Would it be unheard of for an author to request a writing sample from an editor, so that they could gain a better understanding as to who they are, personally? I know you could reference other books they have edited (to see their editing style), but if you were concerned they might not be sensitive to the material and wanted a glimpse into their "artistic voice," would it be unreasonable to request something they had written (magazine article, short story, etc.)? On a similar note, what are the strangest requests you've known an author to make before they begin working with an editor?
I have to admit, this is the strangest request I’ve ever had from an author, and I’m not sure how you would go about doing this because, for one thing, by asking this question you are assuming that all editors write. The timing on this question is actually quite interesting, because just the other day I was having lunch with an editor and we were talking about a colleague who had left the business to become a writer. As part of the conversation we were talking about the incorrect assumption that a lot of writers make that all agents and editors are frustrated writers. This particular editor found that laughable since she said she had absolutely no desire to be a writer. What she really loved doing was editing.
The other assumption you’re making is that if the editor does write, the voice she writes in has anything to do with her editing, and I can’t imagine that’s the case. Good editors know and understand that each writer has her own unique voice, and falling in love with that voice was the first step to falling in love with the book. Editing does not involve or should not involve editing an author’s voice. Editing means helping the author create the best book possible by enhancing and building upon what’s already there.
I’m not sure there’s any way to really find out what an editor does to a book, especially since a good editor won’t leave a mark. Sure, you can read the books the editor has edited, but all that does is show the final product, and you can never be sure what exactly the editor did to make that happen. The best thing you can do is talk to other authors who have worked with the editor you’re talking about, but even then you’re getting personal opinions and experiences, and so much more plays into that than just editing.
Frankly, the only time I’ve ever had authors really debate one editor over the other is in an auction situation where all things are equal—the money is the same, etc. In that case we will have in-depth talks about my experiences as well as the experiences of other authors at the house as well as with the editor. I’ll also set up phone conversations between the author and the editor so the author can get a personal feeling from the editor about her vision for the author’s career and her book, because in all honesty, this is the best way to find out what an editor might do for you.
It’s very rare that an author has the opportunity to interview and choose the editor she’ll work with, and even if she does, editors quit and move jobs all the time. I can’t even begin to count the number of authors I have who have lost an editor and been reassigned someone new. This is one reason I stress finding the right agent so strongly. With the right agent you know you can choose the person you want and need on your team, and if editing is an issue or concern, then hopefully you’ve chosen an agent who can help you through that part of the process as well.