OK, everyone. Get ready for a rant.
I have recently come across several editors who charge for sample edits, with some charging more than $100 for a ten-page sample. One woman said outright, “I do nothing for free.”
I respectfully disagree with that approach. Why? Because the sample edit is as much a tool for the editor as it is for the writer.
A ten-page sample edit might take two hours. To give that away for free is the same as handing over between $50 and $100, depending on the editor’s rates. But is that so much to give up when a project could garner the editor $1,500-$3,000? Before paying for a sample edit, writers should understand that the editor is trying to get their business. They should also know that the editor learns as much from the sample as the writer does.
It’s true some editors will tell you that the sample is for you, the writer, to learn about the work they will do. And that is one very important aspect of a sample edit. But for the editor, the sample is also invaluable. From the sample edit the editor learns
- What level of edit the piece needs
- How much it is likely going to cost the writer (and earn the editor)
- Whether this writer is someone the editor even wants to work with
On several occasions I have returned a sample edit with a note letting the potential client know he or she is not ready for editing. In those cases a writing class or critique group was going to be the more helpful — and cheaper — way for the author to improve the manuscript. If I were to edit it, I would have had to rewrite the whole thing to make it good, and that is not the place for an editor. A ghostwriter, sure, but not an editor.
I have also turned away work from people who are unprofessional, are writing on topics that don’t interest me, or are potentially unbalanced. When I was a new freelancer, ten-plus years ago, I didn’t do sample edits, and I often regretted it. Now I insist on it. If I were to then also charge the author for something that is only going to save me handfuls of hair, I would consider that a ripoff.
So, editors don’t want to give away their time. I understand. I don’t want to give away my time either. But I am not convinced that performing a sample edit for cheap or free is the same as giving away time. The editors may not be making what they would if this were an actual client (rather than a potential client), but they are learning crucial information about the project they are thinking about taking on.
In freelance work there is such a thing as non-billable hours. Sample edits, if you ask me, should be filed under that category. It is a small injustice to authors to ask them to pay for something that makes the editor’s job so much easier. It’s not like there is a dearth of editors in the world, either. Finding a good editor who doesn’t charge for a sample edit is absolutely possible.
Writers, think twice before agreeing to pay for a sample edit. It’s not necessary. And more than likely, that $100 means more to you than it does to the editor.
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