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Everything you need to know about sample edits

Shopping for an editor is a very important part of self-publishing, because you want to make sure you’re choosing someone who is not only skilled in editing, but who can work with your manuscript, work with you, and offers a quote within your budget.

Sample edits allow writers and editors to decide if they should work together, and allow writers to know that the editor they’re choosing is reliable. They're invaluable, particularly in the indie publishing world.

So, let's talk about what sample edits are and how to get the most out of them!


Getting to know your editor

Sample edits aren't just about seeing if the editor is 'good'. If you've found an editor you like the sound of and are at the point of asking for a sample, I'm sure you've already noted that they great reviews, a portfolio, and qualifications and knowledge of your genre. You wouldn't choose them otherwise.

So, don't think it's a good idea to purposely add typos into a chapter of your manuscript and see if the editor spots them or not (though if they don’t, that’s something to consider). A sample is really about seeing how the editor works with your manuscript, and how they work with you.

Editing is a big job that takes many hours and a lot of communication, so if you don’t match with the personality and style of your editor, you’re going to run into problems. It is really difficult for most writers to put their work out there, especially for professional criticism. If the sample edit shows that the editor is not respectful of you and your style, and instead is unkind in their comments and imposes their style over your own, it isn’t a good match. Similarly, if you don't get along over phone or email, it will be a tough relationship.

Sometimes, as an editor, I see a manuscript that doesn’t work with my style at all, which I know I’ll have a lot of trouble working on (not because it’s a bad manuscript, but because it is extremely far from my preferences), so I pass on it – even if it means losing money. I want editing to always be an enjoyable and valuable experience for myself and the client.

Provide the sample from the middle of the book

Many editors request samples to come from the middle of the book, because this area is typically less well-edited by the author than the beginning or end. (As writers, we know how important the first few pages in particular are, and how much we tweak them until they're perfect.)

I ask potential clients to send me the first chapter of their book, plus 1000 words from the middle. This way I can read the beginning to get context, and complete an edit on a section of the book that can give me a good idea of what the overall job will be like.

Also don't over-edit the section you send - remember the purpose of sending a sample from the middle. Don't worry about impressing an editor, and certainly don't try to trick them with a sample that doesn't reflect your whole work. If the editor gives you a qoute based on a sample that is far more polished than the rest of the book, you might be charged a lot more than you expected.

Getting a quote

Asking for and receiving quotes for editing is scary. Spending money always is, and editing tends to cost a lot more than most writers expect.

Why? Because it takes a LOT of time, effort, skill and education. If they’re a freelancer, fees also help them to run their business or work from home. You might have heard creatives say ‘passion doesn’t pay bills’, and this is very true. Editors need to be paid, and fairly! (See my blog posts on why editing seems expensive, and how to reduce costs.)

Sample edits allow editors to make a good prediction of how much the overall project will cost. Typically an editor will compare the sample to how much they need to make hourly. So, if a sample of 1000 words takes them one hour (an average editing rate), they charge $60 per hour, and the author has told them the full manuscript is 80,000 words, the quote will come to $4800. That might seem like a lot of money, but consider that this edit will take them 80 hours! It's a skilled job and it takes time.

Don’t attempt to get a franken-edit

Please, please don’t attempt to scam editors by getting free sample edits from many of them and then putting the samples together for a free edit. The concept of a franken-edit may sound ridiculous, and would certainly be a lot of effort, but people really do try it.

To do this, you would have to ask so many editors for samples that you would certainly be caught and blacklisted. And, even if you managed it, every editor is different. That’s why we call it a franken-edit: each section of your book would be edited by someone else, giving it different levels of quality and style. The book would be a mismatched mess!

Readers will notice this, and they'll be distracted from your story. Remember, the point of editing is to get your work to the highest quality possible. Using tricky ways to get your edit done cheaper – including choosing the cheapest editor you can find, without checking the quality of their work – will only mean your book will be worse off. If that’s the case, you might as well not have it edited at all.

Use sample edits wisely, considerately, and to support your author career.


Want more? Visit my Sample Edit Form for a free 1000 words to see if we might be a great author-editor duo.


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