Indie Spotlight is our monthly column on self-publishing. This month our regular columnist, Siobhan Daiko, who is herself an indie author, interviews her UK-based editor, John Hudspith, about his work.
As well as editing manuscripts, John also offers advice on such topics as overcoming writer’s block, creating an epic, and the eBook eruption - he is a one-man, one-stop service for indie authors wherever they live. Meanwhile, he too is an indie author. His first novel, Kimi's Secret won a highly coveted YouWriteOn book of the year award in 2013. The second novel in his Kimi series, Kimi’s Fear, is out now.
How did you start out as an editor?
A love for great storytelling combined with an eager willingness to stick my nose into other people’s writing brought me an addiction I couldn’t shake. Writers seemed to like what I had to say and before I knew it I was editing full manuscripts.
How many indie novels have you edited to date?
Over 180 novels / novellas edited to date. Oh, and hundreds of short stories.
Do you have a favourite genre for editing?
Favourite genres are many: supernatural, horror, suspense, humour, erotica, sci-fi, crime, and the just plain freaky or out there. And short stories; I do love helping to form the perfect short story.
Are there any common problems you see in work submitted to you?
The most common problem is fluff. That is, overwriting, straying from the story’s core conflict point and presenting the reader with fluff. This is the biggest fault. And I’m talking all writers, not just self-published ones. Story matters. Story is all. Set up great conflict from the off - the hook, the what-if, the problem your main character seeks to resolve - get that great and let the story / conflict unfold. Don’t go off on silly and boring tangents.
Do you think it’s important for an author to have a plot outline before they start writing a story?
Absolutely. I’ve been victim to losing the plot myself. Flying by the seat of your writerly pants rarely brings satisfactory results. The trick is simple: do some plotting. It doesn’t have to be a massive amount, but the minimum you should have, before you start any actual writing is:
A possible beginning / starting point
Some middle bits / pivotal plot points
One or more possible endings
The amount you add to this initial outline is up to you. We all work differently, and you should work the way that suits you best, but having those initial signposts in place will help keep the storytelling in good shape.
There are myriad unpolished indie publications on the internet, but also some fantastic writing. What are your thoughts on the prevalence of less skilful offerings?
Perception of the written word is largely subjective. One reader’s dross is another reader’s magic. But the real magic exists only for those in the know. As a smart young girl once told me: “You have to know the magic before you can see the magic.”
If an indie author is in the unhappy situation of getting a string of bad reviews, what do you suggest they should do?
It takes a while to develop a thick skin, but if the writing is important to you then you must learn to take a step back and consider your readers’ views. And then do something about it, such as joining a peer review group to help you improve your craft – or hiring an editor. Or ideally, do both.
What advice do you give your writers when they tell you they’re suffering from the dreaded writers block?
Talk. Whether it be to a friend or a fellow writer, simply mentioning the block, the struggle, can bring ideas flowing. What might be days or weeks of procrastination, if kept to oneself, can become almost instantly fixable just from batting ideas back and forth. A walk in the woods is another great fixer. Get in among the trees, suck in all that oxygen, and the muse will often wake up and throw gems at you. (Editor’s note: In Asia, a walk in the jungle is perhaps not always such a great idea, unless you stick strictly to well-trodden paths and take sensible safety precautions against snakes, getting lost, and so on. But the general point stands: seek refreshment in communing with nature.)
What do you enjoy most about your job? Is there anything you dislike about it?
There’s lots to love about my job. I get to read stories in every genre, every day. I get to work with writers, teaching them better ways as well as helping to hone their work. As for the dislikes, that might be the excessive amount of sitting; I have to push myself to get up and walk around every hour or so.
Any advice you’d like to give to a writer about to take the first step in indie publishing?
Spend a few years learning the craft, writing, reading, interacting via peer review, and make your work the best it can be before you consider self-publishing.
How should an indie author go about choosing an editor?
Pick three editors with good testimonials to their name and ask for a free sample edit, then go with the one you feel connects best with you and your work. If they don’t offer a free sample edit go with someone who does.