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The publishers I have worked with have typically either hired me on the strength of my background (“I edited X and Y” with my name often right there in the acknowledgments) or an editing test, not samples. I’m trying to think if a publisher/packager has ever asked me for a sample, and I don’t think they have. I think most of them know this crosses a line (an editor’s work product is always based on someone else’s work product).
It’s true that the vast majority of authors won’t consent to share their edited mss. But I have found they will often provide testimonials and even agree to allow potential clients to contact them and ask them what the experience of working with me was like, so if I have an indie client who needs a little reassurance I will often go this route.
I wouldn’t use pieces submitted for a course. I have a policy of turning down students who ask permission to do this as it might imply that they actually worked on the published novel when they did not.
You might see if some type of barter could be arranged with an author: “I’ll edit your ms for $x, which is half my usual fee, if you’ll allow me to use a chapter of the ms as a sample. I promise to share it only with serious clients and won’t post it on my website or anything like that.”
I know many editors who will edit a sample of the client’s ms but this typically works better for CE. In DE, we may only have a few queries on a page, and what would that tell the author? For us to really demonstrate our abilities, we’d have to invest a significant amount of time in producing the sample edit, whereas a CE could spend fifteen or twenty minutes editing a few pages and give a fair representation of what the full edit would look like.
I don’t work with that many indie authors and am frankly not that fussed if they go find someone else to work with, so if you work with or are planning to work with a lot of indie authors, it may make sense to do more than I do to come up with some samples you can share with potential clients.
Hope that helps!