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.
We’ve all heard of that one person who demands more from a service than is strictly reasonable, haven’t we? They want the dry cleaner to somehow get the turmeric stains off of the front of their favourite top and then scream blue murder if they – unsurprisingly – fail. They expect freebies, discounts, and are rude to waiters. They delay paying a bill for something because they’d rather go down the pub. They’d even go so far as to make a spurious complaint on the off-chance that they could save a few quid, never mind the effect that complaint could have on another person. Okay. These are extreme examples. The point is that while we expect to get our money’s worth out of a service, a healthy business relationship is a two-way street. In light of this, here are a few things to bear in mind in order to not be that customer.
Always prepare a brief.
We love these. These tell us exactly what is expected of us and enable us to realistically price and plan your project. A brief to an editor should include the following information.
- The title of the work and the author’s name and contact details.
- How many files are involved and what they include.
- The nature of the work. Is it a novel, an essay for assessment, an article for a magazine etc.? This helps us assess if we have the necessary skills to complete your project. Some editors specialise in fiction in a particular genre so sending them your dissertation on the history of the paperclip (gripping material) would not do you a lot of good.
- The deadline and when you expect the project to begin. This editor might not be available at the time you need them. If you ask, they might be able to point you in the direction of someone who is not only available but shares your obsession with stationery.
- The length of the document. This will affect the pricing of the document. Your editor needs to factor their time into the equation.
- Is it a blind edit? If the document has undergone editing prior to your project, you may want to send the original as well as other documents so that this editor can see what changes have already been made. You don’t want them undoing the work of another. It’s a waste of their time and yours.
- The style guide or house style you are working from. Send them a copy so they can familiarise themselves before starting work.
- The level of intervention expected. Don’t be the client that asks for a copy edit but expects the whole thing to be rewritten. This part of the brief allows the editor to clarify which parts are part of the normal service and which bits are extras. You will be expected to either sacrifice extras or pay for them. Similarly, you might only want to check for spelling, grammar and typos.
Your editor has many talents, but mind reading is not one of them. The brief above is the bare minimum of the information you should expect to provide. Being clear from the beginning will help avoid any nasty surprises later on. It will save you both time,
The price may be negotiable but an agreement is an agreement.
Many editors now will issue a service agreement relating to the final negotiated terms of payment. These include the services expected, sometimes in great detail, so be sure to read them thoroughly before sign anything. It also includes the rate that you have agreed to. This agreement stage protects you as much as the editor but while it constitutes a promise to carry out x, y, z, it also constitutes a promise from you to treat the service provider fairly.
A service agreement will, at the very least, include the rate that you have agreed to pay, the services to be carried out, deadlines, and the dates by which it is to be paid. You might have arranged an instalment plan. If so, you have a responsibility to make these scheduled payments at the agreed time. It will likely list any penalties and consequences for not meeting your side, as well as what they are prepared to do in the event that they fail to fulfil their end. If you do not feel these are fair then you should not sign the agreement. Attempt to negociate terms but be fair. You cannot expect them to remove anything that protects them.
Asking for extras mid-project is another danger area. For instance, if you went to a local store to collect and pay for your paperclip order but, on the way, decided you wanted bulldog clips instead, you would expect to pay the bulldog clip price, would you not? The rule is the same for services. If you want extra, this may often mean amending and signing the service agreement to reflect the changes. You can be a good client by
- Asking if it is feasible to extend the length of the project. Your editor may not have the time. Some of us work on more than one project at once while others prefer to concentrate on one project at a time. We all work differently so you should double check that we are available before giving us extra work.
- Ask how much extra it will cost. If you went to a local store to collect and pay for your paperclip order but, on the way, decided you wanted bulldog clips instead, you would expect to pay the bulldog clip price, wouldn’t you? The same applies to services. Similarly, if you found that you had left something out of your brief, and it hasn’t been done, you would not complain that the editor did not fulfil your brief.
- Paying as promised and on time.
This works on both sides. You need to trust that your editor knows what they are doing and that they can deliver the service to the promised standard. They need to trust that you will uphold your end of the bargain. No matter who much you like an editor, if they feel that you have acted unfairly, they may decide that the stress of working with you is not worth the price.
You chose your editor because they possess a skill set that you do not. For this reason, alone you should listen to them. Give them the freedom to keep their promises to you. Editing is a collaborative process which takes both time and care. If they come to you with a query, answer it promptly and politely. It is true that anybody can call themselves an editor, and unfortunately there are cowboys and charlatans in every walk of life, but the good ones know their craft. Treasure them. Many are published authors in their own right so have experience from both sides of the relationship and empathise with your anxiety. They also take pride in their work and want to help you make the best of your work. It’s not just about making money.
Like other services, our living relies upon our reputations. There is a fine balance between personal opinion and the decisions formed by experience and skill. If your editor feels they are unable to point out flaws in your writing, due to the reaction it might induce, they will not be working to your best advantage. You want your editor to pick up problems and bad habits. It’s how you will learn to be a better writer. So while an editor might exceed their remit in some cases, remember they are doing the job to the level that they would eexpectto receive it.
Back to the dissertation analogy here. Say you handed them your brief to check spelling and punctuation only, but the editor noticed that your use of paperclip vs. paper-clip was inconsistent, but because they had not raised the issue or highlighted them, you were marked down by your tutor. And what if the reason they had not mentioned anything is becasue you had refused to accept input over the wording. This would not be what the editor would regard as a successful outcome even if they had fulfilled the terms of the brief to the lettter. This can be avoided by
- Being flexible with your brief. If you have left something off and the editor raises the issue, it is usually because some part of your writing has raised a concern and they could not, in good conscience return the editied work without raisning the issue. This is a good thing.
- Ensuring your brief includes everything you want from the service. It is also way the pre-project discussions are so important.
It doesn’t matter how fast someone reads...Scratch that. It matters a lot.
Proofreading, in particular, means slowing… right… down… and taking in every word carefully. It means looking for extra tall lettters hidden with others, because the human eye is a lazy beastie and will assume that what it sees is what is really there. Reading a two hundred page novel might be possible in two or three days, but editing is not the same as reading for pleasure. Often, it means checking that all captions match images and bibliography formats are correct, looking for double spacing, transpositions, or repeated text. In other words, it means doing what the spell-checker can’t do; apply common sense. This is also why you shouldn’t just forgo editors and rely on the spell check. The spell check can’t find plot holes. It is vital that you apply common sense and allow adequate time for the work to be carried out. A betaread of a 85k word novel could easily take two weeks due to the level of care needed in the reading.
Leave fair and honest feedback; spread the word
If you are happy with the service you have recieved then say so. Frequently. Recommend them to colleagues and friends. Way back before the internet, businesses lived and died on their reputations. Today, this is even mor the case. The rise of social media means that the lack of pressence and reviews is almost as bad as negative reviews. It tells future clients that this person cannot deliver what they promise. It’s like the boss who ‘loves’ you right up until you leave, then refuses to give you a reference. Reviews are the references of the information age. Use them. Tell the world you love your editor and why.
The other thing not to do is to leave vaugue feedback, or comments which contradict your repsonses to the editor. The feedback is not the place to bring up new problems. It is the place to tell people how well your editor did their job including dealing with a misunderstanding over style. Your editor relies on feedback to not only gauge reach and reception, but to iprove their service. It is important they these be honest. A dishonest negative review can do someone real harm, they are not funny or ethical. If your editor has failed to meet a deadline or fulfil their side of the agreement, AND THEN failed to deal with the situation adequately, then by all means take to their facebook page and lambast away. At least initially, you should deal with greivances calmly and in private.
Choosing an editor is not easy. The good ones have fees that could choke a horse. However, they are GOOD editors, so the fees they charge are worth it. If you can afford those fees. Unfortunately, many Indie authors just can’t break out that kind of cash.
Enter the rip off artists. They come in many levels of incompetence from authors who just want to make some side cash but don’t really know how to edit, to outright thieves who will take your money and give you nothing in return. Unfortunately, the latter kind thrives on the internet. We have all heard the stories of writers victimised by people calling themselves editors but didn’t even fix spelling mistakes, much less formatting, style, or continuity issues. As an editor myself, I am always learning and improving my craft this kind of thing makes me so angry – not least because it taints all freelance editors with the same reputation – but rest easy. This post is not an estate agent type post telling you to only trust me and ignore all those other editors. Finding the right editor for you is important.
So here are some guidelines for how to find the honest ones, pick an one, and dealing with them. Feel free to pipe up in the comments with any other suggestions I might have missed.
- Go with someone you know or who is recommended. If you can’t do that, the following steps can help.
- Do your research: collect reviews and referrals. How do they respond to complaints?
- Ask for a sample edit from the first chapter of your book, before any money changes hands. A new editor should be willing to do this to get your business, and most honest editors offer this as standard.
- Have someone you already trust and knows what they are doing, read the sample and let you know if they are good.
- Try to find one who will take a deposit up front and charges balance when the job is complete. If they demand the whole balance up front, steer clear. That said, I do expect full payment up front for small jobs (less than 10 pages =2500 words), but 50% of that is refundable if the client is not happy with my work
- Generally, I would advise you to avoid those who demand the full amount upfront. If their work is genuinely substandard –this is not the same as being unhappy about harsh feedback- do not pay the balance and demand your deposit back. New writers should be aware that it often takes several rounds of editing before your work is publishable.
- No editor can wave a magic wand and suddenly turn an unstructured first draft into a literary marvel in one go, and no reputable editor will claim to be able to. It depends entirely on the submitted work.
- Not all editors offer the same services or deal with the same type of text. You need to find out which genre they will work with and what levels they offer. I offer all four levels and am pretty much happy to edit whatever crosses my desk. Others may only deal with certain genres, or offer higher level editing. An honest editor will use your work to assess the level you are writing at and determine what the work needs. They will advise you what needs to be done, and if they are not able to offer the full scope of work required, you may find they will point you in the direction of someone who can.
- If you have ever dealt with an editor who has given you less than the quality of work promised for your money, you still have rights. A freelancer is subject to the same consumer laws as everyone else.
- You want to engage with someone who will cut deep and pick up the typos and mistakes. Remember, a good editor is on your side. A reader is not. The editor wants you to be able to publish your best work possible. You are not looking for ‘nice’. If they go too easy on you or appear to be in a rush to get to print, it can still count as bad editing. The reader will not be nice or give you the benefit of the doubt as it’s your first book. They will, at best, put your book down and never read your work again. At worst, they will leave a scathing review from wherever they bought it, and they will still never read your work again.
- A good editor will not point you at a publisher or insist that their services rely on you going with a particular press. If they do, they are probably taking a back-hander. I’m afraid you will have to do your homework for that too.