In this post, I explain why I’m rethinking my practice of offering free sample edits as a matter of course to potential clients. On the other hand, Nick Taylor of Just Write Right describes below how free sample edits have been good for his business and converted into paying clients at a rate of almost three to one.
Around four years ago, when I began to offer fiction editing as part of my editorial services, I took it as read that potential clients would expect a sample edit. After all, it works both ways – you get to see a sample of the author’s writing and they, in turn, get to see how you edit.
From a pragmatic point of view, it gives the editor a chance to work out how long the job might take – and to frame their quote accordingly. It also lets the author see the type of changes the editor makes and how they explain these. What sort of tone do they take? Do they rigorously apply zombie rules? Or is their editing style more relaxed, with an emphasis on keeping changes to a minimum. Are the editor’s queries brief and to the point or more conciliatory and deferential?
I’ve always been happy to offer potential clients a free sample edit. What’s an hour or so of my time here and there if it brings in new clients? And if I get the job, well there’s a section of the text already edited.
Time for a change
That’s how I’ve operated for the past four years, but now I’m having a rethink. While it makes sense to see a section of the manuscript before taking on a job, I’m no longer offering free sample edits as a matter of course.
Why the change of heart? Well, several reasons really:
- Sample edits can be time-consuming, especially if sentence structure, choice of words, grammar and punctuation all need working on.
- Sometimes it’s obvious that the book is far from ready and maybe a developmental edit would be a better option. Why waste my time – and theirs – by doing a sample edit when they would benefit from an alternative editorial service.
- Is the author sending out different samples to several editors with the aim of knitting the free edits together (referred to in the trade as a Frankenedit) and thereby getting their book edited for free?
- Has the prospective client requested sample edits from several editing professionals – while leading us to believe we have already secured the job?
Like many editors, I’ve dealt with all of the above many times. However, a few things have tipped me towards this about-turn. On at least three occasions, recently, I’ve been contacted by authors who gave me the impression that they’d narrowed down their search for an editor to … me! All that was needed to clinch the deal was a sample edit.
In every case, their writing was good, our exchanges were warm and I felt the sample edit was a mere formality before we arranged a start date for the job.
Yet, each time after receiving the sample, they’ve come back and said words to the effect: “Thanks, that’s great, I’m just waiting to hear back from a couple of other freelancers. I’ll be in touch.” I know I should just take it on the chin, but when you already have a stack of work piling up, it hurts!
Then there are requests, sometimes even demands, for free edits from people who haven’t bothered to find out my name. It’s so obvious they are sending out blanket emails with different sections from their dissertation or manuscript in the hope of getting them edited for free. I move all these emails to my folder Time Wasters.
Genuine enquiry or not?
I was once contacted by the owner of a new publishing company who was looking for an editor to take on a crime thriller of around 60,000 words. She seemed happy with the start date I suggested and asked for a sample edit, which I was happy to provide. Instead of the 750–1,000 words I requested, she sent me 6,400. So, I edited a small section, sent her a quote for copyediting the whole book and heard no more.
Four months later, she emailed me again and introduced herself as if we had never crossed paths before. This time she had a couple of novels that needed editing and a third one on the way. She sent me three samples, totalling 22,100 words, and asked me to review them and give her my professional opinion on the amount of work required to bring them up to scratch.
One of the samples was the very same section of the book she had sent me earlier in the year, only this time, my changes had been incorporated! By now I’d had enough of playing along, so I quoted her a rate per 1,000 words for the sample edit. Turns out I wasn’t available in time to hit her deadline, so she decided to pass.
Had I been charging for sample edits, at the time, this time-wasting exchange would probably never have taken place.
A quick read-through
I do still request a section of the prospective client’s manuscript and spend around 20 minutes reading it. This helps me decide whether to take it on and how much to charge. Sometimes I suggest a developmental edit and recommend they check the CIEP directory for an editor suited to their literary genre.
It’s a little more difficult to know if you are being pitched against fellow professionals for a job, but charging for sample edits removes the problem. You are still being paid for your work, even if you don’t get the main gig.
So, I’ve decided to charge a fee of £20 for a sample edit of 1,000 words, which will be offset against the final fee should the prospective client book me for their project. I’m happy with this decision for now, but I’ll see how it impacts my business and maybe review it six months or so down the line.
- For more details on how much I charge and other FAQs, please visit my Pricing page.
- I’d love to know what writers and editors think, Please add your comments below.
And, it’s a ‘yes’ from Nick
Fellow CIEP member Nick Taylor, of Just Write Right has a different approach to the issue of free sample edits and embraces them wholeheartedly as a marketing tool. He writes:
Since going freelance full-time – just before the pandemic and the first lockdown – I have offered free sample edits of up to 2,500 words. Looking back through my records, I have completed 48 sample edits, which has led directly to 13 new clients. This, on the face of it, is terrible! It’s a return of less than a third (27%).
So why do I keep offering such a generous sample?
The clients I work with are typically self-publishing authors. A lot are first time writers, too, and have no real idea of the process: developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading and so on. A free sample allows the authors I work with the chance to understand what a professional editor can do for what is, for many of my clients, their hobby.
For me, sample edits are one of my best marketing strategies. Although it is probably the strategy that requires the most amount of effort, it has benefits for me beyond finding new clients.
I can draw up more accurate quotes for clients after seeing, and working on, a larger sample. A more accurate sample means I don’t have to go back to the client and explain that I was vastly out on the original quote and could they budget more.
In the early days of my editorial career, I was using the sample edit process as a way of attracting testimonials for my website. A simple quote from an author is vital to attracting new business, but without any experience, where do you start?
Some of the sample edits I have completed, I know, have been Frankenedits. I know, too, that I have completed samples that I had no hope of converting into a paying client. But I do it nonetheless. I don’t want to miss a fantastic project because I didn’t offer them a sample.
In the future, I am considering scaling back my samples to 1,500 words. I am getting a better feel for what is required and I am getting better and drawing up more accurate quotes. I cannot consider getting rid of free samples completely. That 27% return has generated 62% of my income.
For me, free samples continue to be a very useful marketing strategy.