5 Reasons in Favor of the Sample Edit

In the process of hiring an editor, many writers, publishers, and businesses request to see an editor’s prior work with “before and after” views, so they can assess the editor’s capabilities. Others expect a sample edit instead, aka a test. There is much debate about which of the two options works for all involved. I have experienced both processes as an editor and writer, and I am a huge fan of the sample edit.

Here’s why:

1. The sample edit gives the writer a realistic view of the editor’s capabilities, process, and personality based on the writer’s actual work and style guide.

This allows the writer a true assessment of the editor’s experience as well their overall project management skills; their timeliness and communication style, what they notice, how they query, what they revise, and why. In addition, it allows the writer to get a feel for the editor’s work ethic, process, experience, and my all-time favorite – their kindness and professionalism. It surprises many that editors can be incisive with their revisions and be kind all at the same time, but assuredly, it can be done!

2. Both the writer and editor can assess if they are a good fit.

Be it a 500-word alert or an 80,000-word manuscript, the ideal relationship between the writer and the editor should be an easy one of mutual respect. This is a basic requirement for a successful project as you may need to have difficult conversations together about why certain things should be changed, and why certain things need to remain exactly as they are. The sample edit process, from start to finish, will give both the writer and the editor a clear understanding of each other’s expectations and communication styles. 

3. The element of surprise (not the fun kind) is eliminated for both the writer and the editor.

In my experience, the work on a project is a partnership between the writer and editor, as such, there is an element of “give and take” woven in. I have specific conversations about additional pages/revisions with editors at the sample edit phase to understand their flexibility of schedule, additional costs, and overall process of managing any additional needs.  

It’s best to have a conversation upfront with the writer, giving examples of any work that could include an additional service, and what that would mean for cost and timeline.

As the writer, the sample edit provided to the editor should be a realistic example of the entire work. This eliminates the need for the always painful, mid-project conversations around more time or added fees. The writer can always be upfront with the editor to note if any larger revisions are forthcoming, and both the writer and editor can land on a mutually beneficial agreement.

4. The editor can make a realistic assessment of the depth, time, and cost of the project.

To avoid “scope creep” and quote a fair and reasonable timeline and price, the sample edit is the editor’s friend. The editor will review the sample for the depth of editing required along with the style guides and/or word lists provided and be able to assess the realities of the project against their schedule, offering a fair quote and ensuring they protect the focused time needed for the project.

For a manuscript, it’s best to pass the editor a sample from the “middle” of the writer’s work. For business editing or website editing anything from 500 to 1000 words would help an overall assessment. (Websites are a wonderful resource for an editor to understand the overall tone, voice, and expectations of the author or organization.)

5. Free sample edit or not?

There remains a concern that the “free sample” structure can be taken advantage of, but I have yet to experience this, and it is absolutely the editor’s prerogative which path to take – always ensuring the writer’s work remains in focus while keeping to well thought out business decisions.

The sample edit is the first transparent step in a process that results in mutual benefit to both the writer and the editor. I have found it results in successful projects and lasting relationships.

Additional note: Various organizations and nonfiction writers have editors sign non-disclosure agreements before sending sample edits or projects. This automatically reduces the viability of an editor sharing past work. On a personal note, I wouldn’t be open to having my writing shared as an “example edit” and therefore, have set up my company to only offer sample edits.