Why a Sample Edit Should Be Cheap or Free

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.

money-300x271A 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

  1. What level of edit the piece needs
  2. How much it is likely going to cost the writer (and earn the editor)
  3. 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 hair-pulling-womando 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.

Like this blog? Check out Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro.

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6 thoughts on “Why a Sample Edit Should Be Cheap or Free”

  1. Great post! I agree. Sample edits are as much for editors as they are for writers. However, I’ve also burned myself a couple times by doing longer sample edits, putting quite a bit of time into them, and not getting a response afterward. I wonder if some writers are taking advantage of this and getting their manuscripts, or chunks of it, edited for free. Wouldn’t that be something! I’m contemplating charging a small fee for longer sample edits and then offering it as credit if the writer decides to hire me.

    1. I’ve never been burned doing a sample edit, although I have heard of other editors going through that. If you’re doing very long samples or you suspect the potential client is less than honest, a small fee may be in order. Of course, if you get the feeling the person is less than honest, you might not be doing that sample at all.

  2. Hear, hear! There are costs associated with doing business, and sample edits should be as much a part of that as marketing, invoicing, and filing. If you do “nothing for free,” I’m going to see you as a ruthless, perhaps greedy person, not someone I want to do business with.

    I do sample edits for all of my new clients. It’s part of looking for work, and I budget accordingly.

  3. I don’t mind providing a sample edit — it gives me a chance to assess the author’s writing level and to show the author my skills. However, I won’t do more than two pages. Ten pages in two hours? I suppose maybe for a light edit; it would take me a lot longer to edit ten pages, and that is too much of a loss of time and money for me.

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