The rationale behind charging for sample edits.

The rationale behind charging for sample edits.

A sample edit is an indicator of many things; the professionalism and ability of the editor is only one factor. The sample indicates the level of the work to be undertaken and it allows the editor to asses pricing but did you realise it also shows the editor the level of respect they hold for the skills of the editor?

These did not develop overnight and it is not something that just everyone can do. In the last fourteen months, I have lost count of the number of sample edits I have completed. Some of them took me a whole morning and others took me the best part of a day, depending on the amount of work that needed to be done.

But why should authors pay for what they can get for nothing?

The reason to pay for samples is two-fold.

First. Refusal to pay for sample edits signal, at least in part, an expectation that editors are automatically obligated to give up their time, and should be grateful for every scrap of attention an author puts their way. Given that this is an attitude that many of us in the creative industries have to explain when companies and individuals want to pay us in ‘exposure’ and think that the satisfaction of completing the work should be its own reward, it saddens me when we have to deal with this from other creatives. The willingness of an author to pay for a sample edit is a clear indication that they acknowledge that your time is as valuable as the skills they want to employ. It says ‘I understand there is a person at the other end of this email who is working hard to make a living, and they deserve to be paid fairly for the work they put in‘. It tells the editor a great deal about the author: remember they are assessing the author every bit as much as the author is evaluating them. Simply put, it’s a matter showing respect between author and editor.

Second. Many service industries charge a call out fee to cover the time it takes them to assess the work in question, and a sample edit is no different. You would not expect a plumber, cleaner, gardener or electrician to come to your home or to give up a morning of their time for nothing. In my view, creative services are no different. The sample fee implies the level of commitment of that potential client. Even web developers charge a consultation fee, This is not to say that editors should not offer free samples if they so wish, only that you should not be put off when editors do charge for their sample edits. By ignoring the editors who don’t offer free samples you could be depriving yourself of an opportunity. What you have found is not a ‘greedy editor‘, but a confident and skilled professional who knows the value of both their skills and their time.

Ethical practices


I ask now for you to put yourself in the role of a freelance editor.  Now, imagine a situation whereby a client approaches you, accepts a quote, goes through the sample edit process etc, and after a week of schedule-juggling, they promise to send the rest of the service agreement paperwork back to you that day. All good so far.  Now,  consider how you would feel if the job you had worked extremely hard to win was suddenly taken from you because the cancelled on the grounds that a quote your client has just received another quote for ‘considerably less’ than the rate they were expecting to pay you. While the second editor in the above scenario may have had no idea that a contract and a price had already been agreed (bar signing on the line), the author most certainly did know and actively chose not to disclose the fact. They choose, instead, to disregard past promises as and when they saw an immediate advantage. Is such a person likely to prove trustworthy in the future? Unlikely, and I would caution editors away from future professional engagement with those who have acted in such a manner.

When you take on an editor, you are entering into a business relationship which requires a high level of mutual ethical conduct and trust.  This relationship is far more formal than that of a consumer/retailer or service provider. In a business relationship, there are some basic rules which determine its success.   One such rule is to treat others with the same honesty, respect fairness that you expect to be treated with.  In business, all is not fair. A promise is a promise and honesty is always the best policy.  If you are an author and find yourself in a situation where you must make up a story in order to get out of a promise or an obligation, the likelihood is that you already know that you are behaving unethically. Would you take on an editor with a reputation of behaving dishonestly?

The indie author community is growing but is still fairly new. You know the constant uphill struggle of finding editors and agents willing to take you on.  The struggle is the same for editors who are trying to make a living in an industry with limited cash flow. That said, most of us will not willingly undercut one another, or poach clients. If given the full facts the above latecomer would probably walk away.  The author opted to deny them the opportunity to make an informed choice.  Writers and the creative community as a whole have a responsibility to display demonstrable honesty in our dealings with each other and treating even freelances editors poorly, or sowing mistrust between us, will reflect badly on the emerging industry. It could even be used to justify the remaining prejudice against self-published authors.

My advice if you ever find yourself in the above situation as an author is that if a late quote comes in after you have made a promise, then it is the ethical decision to thank them but let the latecomer know that you have already accepted another editor.  You don’t necessarily have to let them know what you are paying, but give them the opportunity to step back. If they then try to undercut the accepted offer, you will know what sort of person you are dealing with.  Deception by omission is still deception, and clients can earn a reputation for bad practice as easily as editors can. Think carefully about how you conduct yourself. A good editor, treated well could last your entire writing career.  Treat them badly and you could end up with a long list of people who simply will not work with you.