Finding the Right Editor: 5 Things to Look For in a Sample Edit

‘Tis the season, and then some around here – there are Christmas tins and fabric and scrap paper and old bottles and new bottles and so, so, so much yarn. Which apparently is what happens when you decide you’re going to make most of your gifts for the holiday season. I was planning to do an article about a few of the things I’m making, but then realized that would kind of ruin the surprise for any of my friends and family who happen upon the article before Christmas. So… I thought, instead, I would do a less seasonal – but no less important, I think – post.

Recently, I made the decision to start editing professionally again. As before, my focus is on content and copy editing of plot-driven fiction. I’m being more selective about my projects this time, and at the moment I’m really enjoying connecting with clients and prospective clients and exploring their work.

One of the cornerstones of my business is the sample edit. I offer a $25 sample edit of the first chapter or 2,500 words – whichever comes first – of a writer’s work. This is something many editors out there offer, so I thought it might be a good idea to give writers an idea of what they should expect from the process. Here, then, are 5 Things to Look For in a Sample Edit.

(1) Prompt communication. As this is the presumably the first professional contact you’re having with a prospective editor, the editor should be especially mindful of responding to your inquiry and subsequent emails in a timely manner. It may not be within an hour or two, but you shouldn’t have to wait more than twenty-four hours for a reply to your emails. Regardless of whether the sample edit is free or paid, you should expect a high level of service – and that starts with prompt, courteous communication.

(2) An established deadline. A good editor is typically a very busy editor, which means you may have to wait a bit to get on the calendar for a sample edit. With that said, the editor should still be able to tell you exactly when they’ll be working on your sample, and provide a date by which you can expect the completed project. You should never feel like you’re sending your work into the abyss when you connect with an editor and progress as far as the sample edit. And, just to be clear, the editor should actually meet the deadline that they’ve set.

(3) A lot of red ink. We all have dreams of being told our work is flawless, right? That there’s nothing we can improve upon – our opus is worthy of publication immediately (if not sooner), and publishers will be lining up to get in on the sweet action that is our future bestseller.

That’s a nice dream, but most of us are smart enough to know that it’s not exactly realistic. And honestly, it’s the very last thing you should be looking for from a prospective editor. Instead, be prepared for a manuscript with plenty of corrections, suggestions, and questions in the margins. A sample edit that comes back to you with clean pages and a blanket statement that your work is great with perhaps a few minor exceptions, is highly suspect. This may be the case if you’re an experienced writer who has revised the manuscript in question multiple times, but even then the editor should have some sense of what they can bring to your project. Otherwise, why would you hire them?

(4) The truth. With a little bit of kindness. As writers, most of us have had that one writing teacher who prided himself on speaking the truth. No holds barred. No I liked this, but… Many of these teachers have war stories about workshops with students who ended up in tears by the end; students who gave up on writing, certain that they were no-talent hacks whose work would never be worth the writing. I know there are people who think this particular teaching style works. There are even students who’ll say it was that instructor who convinced them they could make it as a writer.

Personally, I choose to go another way. If you’re looking for an editor who makes you want to curl up and die when you get your manuscript back, I’m sure they’re out there. In general, however, you’re looking for someone who can provide clear feedback, be direct about where the challenges in your manuscript lie, and give you a sense that you’re not completely wasting your life by whiling away the hours on the keyboard.

(5) A plan for moving forward. Once you’ve gotten your sample edit back and processed the feedback therein, your prospective editor should provide you with an idea of what comes next. If they’re interested in taking on the full project, they should provide a quote for how much that will cost, an idea of how long it will take and when they could get you on their schedule, and a sense of why they’re the right editor for the job. If, however, they give feedback indicating that they aren’t interested in continuing to edit your work, they should provide some idea of why that’s the case. Is the writing too rough, and not ready for a professional edit yet? Or is the material simply not in their wheelhouse? Whatever the case, you should have some sense at the end of the process of what your next step will be.

And that’s my two cents on the sample edit. What about you? Have you ever had a sample edit of your work done before? If not, how have you found editors with whom you’ve worked in the past?

Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries, as well as a professional editor with Jen Blood Editing. You can read more at or


This entry was posted in Jen's Posts. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Finding the Right Editor: 5 Things to Look For in a Sample Edit

  1. Kate Flora says:

    This is so great, Jen. I’m glad you’re going to be finding some time to get back to editing. You’re awfully good at it.

Leave a Reply