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Sample edits and why you should get one (or more!)

Not everyone knows they should ask for a sample edit when they are searching for the perfect editor for their book. Here’s what you need to know about this part of the onboarding process.

What is a sample edit?

A sample edit is what it sounds like – usually a one-thousand-word (depending on editor preference) slice of your completed manuscript that an editor will edit in the exact same way they would edit a full-length manuscript. This is typically done for free though not always.

Why you need one (or many)

If you’re researching freelance editors for your novel, you’ll be able to compare editors best by comparing apples to apples as I suggested in my previous blog on editorial service costs. Sending out the same one-thousand-word sample will allow you to directly compare how editors respond to your writing, what they focus on, and the type and quality of feedback they provide.

The more sample edits you receive the more options you’ll have for your choice of editor. It may help to identify what you are seeking from an editor. Do you simply want your writing “corrected”? Or are you looking for someone to partner with you, allowing you to take an active role in decision-making regarding your manuscript? Do you want a lot of comments and feedback, or do you have specific areas of concern that you want feedback on?

It also helps to consider the editor’s strengths. Have they edited in your genre? If not, are they aware of the conventions of your genre? Can they edit equally well in American English versus British English? Do they seem interested in any preferences you have for stylistic considerations? Do they offer something “extra” as part of their service (such as a personalized style sheet or an editorial report)? Was the sample edit completed in a timely way? Are the comments professional or convey the tone you are looking for?

Some authors see an editor as an educator, others see their editor as a partner and teammate. Determining the role you want your editor to play in the editing process will help you determine whether the sample edit conveys that role to you.

Benefits for the editor

The sample edit is not just for the potential client. Editors also benefit when they take the time to complete a sample edit that showcases their personality, ability, and editing style. Editors can use the process of interacting with the potential client during the hand-off and return of the sample to see if the client, as well as the project, are a good fit for them.

But what if the editor asks for my full manuscript?

I’m not the only editor who prefers to look over a full manuscript during the vetting and onboarding process. Many freelance editors prefer to glance through a completed work to look for a variety of red flags, including: if the story is actually complete, if there are portions that seem missing or out of order, or if the novel needs another level of editing that the editor does not offer or that is out of line with what the author requested.

Editors may choose a sample from a random section or a midpoint in the novel because it offers a more realistic measure of how much editing needs to be done and how long it will take. This is usually because, prior to professional editing, authors tend to focus their revisions on the beginning or end of their novel more than any other section.

Sending a full manuscript to an editor you do not know can be a daunting task. But if you’re seeking an editor, it may be worthwhile to stop and consider whether your mindset is holding you back from sharing your work. Think about it, if you aren’t willing to share your work with an industry professional whose sole job is to help you get published, then how do you intend to share your work with your readership?

Now some of that fear comes from the fact that you are sending your story to a stranger on the Internet. There are plenty of dubious folks on the web. Trust me, I’ve met a few. And there are certainly folks who are posing as industry professionals who are simply looking to scam. But the vast majority of editors are not out to steal your work.

Regardless, worrying is a moot point. Your work has full copyright protection within the United States once it is in a digital format with a time stamp (actually, it doesn’t even have to be digital, but most people type their books nowadays, so it usually is). To safeguard further, I tell potential clients up front that I’ll delete their files if they choose not to book my services.

Why some editors don’t offer sample edits (and why that’s not a red flag)

Freelance editors who have been in the business for a long time may not offer a free sample edit (though some will). While I don’t like making blanket statements, I imagine it’s because of the metric data they have amassed over the years from editing a wide variety of projects.

Highly experienced editors will likely be able to take a look at a full manuscript, note the word count, style, genre, and any challenges that immediately present themselves, and they’ll already have a rough estimate of how long the project will take and what their base fee will look like.

So don’t be alarmed if an editor who clearly has a decade or more of experience does not offer a free sample edit. Of course, if you can’t find out how long the editor has been in business because they don’t have that information on an about page, or their site/profile lacks a portfolio or testimonials, then that may be a red flag and worth digging into a bit to discover more (if you really are interested in working with that editor).

Practical considerations for authors

You’ve revised as much as you can. You’ve received feedback from beta readers. Perhaps you had a developmental or story edit completed. Now you’re ready for sentence level editing (line and copyediting). There isn’t a single right way to prepare your manuscript for a line or copyeditor.

I recommend, in general, leaving your manuscript unformatted or using basic formats from the MS Word styles pane, if you must. Line editing and copyediting does not involve drastic rewrites of your work, but it can result in some small, though significant, changes in the layout and landscape of your manuscript.

Avoid fancy fonts. Times New Roman at 12 or 14 point is easy on the eyes. Consistently single or double space your work. Your editor will let you know if they have a preference either way.

When you receive your sample edit back, note which editor completed the edit and store it on your computer in a safe and easy-to-find place for later comparison, such as a file folder on your desktop. Then, when you’re ready, consider the points discussed above and take a look at what all those hard-working editors sent you.

If I know my colleagues in the industry, it will likely be a difficult choice (there are so many good editors out there!), but I’m sure you’ll come away with at least one standalone good fit, and you can hope that their price point is right where you need it to be. And if it isn’t, then you’ve got a lot of great backups. I can't end a blog post about sample edits without reminding you that if you're ready for a sample edit and a customized proposal, the contact form is a great way to get started!

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