Sample edits help in a few ways, as does the initial discussion with the author. But editing a sample gives you and the author the ability to see and assess the other’s style and compatibility.
Editing is subjective, your opinion is just that, an opinion. What many authors don’t realize is that if they send their manuscript to ten different editors, they will get different manuscripts back. It’s not because the editor doesn’t know the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. It’s that they apply less rigidly to fiction and are therefore more subjective.
If you don’t do a meet-and-greet first, sample edits may be your only job interview. Before you even start the sample edit, a good idea is to send the author a style sheet for them to fill out quickly. This short style sheet should include intended POV, tense, theme, tone, voice, and anything else you feel you need to do a short edit.
I can not stress enough to be absolutely clear on what level of editing the author wants. They may not be aware of the different editing levels, so be certain to thoroughly explain the types of editing, let them chose, and only do that level of editing.
As we have heard many times, an author’s book is their baby. But it really is. They have worked countless hours to create their novel, and the author may have chosen specific grammar or punctuation for a reason. Changing things can affect their intended tone or mood. So, if you question something in a sample edit, make it a comment instead of changing it. Or if you feel strongly about it, change it but tell them why.
Editing a sample can also tell us if the client is right for us. If you can’t get into the author’s head in a sample, you won’t be able to for the whole novel. It isn’t that you are a bad editor, but it can cause you to feel the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’. You aren’t an imposter; you simply aren’t the right editor for that author. And as difficult as it may be, you will need to walk away.
Turning a job down isn’t failure, and it doesn’t have to be the end of you helping the author. If you know of another editor that might be better suited for the job, contact them and see if they would be open to talking with the author. Connecting the two is another way to help the author, and that’s what we all want, isn’t it?