definitely won’t be able to share a sample file of their work on a previous client’s manuscript. In fact, most editors wouldn’t want to share work samples even if they ethically or legally could.

The nature of the editor - writer relationship

Writing is deeply personal, and it is always a leap of faith to share your writing with an editor. The relationship between the editor and writer should be one of trust and respect. I recently had my website proofread, and while the stakes for that sort of work aren’t particularly high, I still felt a sense of protectiveness around the written website copy and the style and grammar decisions I’d made while writing it. I had to trust that my proofreader cared about the professionalism I wanted to portray through my site in order to receive and apply the suggested changes and feedback.

The same happens with other writers, especially writers with a story to tell! Now imagine a writer and I have spent months working on a manuscript together, polishing it and working to ensure that the story (and the author’s voice) shine in every way. I’ve agreed to keep the writer’s work safe from public eyes until it is absolutely ready and the writer (not me!) submits the manuscript for publication. But if I decide to take a snippet of that author’s work and share it with a potential client, I’m doing two things:

  1. Breaking the trust of the author whose work I had agreed to protect.

  2. Offering a work sample that may or may not accurately reflect how I would approach work on the potential client’s manuscript.

It’s a lose-lose situation. I may lose the client I already have a relationship with, and I’m not offering the potential client a clear picture of how I can help them.

Happy medium (maybe): sample edits

A sample edit of the work that you would like an editor to edit is a good way to get a feel for whether the corrections and suggestions an editor makes are the type of feedback you are looking for.

If you look at an editor’s sample edit and think, “Yes, this is exactly what I was looking for!”, then you’ve probably found your match. But if your sample edit leaves you wanting or scratching your head, then seek a second opinion. Share the sample edit with fellow writers or authors and others who are knowledgeable in the field (privately, of course).

If an editor is trying to rewrite your story or is not listening to your concerns, that’s a big red flag. I say all this with a caveat. Just like most things in life, some people are really good at making it seem like they’re good at something when they’re really not. Supplement your sample edit with some questions.

For example, ask the editor to explain their process; ask about their credentials or where/how they learned to edit or proofread; ask for details about the type of feedback they provide and how they provide it. There are industry standards, even for freelance editors, and if the editor responds in a way that seems to stick out like a sore thumb, it may be better to look elsewhere.

More on industry standards

Industry standards are the generally accepted ways and means of doing business across the editing world (trad publishing, self-publishing, fiction, nonfiction, etc.). Sample edits, while widely accepted, may not be offered by every editor, and some may require a small fee to complete one. This is just a variation in the process, not necessarily a red flag.

Other standards to keep in mind as you look for an editor:

  • Do they offer a service agreement/contract or NDA before services?

  • Do they ask for your style preferences?

  • Do they include a style sheet, cover letter, or editorial report with their services (not just for manuscript evaluations or developmental edits)?

  • Are they a member of a professional editorial organization or association?

  • Do they abide by transparent and respectful marketing practices? (For example, not promoting on nonpromo days on community forums or Facebook groups or not directly messaging potential clients without permission.)

  • Are they transparent about their process (from onboarding to editing to return of work and follow-up)?

  • Do they seem knowledgeable about the steps in the self-publishing process, and can they point you in the direction of helpful and reputable resources?

An ongoing conversation

Vetting professional self-publishing service providers is an ongoing conversation, one that will continue for as long as the global marketplace continues to become a busier and more crowded space. Authors should arm themselves with information and trust their gut, seeking out professionals who provide the guidance they need.



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