by Sue A. Fairchild

“Would you be willing to look over my manuscript quickly—it only has a hundred thousand words—and let me know if there is anything I’d need to fix?”

These are the words editors cringe to hear from their writing friends. Yet, all too often we’re faced with this dilemma. After all, our circles tend to include many writers and most of them could claim to be “friends.” How do we decide who is a friend that deserves free services and how do we establish friends who pay full price?

Certainly, every editor needs to determine their own comfort level with this topic, but here are a few ways I decide.

  1. How much time will it take me? A novel with a hundred thousand words would take me quite a bit of time—even just to read through “quickly.” My time is money, so I would not do this work for free. But I might offer a bargain or discount. (I’ll discuss that later in this article.) However, if we’re talking about a short poem, or even a concise blog post, I might be willing to bend my rules for payment.
  2. Are we really friends? What is the actual level of friendship? Have I known this person for years? If not providing the free service would harm an otherwise long-term and dear friendship, determine how you could bargain or exchange services in order to maintain a good relationship.
  3. Have they provided a service to me previously for free? Obviously, if I’m responding in kind, I would provide my service at the same level their service had been provided to me. But ensure that the levels are compatible. Editing a hundred-thousand-word manuscript is not comparable to being given a ride home once. (Unless that ride was several hours long.)

If, by using the above guidelines, you determine the work should not be done for free, how then should you diplomatically engage a “friend” into a business arrangement?

  1. Ask your friend for clarification. Do they want you to read their story and give simple feedback or do they intend for you to provide your editing services? If they’re only looking for feedback, perhaps you could agree to read the manuscript—at your leisure. This helps a friend to understand that you are a busy professional and that paying customers will come first. If it truly is editing services they demand, check out number two.
  2. Advise your friend of your current rate and then offer to give a discount of some amount. This way they understand your time is money, but you are willing to provide them a bit of a break for your friendship. You could offer a discounted rate, an exchange of services, or to edit only a small portion of their book. If they will be paying you for your services, make sure you outline how that will happen in clear, concise terms. I still use a contract, even for my friends. This avoids any misunderstandings.

What happens if the friend seems put off by your professional leanings?

Simple. Retain a friendly, professional manner and move on. At that point, the decision truly rests on the friend’s shoulders—not your own. You have conveyed how you handle business arrangements, even between friends. If they choose not to utilize your services, you can move onto other business without guilt. Hopefully, the friend—if they truly are one—will understand your position and work with you to achieve the results best for each person. If not, maybe they were not a friend after all.

Sue started out as a devotion writer, but now also claims the titles of editor, proofreader, webmistress, and blogger. She has written and self-published three books as well as helped a variety of authors get their manuscripts into readers’ hands. Sue loves working with clients who are working toward the greater good of sharing God’s message in this world. Email to discuss a free sample edit. Check out her website for testimonials: