1. Adina, what inspired you to become a book editor? I knew for a long time I wanted to work in the publishing world; I’ve loved reading and writing from a young age. Once I learned that I didn’t want to turn my writing into a career, I looked to editing. I love helping authors with their books. I love that process of turning something messy but full of potential into something engaging and publish-worthy. Also, as an Orthodox Jew, I was really motivated to work with Jewish publishers to enhance Jewish literature.
2. You have edited dozens of books over just the last few years. Which ones stick out for you? Why? I’ll start with the second question to explain the first. And it comes down to this: my relationship with the author. The more I spoke with the author, engaged with them, brainstormed and problem-solved with them, the more connected I became to the book. And those are the ones that now stick out to me. Some I’m thinking of haven’t been published yet, but a couple that have areThe Pontcourt Murders by Phillip Wray and Even if I’m Not by Devorie Kreiman.
3. What approach do you take when you collaborate with an author? I always want it to be a conversation. I don’t want to slap editing onto a book, shove it at the author, and say, “Here, have fun!” That’s what a tech guy can do for a broken computer. That’s not what a good editor does for a book. If there are questions, ask. If there are concerns, share them. I myself ask a lot of questions as I leave comments on a manuscript and try to share some of my reactions as a first-time reader would. I want the author to feel like I care about their book. Honesty is also important to me in a working relationship. I’m all about mining the message, unearthing the gold in a book, and to do that, I can’t sugarcoat things. If something’s not working, I’ll tell you. If the message isn’t coming across clear, that needs to be addressed. But I’ll also provide suggestions on how to improve, and I’ll definitely note what is working.
4. What challenges do you routinely have to overcome when editing a book? Oh boy. Here we go!
1. The author refuses to accept an edit. (Sometimes this is
good; an author does know her book better than the editor. But sometimes I do
have to push back a little for the benefit of the reader.)
2. A large revision that makes things more complicated, not
clearer. (All part of the process, but it can get frustrating.)
3. Past tense vs. present tense issues. (Many writers struggle
4. Head-hopping. (See above.)
5. The dreaded cumulative vs. coordinating adjectives and hyphen madness. (This is my personal challenge that always makes me doubt whether I know what I’m doing!)
5. You majored in creative writing. How did you move from being a writer to an editor? I majored in English and creative writing, yes. There aren’t many editing-focused degrees out there. I had a writing internship in high school that taught me that I didn’t want to turn my writing into a career. It’s something personal and reflective to me, and bringing that into a pressurized environment and trying to make money off of it did not appeal to me in the slightest. In college I interned with the Baltimore Review, reading submissions and proofreading issues. It spoke to me a lot more and showed me I was on the right track, but I don’t think I fully viewed myself as an editor until I actually started editing books.
6. As a young white woman, is it hard to edit the voice of others who are different from you, such as older men or black writers? I wouldn’t use the word “hard.” I’d use the word “enlightening.” As an editor, I don’t bring my own voice into a book. I merely amplify the voice of the author. And how do I do that? By reading their work. By hearing them talk. By asking questions. So yes, as a young white woman, especially as a young white Orthodox Jewish woman, I’m coming from a very different place from some of the authors I’ve worked with. But all that means is I ask more questions and learn new things. It can even be helpful for those authors to have an editor from a different background if their audience is also of a different background who needs more explanation on things.
7. You worked as a poetry and fiction editor for the Baltimore Journal. How did that experience lead you to launching your own editing agency? I interned at the Baltimore Review in the summer of 2019, and I’ve stayed on as a volunteer editor since then, specifically reading the fiction and poetry submissions. It’s an amazing journal (we just released the winter issue!), and the lessons I’ve learned from it have definitely influenced my work as a book editor. I would read a submission, think it’s great, and then see the other editors’ comments and realize some key story elements were lacking. Or someone would voice a sensitivity issue I never would have thought of. So I had to learn, on the one hand, to trust myself and the decision I went with, but on the other hand to realize that I don’t always see everything. It’s a balance, and it’s something I bring into my editing: I voice a suggestion and am confident with it, but also leave it up to the author as the one who knows their book best. Reading thousands of submissions teaches you quickly what’s publish-worthy. It teaches you to recognize voice and writing technique. It teaches you what’s a good opening and what’s a good ending. All of that helps me as an editor today.
8. Language seems to be under threat by woke movements. Will they make obsolete the terms that we have used for decades and centuries? This is hard. Censoring is dangerous. Hate speech is also dangerous. I don’t know what will happen, and there’s no easy answer when it comes to these things. I come from a culture where words have power and our mouths are gifts from G-d, to be used for good and not for harm. We use language to communicate, right? So I think that when language is stunted to the point that we can’t communicate, there’s a problem. But if certain terms are actually preventing positive communication, that’s also something to think about.
9. Just because you can rewrite an author’s work to make it better, should you? At one point does it move from being the writer’s book to your book? If I’m rewriting whole paragraphs, I’m no longer editing. I’m ghostwriting or cowriting. Even if the author gave me permission to do that, it’s no longer called editing. There are perfectly valid services where the author will ask a professional to fill in a scene or take bulleted notes and turn them into a chapter. But again, that’s not editing. There may be cases where I’ll provide suggestions throughout a scene so that the author better understands a comment I left. Or if we have a good working relationship, I’ll write a suggestion in-text as opposed to in a comment. But I won’t go, “Oh, this isn’t working,” and just rewrite the whole thing.
And it can be really, really difficult to hold back from rewriting that scene if I know I can do it more quickly and efficiently than the author. But that is not my job, and I’d be crossing a hard line if I did so. So instead, I’ll leave a comment explaining why the scene isn’t working and asking them to revise. And if it’s not perfect, that’s okay. This is meant to be their book, not mine.
Before I started book editing, I spoke with a lot of editors to get advice. Editor and ghostwriter Sara Miriam Gross asked me, “Are you editing because you failed at writing or because you actually want to edit?” Her point was this: If you’re trying to live vicariously through your authors, you’ll fail at editing as well. Because your job is to help them edit their book, not yours.
And even though I became an editor because I actually want to edit, whenever I feel that itch to full-out rewrite, I know it’s time to write something of my own to get that feeling out and make sure I don’t cross any lines.
About Adina Edelman: Adina is a book editor based in Baltimore, MD. Her business, EdelmanEdits, helps authors and small publishing companies mine their message, unearthing the gold in every story—not just the grammar issues. Adina works with Israel Bookshop, Circle Publishing, Mosaica Press, Menucha Publishers, and more. You can find out more about her editing services at edelmanedits.com and connect with her on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/adinaedelman.
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