TOM WALLACE IS A SAVVY EDITOR and an extraordinary ghost writer. I asked him if he’d be willing to share a useful nugget from his wide experience in the world of professional writing—and he delivered the goods!
The Sample Edit
Shopping for a freelance editor can be a nail-biter. You know you need one, but they have to be the right one. You want an editor who not only knows the principles of editing backward and forward but has the sensitivity and perception to edit your voice, to get what you’re saying. One of the most important tools to use in this epic search is the sample edit.
There are two kinds of sample edit. The first is the paid sample, usually of a good chunk of your writing—say, your opening two chapters or initial twenty pages. This is, frankly, not a popular choice, because, if you’re getting four paid samples, this search could get a bit costly.
The second type is free, so that’s what we’ll focus on in this post. Most freelance editors will be happy to do a free sample edit. They’ll jump at the opportunity to prove they’ve got the chops you’re looking for.
5 Tips to Getting the Most from a Sample Edit
Tip #1: A free sample will be about five pages. Get a sample of this length from three or four editors, so you have enough comparison material to make an informed choice between them. Have all your prospective editors work on exactly the same material—which should be the first five pages of your book. (Indeed, the three most important parts of your book are the first sentence, the first paragraph, and the first page. What’s in the beginning constitutes your best hope—quite likely your only hope—of hooking a reader.)
Tip #2: This sample should be done in Microsoft Word with the Track Changes function turned on, allowing you to see every revision and margin comment made by each editor.
Tip #3: Editors might deal with any number of issues: wordiness, spelling, punctuation, character development, pace, etc. So comparing these few sample edits can be very enlightening.
Look for things in the text like deletions of repeated words or ideas, the rearrangement of sentences and re-punctuation of dialogue, and the solving of grammatical problems like dangling modifiers. If two or three editors agree about the majority of these issues and one does not—well, then it’s time to remember what you learned on SESAME STREET: one of these editors is not like the others.
Also, if editors are revising for style, which does the best job of polishing your work without obliterating your voice. Are they really adding value, or are they just changing things to change them?
Tip #4: Look at the margin comments. These may contain information about why something was changed, suggestions to you about what you might add, or questions meant to clarify your meaning or clarify an idea in the editor’s head that will help her do good work on your material, should you decide to work with her.
Tip #5: Finally, if you don’t understand a choice an editor has made, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember that each editor is essentially auditioning for a part in the play that is your writing life. If they grumble at the idea of answering questions—or communicating with you in anyway—they shouldn’t be in your play.
Sample edits rock. They’re one of the best tools you have in your search for a talented editor.
Thanks so much to Tom for sharing the ins and outs of getting a sample edit. Want to learn more about working with a freelance editor? Contact Tom Wallace!
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