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Why I don't offer free sample edits

Posted on 19th January 2014

I have to admit it's not something I get asked that often but I know a lot of colleagues do, so I wanted to write this blog in case you were thinking of asking me (or another provider) for a free sample chapter copy-edit/proofread and explain why this isn't something I do (unless you're a publisher*).

Let's take the analogy of needing your roof retiled: you contact three roofers and all three come out to look at the roof (akin to sending a sample of your file to three proofreaders). The roofers will have a thorough look at the roof and determine what work needs doing and how much it will cost (as I would do with any text you send, looking at the level of work required, how long this will take and providing a quote based on that). I may ask the roofer questions about the work in a bit more detail, including confirming schedules and what experience they have and I will then make a decision (as you may do with me and the work required on your text). If I'm really unsure and can't decide, I may ask what other roofs the person has fixed and go and look at those finished examples, as you could do with books or published text that I've worked on. However, at no point will I ask all three, or even the one I decide to go with, to retile a bit of my roof as a sample of the job they will do.

I realise this is perhaps a simplistic analogy but I hope it shows the reasons behind my decision. Expectations of what is involved with proofreading and copy-editing can vary from one person to the next so I always try to make sure I've clarified what I will and won't do before any work commences. I have on occasion provided a sample on a page or two of text but not an entire chapter. Alternatively, I could do a chapter to start with and invoice for that before you determine whether I'm right for the rest of the project. I do try to be flexible and make the proofreading/copy-editing process as painless as possible for you but I don't have infinite time and giving this up for free samples really isn't possible, sorry.

*The difference with publishers is that the sample is usually done on either something already published or a fictitious piece of writing and is usually approached in the manner of a test one might take when applying for a job. If successful, a proofreader would usually hope to then be 'on the books' of the publisher and receive numerous projects per year, thus meaning the time spent on the sample is averaged out across these projects.

Written by Kate Haigh.