Getting Taken by Bogus “Editing Tests” By Ingrid Schaefer Sprague

“Editor available: Free services! No project too big or too small! Gullible, yet thorough. Familiar with many stylebooks. Ask about writing services, too. Call: 555-555-5555.”

Instead of my resume and clips, I should market this description for freelance work. In spite of my credentials and experience, or should I say because of it, I have been “taken” again by another bogus editing test. Although I am not a novice (with over 13 years of experience), I am still amazed that I get scammed by this old trick after watching for all apparent signs.

In marketing my freelance services, I have come across the familiar, yet inconsistent, “editing test.” I cringe each time I see this as a prerequisite for work. I think I understand the reasoning behind such testing, although I do not agree with it. I have even had to administer such testing when I was looking to hire editors. However, the method and content of the testing I provided was far different from what I have encountered as a freelance editor/writer.

What was the difference? Well, let me explain how my quest for more freelance work began…

After answering an ad placed on a website listing editorial positions, I was contacted by a publishing firm that shall remain nameless. I recognized the name, and assumed I had applied with them previously. I looked up the company on the Web, and found the publisher to be legitimate.

After accepting the payment terms, I was provided my tests within a couple of weeks. The tests consisted of a proofreading test and a chapter test for copyediting. The instructions said I needed to also style tag the book chapter once the editing was complete. No deadline was given.

With reference materials in hand, I set out to do the best job I could on these tests. I was sure my copyediting was impeccable; I followed the directions for the style tagging to a tee. I then submitted my completed tests.

Within 48 hours I received a reply – a stock reply, saying my test scores were not “in line” with company requirements. Furthermore, it was not company policy to discuss work submitted for review.

Smack! What a slap in the face for all the work I did. At that moment, it occurred to me why I remembered this company. These same jerks (only my opinion) did the same thing to me years ago. This time I did not think twice about whether my editing skills were superb or lousy when I fired off an e-mail telling them I thought they were frauds.

What a waste of my time – time that could have been spent marketing my services to a company interested in my work or with my family on the holiday. So, in retrospect, what happened and how can we as editors and writers avoid such events?

First of all, let’s suppose my work was not as good as I thought. That is one possibility (although, I believe, incorrect). Another possibility is that the publisher was scouting the field for talent. However, what would be the rationale if I wasn’t employed full time with a competitor? I also was not added to a list of potential freelancers for future work. The third possibility is also the most plausible. The proofreading test is just a cover for the chapter editing test. This “test” completed by the would-be freelancer is actual work. The company never has to pay for the editing and styling. As Angela Hoy from states, “This scam involves ëtesting’ as many people as they need to get an entire book edited (or website written or edited, etc.) quickly and for nothing. I’ve read more stories than I can count from writers who were asked to do real work as a ëtest’ and who then realized they’d just worked for free and been denied a job or assignments from that company.”

How can we stop such flagrant theft of our profession? It won’t be easy to do, especially in the age of increased testing in all fields, but we can simply not take the tests. What other profession requires real work on real products to test an employee?

I would love to hear about a computer programmer being asked to design an office network without payment to see if he was worthy, or an auto designer called by a firm in Detroit or Stuttgart to submit a “test” drawing for their new product for no pay.

This is Ms. Hoy’s answer to the problem, “I, myself, would never take a test to get a job. If we all refused to take these tests, this scam would stop. Legitimate companies hire writers and editors based on their clips, experience and references, not based on “tests.'”

So, we can stop applying for work that requires testing. However, I believe a writer/editor who was hungry for work (and just plain hungry) still would allow himself to be tested. With that in mind, I suggest that writers and editors follow these guidelines to at least eliminate a few phoney clients:

1. Check that the website where the job is posted is legitimate. (A good number are “Work from Home” sites that are either marketing another gimmick or are fledgling sites without firm editorial clients.)

2. Check that the company advertising is legitimate. (Although not all companies posting work are big publishing houses, in this day and age there probably is a webpage for the company.)

3. Decide whether payment is fair for the amount and type of work performed. (Don’t be a martyr because you need the work so desperately. Move on to the next prospective employer. Otherwise, you hurt only yourself and the profession.)

4. Find out if there is testing, and what it consists of. Some short proofreading and editing tests are a fair assessment of editing skills. I have administered them myself as a hiring editor, and taken a few. As Ms. Hoy points out, “Taking a standard test, where everyone takes the same test, is one thing. But, being asked to edit an actual chapter of a real book is quite another.”

5. If the testing involves writing or editing a whole article or book chapter, decide whether or not you are willing to perform such a task – for free.

6. If you are a brave soul, perhaps ask if the client is willing to provide a paid assignment on which to judge future work.

7. Ask the company if they will own the rights to the product created during your testing . If they demand all rights to your finished “test”, they can then publish your work or even resell it with no compensation to you. That’s a very bad sign.

Even with these guidelines, no marketing effort involving testing is foolproof. Ergo, my experience described here. However, I will try to be more discriminating in the future. As for my fellow freelancers, Happy Hunting!

Ingrid Schaefer Sprague, of Cleveland, Ohio, has been a freelance medical editor and writer since 1999. Her articles have been published in Surgical Neurology, Obesity Surgery, Contemporary Surgery for Residents, Dermatology Times, Cosmetic Surgery Times, and Insulin Free Times. Her clients include Medicus Communicus Taiwan, Ltd. and Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins. Prior full-time positions include contract medical writer for Eli Lilly and Company, Editor-in-Chief of Dermatology Times and Cosmetic Surgery Times, Medical Editor for Saint Luke’s Medical Center, Cleveland, OH, Medical Editor for Bahman Guyuron, MD, and staff stringer reporter for Solon Times and Chagrin Valley Times.