July 1, 2019
When I first began as a freelance editor, I was encouraged to offer my potential clients a complimentary editing sample. Something small—a few pages from their manuscript to demonstrate the edits I could offer.
It made sense, but the idea still made me cringe. Editing for free? I’d just graduated from the nine-month-long Certificate in Editing program at the University of Washington. I was ready to work as an editor. Frankly, I was ready to make money (oh, how naïve I was!).
I quickly learned, though, that one does not preclude the other. In fact, offering editing samples is a big reason why many of my clients decide to work with me. I believe that once they see how exactly I could support their unique manuscript, their confidence grows.
Perhaps you are an editor wondering if you should offer editing samples or how to improve your current method. While there’s still much for me to learn, I have some suggestions on how to make this a smooth, enjoyable process.
Review the manuscript first. Of course, you’ll need the whole manuscript to make an estimate, but it’s helpful for a sample, too. Unless the author has a specific section they want you to edit, choose somewhere in the middle of the manuscript, where things like plot and characters have already been established. It’ll be more “representative” of the edits you’re likely to make.
Consider project compatibility. You be the judge on whether or not the manuscript is one you’d actually want to work on, and hence, spend time sample editing. If you’re one paragraph deep and none of it is making sense, it may not be the right project for you. Save yourself and the client that precious time (if you can) for a better fit.
Spend just one hour. When I first began editing samples, I offered five to ten pages. Since I was new, I was also really slow, so you can guess how long those five to ten pages took me. Once I set parameters around the amount of time I’d spend on a sample, I could relax and enjoy the process a lot more. Perhaps this sounds like you, too. This approach is also advantageous because many editors base their estimate on an hourly rate anyway.
Emphasize the mutual benefits. A sample is useful for you to get a feel for the text and its needs, the editing level, etc. But you should also discuss the sample’s usefulness to the client. Before starting a sample, you could ask questions such as, how do you prefer to receive feedback? Are there specific questions you want me to keep in mind as I edit?
Dare to make new suggestions. Maybe the client asked for a copyedit, but after reviewing the manuscript, you believe it would benefit more from a developmental edit. It can feel intimidating to suggest something the client wasn’t anticipating—but it can also build their trust in your abilities and experience. Sometimes I’ll do a copyedit sample as the client asked but make notes on other things I notice and share them with the client while making my case for a developmental edit. And finally . . .
Believe in your sample. It’s definitely disappointing when you put in the time and effort on a sample and still don’t get the job. It’s even harder when you don’t get any response at all (please tell me I’m not the only one!). Despite how unfair this feels, try not to personalize it. There are many reasons why something doesn’t turn into a job. No matter what, when you decide to do a sample for someone, do it because you believe in what you’re doing and why. Do it for a love of this work and a respect for your craft.
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