Let’s start with you – how did you become an editor?
Many years ago I got involved with two peer review sites and became addicted to critiquing the work of others. I found the review process: dissecting, analysing and being forced to explain my analysis with intelligible written words, both illuminating and strangely satisfying. So much can be learned about the writing craft by practising the objective review process, by writing it down. My reviews were well-received, one writer asked if I could apply the same to the whole novel and there was my first client. Word of mouth brought more writers my way and within a year I was a full-time freelancer.
What kind of editing do you do?
Some might describe what I do as `heavy` editing. But see, that depends on the level of understanding of the craft the individual writer is at; some needing more help than others. `Help` being the key word here, because when you employ an editor, you must realise he is not a machine or robot programmed to exactness and thereby guaranteeing perfection with your work. No, your editor is a hired help, a fellow of the craft, a writer himself, and what you are in fact doing by employing this chap or chappess is handing a fellow artist a chisel and inviting him to give you a hand. And that is exactly what I do; examine structure, pace, characterisation, dialogue, mood, tone, props, production values and camera angles and give a hand with getting these things into shape – ensuring all the while that the writer’s voice/style receives the most important enhancement of all and that `story` works.
How do you approach working with a client on a manuscript?
I ask for three chapters, synopsis, what the inspiration is for the work and a little information about the writer. I read the chapters, study the synopsis, then provide an appraisal along with the first chapter edited and a quotation for completing the work. There is no charge for the appraisal and sample edits. Before any writer engages with me I want them to see what I can bring to their work. Before parting with your hard-earned, always ask for a free sample and ensure the editor engages with your work, your voice, and can bring something delicious to your table. If your editor doesn’t make you drool, find one that does.
How would you describe a successful author/editor relationship?
A successful editor will be aware of the conventions and reader perceptions of every genre in which he works. A successful editor, with in-depth knowledge of the craft, will teach his writer these things of reader perceptions and camera angles and voice and the nuance of words. To edit the work of another and watch them learn as the process moves along is to watch a writer evolve and I’m privileged to have experienced this many times upon reading the work of returning writers and finding they have taken on board all I said about narrative POV values and mood creators, and their word choice is now so picky I could cry. And so it goes on. A successful author/editor relationship is one of passionate teacher and hungry pupil.
How does the situation differ when you’re editing non-fiction?
Non-fiction covers only a small area of my work; author bios, CVs, web pages, that kind of thing. However, I was recently approached by a woman who had written a memoir, secured an agent, but had had no bites. The writer felt sure she had a book worth reading and asked if I could take a look. This was a challenge; the subject matter was harrowing and real: coping with the death of a child. Geves Lafosse and her family had lost Juliette to leukaemia at the age of five. Could I do this writer, this mother, this family, and most of all Juliette – justice? I investigated with trepidation, applying the elements of good storytelling which meant considering restructuring, de-fluffing, and looking closely at word choice and I discovered that `story` could be enhanced without changing the reality of it. Structural changes, de-fluffing, word choice, camera angles, all went to improving reader’s experience.
Look out for `Watching Petals Fall` by Geves Lafosse. A beautiful memoir.
What kind of genres do you prefer to work on?
Something excites me in reading any genre and that is the author’s mark; the heart of his voice; his tricks and trademarks, those natural in-built mechanisms employed subconsciously as writer’s slit wrists soak his soul into the page. It is this that makes each writer, and so it matters not genre but voice. However, I’d never say no to a dirty weekend in a haunted house.
I’m intrigued to know how you get into the writer’s voice, how you know what kind of words might work, what sort of sentence rhythm will fit and how you know it will still sound like the author, not the editor.
A writer’s voice is the storytelling voice. I imagine I’m sitting across from my writer, staring over the campfire flames, listening to story being voiced out loud, and watching every inflection. Those nuances I mentioned earlier; how the writer subconsciously employs the various tricks, connectors, scene-setting techniques, tension pulls – those are the roads to unique voice and rhythm – writer’s DNA.
Robert Gottlieb says the editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one. Do you agree?
Invisible in that writer’s style/voice remains intact, yes.
In the age of independent publishing and authors doing it for themselves, does the future look rosy for editors such as yourself?
If you mean busy – yes. However, as in any trade, there are cowboys. Be sure to ask for that free analysis/sample and that your prospective editor connects with you and your work before scooting off to Paypal.
Writers often agonise over blurbs and synopses. Would you be the kind of person who could help a writer distil the essence of a story?
Distilling a five page synopsis to a one page synopsis is a favourite undertaking; almost akin to editing a short, or stripping back flash fiction for word count. I adore the process of peeling away the unnecessary and leaving the necessary. And the same goes for blurbs; knowing how to punch with minimum effort, how to grab with words, while understanding reader’s perception requirements; this is the key to successful brevity.
What do you write?
I’ve published two books in the Kimi series so far; paranormal sci-fantasy with aliens and crows. I’ve tried my hand at many short stories which I’m publishing as an anthology, and the WIP is an adult fantasy horror.
John’s editing services: http://www.johnhudspith.co.uk/
Kimi’s blog and books: http://kimissecret.wordpress.com/about/