Ediquette: What is a representative sample?
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
ediquette, n. The etiquette involved in working with (or working as) a freelance editor. Read the entire series here!
If you’re in the process of searching for an editor right now, you might have noticed that many of us ask for a “representative sample” of your work in order to give an accurate quote. If you’re wondering what a representative sample is, you’ve come to the right place.
What’s a representative sample?
In order to determine how long your novel will take to edit, and thus how much to charge, an editor will usually ask to see a sample. But not just any sample will do the trick—the sample has to represent the novel as a whole.
For example, if your novel is written mostly in scenes and prose, then sending in the only section that includes a diary entry isn’t representative because it’s not in the same style as the majority of the book.
The same goes for if you send in the most highly edited section of your manuscript. Since this section has had more editing than the rest of the book, it’s not representative because it’ll have far fewer errors than the rest of the book.
What to include:
several thousand words (3-5k is good)...
taken from somewhere in the middle of the manuscript...
that has the same style and editing level as the majority of the manuscript.
What to avoid:
all dialogue (unless your entire book is only dialogue)
prologues, epilogues, interludes, and other parts of the book that are unusual or written in a different style from the rest
the most self-edited sections of the book
What happens if I send a bad sample?
If you send a sample that’s not what your editor needs to give an accurate quote, then you’ll likely just get an email back requesting a longer or better sample.
However, the editor won’t be able to tell right away if you’ve sent the most edited part of your book or not. Occasionally, someone uses this to get a lower quote from an editor than the manuscript truly deserves. This is why a lot of editors have a right to renegotiate clause in their contracts—that way if the manuscript needs a lot more work than the original sample did, they can adjust the price to reflect the true nature of the work.
Worst-case scenario, some editors have a zero tolerance policy for this type of bait and switch, and they will stop work right away and cancel the contract if they discover they’ve been lied to.
What if my editor wants to see the whole manuscript?
Some editors do request to see an entire manuscript before agreeing to work on it. This is to avoid the sample vs actual manuscript issue above. This is a totally normal part of some editors’ work flows, and there’s nothing to be worried about.
The most important thing to consider when sending a sample is the individual editor’s request. Whether they want the whole manuscript, the middle fifty pages, three thousand words from the beginning, middle, and end, or whatever, editors are individuals and set the parameters that work best for their businesses. It’s best to follow whatever your editor requests, even if it doesn’t quite match this blog post.
Do you have any questions about representative samples or how to choose a sample to send to your editor? Let me know via email!