Interview with Historical Fiction Editor: Andrew Noakes from The History Quill
Updated: Aug 25
What inspired you to create The History Quill?
I had already been a specialist historical fiction editor for some time before starting The History Quill. I was starting to expand beyond editing alone, so The History Quill was an opportunity to create a platform that would house my editing work, group coaching, and other ventures under one roof.
What non-editing-related book are you currently reading?
I’m between books. I recently finished the historical thriller The King’s Spy by Andrew Swanston, which was fantastic, and I’m just about to start William Pitt the Younger: A Biography by William Hague. My wife and I recently visited Walmer Castle in Kent, where Pitt lived after he left office as prime minister of Britain in 1801, and I was inspired to learn more about the man who led Britain through the French Revolutionary Wars and part of the Napoleonic Wars, too.
What are your top three resources for historical fiction writers?
If you’re just getting started, my guide How to write historical fiction in 10 steps is a must-read, and I also recommend The History Quill’s novel outline template, which is specially designed to help historical fiction writers outline their stories. But my favourite resource is one I put together very recently, Top tips on writing historical fiction from 64 successful historical novelists. I contacted all of the authors directly and got their top tips; there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience in there.
Comparing The History Quill from when you started to now, what has been the main aspect that allowed you to expand your business?
Diversification. I started out as a content editor, and I still do a lot of content editing, but The History Quill now offers copy-editing, proofreading, group coaching, and bespoke work. There’s more in the pipeline, too!
What is your work day like?
I work from home, which I love. I usually start the day catching up on emails – I like a clean inbox – and then I often split the rest of it between my editing work and more business-related tasks like marketing, maintaining our website, admin, etc.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Work on your email list, and it was my wife, Audrey, who gave me that advice. When I first started editing, I didn’t immediately see the use of an email list, but she persuaded me to start one. I now have over 1500 subscribers, the vast majority of them historical fiction writers, which is obviously a great business asset. It’s also a fantastic way of keeping my ear to the ground – I often get emails back from people when I send out a blog post, and the dialogues I get into can be really useful and instructive.
What’s the most common rookie mistake when it comes to becoming a freelance editor?
Setting your prices too low. I think it happens more because of insecurity than because it’s a genuinely well thought out business strategy. You’re going to miss out on work from people who think – not unfairly – that low prices mean low quality. When you do get clients, you’ll have to jam so many of them into your schedule at the same time in order to make a living that you won’t be able give each client your best. I’ve worked very hard to set prices at The History Quill that are fair and allow us to give each client the high-quality service they deserve, while still being affordable for indie authors.
What has been your favourite editing experience?
I try not to play favourites, and honestly there’s usually something about every project I work on that I really love.
What has been the best marketing strategy for your editing services?
Aside from my email list, I think the biggest thing has been reaching out to others. Building the relationships that allow you to do things like guest post and get your content shared on social media is really important.
What advice would you give yourself from five years ago?
Do what you want to do rather than what you think you should be doing. If I had followed that advice five years ago, I probably would have established The History Quill quite a lot sooner than I did! I worked in politics and international affairs then. It had its moments, but I’m lucky now to be doing something I enjoy a whole lot more day-to-day.
When you just don’t feel like reading, what self-coaching gets you through a client’s manuscript?
That’s a great question. Reading to critique is very different from reading for pleasure. You can’t just sit back and relax – you always have to be analysing, taking notes, formulating a picture of what’s working and what isn’t. So, yes, it’s possible to get fatigued. I try to avoid that by making sure I split my day up and do things other than just editing. And I take short breaks between projects to make sure I’m refreshed.
Which is your favourite historical period to read?
I read all sorts, but early 19th century Europe is probably what I enjoy most of all, particularly the Napoleonic Wars era.
Andrew Noakes is the founder and executive editor of The History Quill, which aims to provide support to historical fiction writers at every stage of the writing process. A graduate of Cambridge University, where he studied history, he spent nearly a decade working in the world of politics and international affairs before happily giving it up to pursue his real passion: historical fiction.
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