Say No to Audition Work

Over the weekend, an acquaintance from various conventions referred his friend to me for editing. It was for a fiction manuscript, which is more my wife’s wheelhouse than mine, so I explained her introductory service of editing the first 5,000 words of a project for a nominal fee. (Not unlike my short development consultation service.) What I got back was:

Would you be willing to do a sample edit at no charge, say 500 words or so, so that we can get a feel for each other?

This was after I and the person who referred her to me mentioned the sample edit service. I didn’t even bother forwarding that to my wife[1]. I told the would-be client:

If you’re asking someone you don’t know to work for free, I cannot help you find an editor.

If someone asks you to do this—audition work—run away from them, because you’ve got one of two bad situations on your hand (if not both):

  1. Green: This is a client who is utterly clueless, and will spiral into a nightmare. They’re already showing that they don’t value your time, energy, or professionalism.
  2. Bad Faith: This is a client who is deliberately trying to manipulate you, testing to see if you’re a pushover. If you say “yes” to a request like this, you’re going to get screwed over down the road. And of course, they’re showing that they don’t value your time, energy, or professionalism.

Stand firm. Don’t do audition work. If you tell a potential client about your sample rate and they accept, then chalk it up to them being green. If they ask for free work after you’ve told them your sample rate, this client is immediately acting in bad faith.

Remember that your time is valuable. I’ve done free work in the past for big job applications, where an evening or two of time was spent in attempt to get employment, setting me back at least that many days on my freelance work because I had to mentally shift gears, do completely different work, and they remember where I was at beforehand to continue.

Respect yourself. If someone asks you to do something and you even have a twinge of feeling it’s not right, find some pros you trust and can talk with, and ask then.

With the situation I had over the weekend, 500 words is a poor amount of work to judge someone on, either direction. That tells me this person is possibly more green than bad faith, but since they felt it was okay to ask for this after being told the test edit rate, it’s still a bad faith situation.

– Ryan

P.S. A friend linked to a tweet today that is quite (and always) relevant:

[1] I did tell her about it later. She would have been cross with me if I had forwarded it to her for her to just reject.


2 Responses to Say No to Audition Work

  1. blackcoat says:

    Now, if I’d never been through the fiction editing process (and I haven’t) I might ask for some more info on what those services cover, or if they had samples pre-made (which might not be a horrible thing to have) so that I could get a feel for their process. But that’s not the same thing as “work for free for me when I know the rates you already asked for.”

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Showing samples of prior work tends to be tricky, since many authors don’t necessarily want their pre-edited work to be distributed as samples, and edits to one author isn’t the same as edits to another. It’s easier to have writing samples (which I do) than editing samples.

      – Ryan