A sample edit is a short edit a freelance editor might do before taking you on as a client. You can usually request one so you can get an idea of how they work. Or the editor might decide to do one to calculate a fee based on how long it takes them to edit a small segment of your work. It can allow you to see if an editor will be a good fit for you – and vice versa! But there are some misconceptions around sample edits, particularly about whether you should pay for them or if they should be free.
Are sample edits free?
The short answer is: it depends. Some authors are under the impression that all freelance editors should offer a free sample edit, and if they don’t, they’re a scammer. This isn’t true. Lots of freelance editors do offer free samples. But there are also plenty of legitimate ones who charge for it.
I’m not sure where the misconception that samples should be free comes from. It might be because it’s common knowledge that literary agents should never charge reading fees, and if they do, they’re sketchy.
But freelance editors are different. We’re small business owners. There are no hard and fast rules. We all run our businesses in different ways. I personally charge for samples, and I’ll get into the reasoning behind that next.
Why would a freelance editor charge for a sample edit?
There are lots of reasons to unpack. The most common reasons are:
- The editor is in high demand and has to fit sample edits around existing work. If an editor is in demand, and doesn’t have a lot of time outside of their existing clients, they may choose to charge. If they spend time doing free work, that’s time taken away from their clients.
- Schedule. If an editor is in demand, they likely don’t have a lot of free time and don’t want to spend that on free work.
- Some authors have been known to get “frankenedits”. A frankenedit is named after Frankenstein’s monster. Why? Well, what an author will do is send lots of samples to dozens of editors, from different sections of their work. They’ll get a free sample for each section. They do this in the hopes that they can get a complete, free edit if they contact enough editors. It’s quite a common occurrence, unfortunately. But word gets around. Like agents, freelance editors talk to each other. We usually get to know if a certain writer is contacting dozens of us for freebies, and we warn each other. Some editors prefer to charge for samples to weed this practice out. Frankenedits are wrong and unfair, taking advantage of the editor’s time and energy.
- The editor is a full-time freelancer. If an editor has another full-time job, and only edits for clients in their spare time or on the side, they might feel more comfortable providing free samples. But lots of editors are full-time freelancers, and might choose to charge for samples for this reason.
Why would a sample edit be free?
On the other side of the coin, there are reasons an editor might choose to do a free sample edit. As I mentioned above, they may have another job that makes them feel secure enough to do a bit of free work. Other reasons might be:
- To calculate a full project fee, which may end up including enough to cover a sample. Some editors do a free sample because, if they end up working with the client, the full fee would be enough to cover a short sample. But this may not always work, particularly if the author decides not to go ahead with booking the editor.
- They have a high conversion rate. If the editor knows their free samples usually lead to paid work and new clients, it may be worth it for them to take the time to do them.
- They’re new to the field and need experience. Newer freelance editors may feel more comfortable doing free samples to demonstrate their work if they’re still building a client list.
There’s no right or wrong!
I want to finish up by saying there’s no right or wrong way of doing this. Freelance editors who charge for samples are still legit. So are editors who offer free samples. I think the fact that there are more editors offering free samples has led to this idea that editors should do them for free. But the fact is, we all run our businesses differently, and no editor should be discredited for that.
As an author, go with what suits you! If you don’t feel comfortable paying for a sample, seek out an editor who offers a free one. If you don’t mind paying a small fee to find out if someone’s a good fit, then do that. It’s worth checking an editor’s website to see if they have any information on whether they do paid or free samples. If the info isn’t there, just email and ask.