Ten tips on how to turn a writer into a friend, not a foe

During the last seven years of my career, I have not only sharpened my skills as an editor, but I (believe that) I have become a more sensitive human being. 

I have worked with so many authors of different types and stripes that I have come to the realization that as much as it is my job to perfect and polish the text, it is equally my role to hold the writer’s hand, so to speak, and guide him or her through the editing process. 

Writing a book is no mean feat, and revealing your writing – which often, directly or indirectly, exposes your innermost thoughts – to an anonymous editor who is itching to roll up his or her sleeves and take out the unforgiving red pen can be an extremely intimidating prospect.

On that note, implement the following pieces of advice, and you, too, will have your web page filled with glowing testimonials will achieve a harmonious working relationship with your client.

Are you ready?

 1. Meet the writer first. Ideally, you should try to meet your client before you begin the writing process. Nowadays email is the standard means of communication, but it is crucial that you start off on a more personal note. Your client will be entrusting his or her “baby” into your hands, so it is advisable that you meet face-to-face in order to build a rapport. While emails are useful and efficient, they can often be misinterpreted, and it is hard to “read” warmth from impersonal messages. If it is an impossibility for you to meet the writer, pick up the phone.

2. Be friendly. When you write emails to your clients, always try to start off on a light and friendly note. Here is a sample of such an email:

Dear Henry,

I hope you are well.

 I read through the first two chapters, and I have the following comments. Please see the attached document. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask.

Best regards,


3. Explain the process. Do not enter a project with the expectation that the writer is familiar with the editing process. Often writers have never worked with editors before, and are not familiar with Word and track changes. Before you begin editing, send the writer an email explaining to him or her (in a bulleted list) the process of editing, and ALWAYS stress at the end of such an email that if anything is unclear, he or she should not hesitate to ask you any questions. 

When working with a writer, your aim should not only be to dazzle him or her with your brilliance, but also to put him or her at ease. Presuming knowledge from clients is a big no-no, and can often end in tears. If you have a preferred method of working, such as always making a point of renaming drafts, make sure that you tell your client from word go about your preference.

4. Be positive. OK, you have read through the manuscript, and it is going to take a great deal of work and many mugs of coffee to get you through this project. Do not project frustration into your emails. You should adopt the attitude that this project is going to improve your editing skills, and will result in you becoming a sharper editor. When you write an email to the writer with your general comments, try to start the email on a positive note. (There has to be SOMETHING positive you can write about the manuscript, and writers really appreciate any positive feedback you can give them.)  

Even if you believe that the manuscript is in an appalling state, starting off your email with a message similar to the one below is only going to alienate the writer and put him or her on the defensive:

Hi John,

I have just finished reading the first five chapters. I am sorry to say that they are incomprehensible and poorly written. Much work is needed to make these chapters publishable.


No good. Try the following tactic:

Hi John,

I have just finished reading the first five chapters, and am attaching my general comments to this email. From what I have read so far, I believe that the book has a great deal of potential. I have outlined in my comments those issues that I feel need particular attention. Please let me know if you have any questions.

I am very much looking forward to working with you on this project.



5. Consolidate your comments. If you have multiple comments about the work, it is better for you to write them up in a Word document, and attach them to the email. It is tedious for your client to scroll through an email with fifty points. An added advantage of such a method is that you have your saved file for your records. Emails can get lost.

6. Be clear. If you are inserting comments into the Word file, make sure to phrase your question or comment clearly, and write in full sentences. Don’t fall into the trap of writing short comments that resemble text messages. It looks sloppy.

7. Be humble. The following point cannot be reiterated enough. Always make sure to stress to your client that your editing suggestions are exactly that, suggestions, and that ultimately any major editorial decisions are in the writer’s hands. It is counter-productive to present your argument as an indisputable fact. I find that when I have given the writer the option of rejecting my comments, most times he or she will be more amenable to my suggestions.

8. Be organized. If you are working with a writer who is disorganized and sends you vague emails with vague responses to your questions, it is very important that you formulate your emails in such a way that he or she will be forced to answer your specific points. Number each of your points in a bulleted list, and end the point with a direct question that clearly requires a direct answer.

If the lines of communication seem to be broken, make a point of ending your emails with the following request:

“Please acknowledge that you have received this email.”

9. Keep a list. Keep LOTS of lists. Always keep a running list of the issues that you discuss in your email correspondence with your client. Often interesting ideas will be suggested but sadly forgotten in the midst of more pressing issues, so it is extremely useful to have this list handy.

10. Be humble. Yes, I’m repeating myself. Being an editor requires humility. You are not competing against the writer, you are helping him or her. You are in effect finessing someone else’s work for which you will not receive any credit (aside from a few complimentary words in the Acknowledgments, if you are lucky). If you cannot derive satisfaction from the fact that you have helped steer the writer towards an excellent final product, then you are in the wrong profession.   

From the mouths of babes

When Eliana, my three-year-old, returns from gan each day, she is always showing off a new look. Yesterday, she came home with her hair braided, and I was amazed that Eliana let her ganenet (kindergarten teacher) braid her hair, because at home she cannot stand still for two seconds before jumping up and down and remarking on some earth-shattering event – “Look, Mummy, Tzofi has taken out your wallet and is about to eat your money,” or squeals like, “Aval [Hebrew for “but” – my daughter has yet to say one complete sentence that is either totally Hebrew or totally English. Ah, the joys of raising a bilingual child] Muuu-mmy, I don’t want a braid, I want kemo [Hebrew for “like”] you have – I want to wear a bandana.”

We remarked to Eliana how beautiful her braid was, and asked her who did it for her. She smiled coyly and answered “Sivan,” her ganenet. Her smile said it all. I am an angel in gan – butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth – but at home, don’t mess with me or my hair. It suddenly occurred to Josh and I that we didn’t know the word for “braid” in Hebrew, so we turned to our little angel in the back of the car, and without missing a beat, she enriched our Hebrew vocabulary and told us that “braid” is “tzama”(I think that’s what she said). It is the wackiest feeling in the world when your three-year-old is more of an Israeli than you can ever hope to be, and even though I studied Modern Hebrew in school, am familiar with Hebrew literature and poetry (I still remember quotes from Bialik and Agnon that I memorized for my Modern Hebrew A’ Level), she is teaching ME how to say words. I love it. My daughter, the Israeli. 

God is a Mob Boss

Posted by The Husband

If anyone is reading this blog then let me warn you that the following post will be heretical, heathenly, and hopefully, hilarious.

This weekend on shabbat, I was pondering the parashat hashavua and I decided that God has a lot in common with Tony Soprano. This (past) week’s parasha was parashat Ki Tisa. In that portion of the Torah, there are a few passages that relate how God will punish the Nation of Israel if they do not follow His Law. Concurrently, though not on shabbat, I was reviewing the last season of The Sopranos in preparation for The Last season of The Sopranos which will return to television (and my computer) around the middle of April. For anyone unfamiliar with The Sopranos, the show is about a mob boss named Tony Soprano and his relationship with his family, therapist, and crew.

In the last episode that I watched, there was a side story about how one of Tony’s front companies, Barone Sanitation, was being sold by the son of the owner. The owner had killed himself thereby passing on the business to his son. The son was never informed of his father’s connection with organized crime and only wanted to sell the business for his mother. The part of the story that is germaine to this particular discussion is that the son gets involved in the shady business side of his father’s business and ends up getting threatened, beaten, and then shaken down by one of Tony’s own captains. Of course, at the same time, Tony is assuring the kid’s mother that “nothing is going to happen to him, I swear.”

So how is God like Tony Soprano? I’m glad you asked.

Go back a few thousand years. God does a favor for the Nation of Israel. They are slaves in Egypt and pretty miserable and God offers them a way out. “I’ll take care of the Egyptians,” says God, “and I will make a nation of you.” Pretty good offer. “All you have to do,” God says, putting His (figurative) arm around the pathetic slaves, “is promise to worship me and obey my laws.”

Now the slaves, who probably were ready to do anything about that time, say, sure, what the hell, we’ll obey, we’ll listen, just get us the hell out of here. So God does. He sends a couple of His goons to break a few kneecaps, smash a few windows, and smite some firstborn sons. Israel rejoices and runs like hell to get out of Dodge. God sends one of his captains, Moses, to lead the newly freed slaves to the mountain of Sinai where God explains his business plan. Along the way, God gives the nation some seed money, in the form of manna, and helps them with some pesky legal troubles by splitting the Red Sea and drowning the opposing council.

God business plan is simple. “Here’s My rules. 10 basic rules and 603 more to come. Follow the rules, do what I ask, and I’ll protect you and make you prosperous. If you have a problem, don’t take it to any other god. Don’t go outside the family. Take it to me. I will take care of it. At some point in the future, I might ask you to do Me a favor. There’s this nasty other family called the Amalekites who are trying to bust in on My action and I may need you to clean up that mess. Don’t go to the cops, they won’t help you. Other nations won’t listen to you and will turn their hearts and hand against you. But I am your God. I will help you. I will make it alright. Of course, if you should happen to go against my wishes, I will smite you and your children and your children’s children until you come back to Me and beg My forgiveness. But don’t worry, I’m sure you are smart enough to do the Right thing.”

So here we are, the children of the Nation of Israel who made a deal with God to protect and deliver them. God doesn’t really talk to us anymore, but we’re still obligated to Him. He hasn’t done much in the protection racket lately, although occasionally He steps in and stops us from being totally annihilated. But we’re still paying our dues and paying for the deal that our forebears made with God. And, according to the terms of the deal, if we don’t kick up to the Big Boss, we are gonna wish we were never born.

The previous comments do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of Double Take. Thank you for your understanding.

Watch this space

In my absence (if I don’t meet my deadlines this week, it will be cornflakes and pasta on the menu for a long time to come), my better half will be delighting you with his wit and banter.

For the record, I take no responsibility for his spelling, punctuation, or grammar. (You can’t have everything in life.)

A cheery post-Purim post (not) – attitudes towards death

My husband’s cousin is a psychologist, so when he came to us with his wife and children one weekend, I thought to myself, who better to talk to about this issue that had been preying on my mind.

A long time ago, I came across a website that provided fascinating information about longevity, and it stirred up a hornet’s nest of emotions inside me – anger, confusion, and frustration – and I wanted to use my cousin as a sounding board. (I know what you’re thinking – what a thrilling weekend it must have been for him – but the truth is that when you talk to most people about death, they will either: a) if they’re English, change the subject and talk about the weather; b) clam up completely; or c) chuckle nervously and look for the nearest exit out of the room. I figured that since my cousin deals with psychotic patients on a daily basis, my rambling thoughts shouldn’t give him too much cause for concern.)

Most people consider aging, and consequently death, to be an inevitable part of life, and therefore are of the opinion that you should live your life to the fullest and not spend too much time worrying about something that you cannot change.  My cousin pretty much corroborated the approach voiced by many about the inevitability of aging, and said that denial is what keeps you sane, and that dwelling on death – or even on how to prolong your life – is unhealthy.

Be that as it may (sanity is over-rated anyway), I have problems  swallowing that attitude, and I will tell you why. In days of old, when there was no medical intervention, and people dropped like flies from a multitude of illnesses, it was understandable that people’s expectations for their lifespans were very low. But I don’t believe that in this day and age, when we have at our fingertips a wealth of medical information based on extensive scientific research, which is only growing day by day, we can take refuge in that excuse any longer. Furthermore,  it is denial that is holding us back from improving the quality of our lives, and extending the length of our lives.

When you are a teenager, you believe that you are invincible and that death strikes everyone but you, and when you do finally reach a time in your life – normally when you are confronted with your own mortality as you watch your parents age – that the big “D” word comes into focus, you enter a state of denial just so that your sanity can remain intact. No one knows what can happen from one day to the next – any one of us could drop dead at any second (cheery thought, I know) – and you cannot spend and waste your life obsessing about the “what-if’s”, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be pro-active about prolonging your life to the best of your ability, and it was the longevity website that fuelled this strong belief.

Anyway, I recommend checking out the longevity website if for no other reason than it can give you hope for the possibilities that exist to prevent the causes of degenerative aging. I end this post with a quote from their website that struck a chord in me:

There are many people in the world who want you and everyone you know to suffer and die on their schedule, far sooner than you might. There are people in the world who would suppress all medical research for increased longevity – exactly the sort of research that has increased the healthy life expectancy of the old over the fifty years, and will accelerate this trend going forward. If everyday folk like you and I go along with these deathists in silence, if we do not loudly point the nature of the Emperor’s clothes, then we will get what we deserve – suffering and death for failing to stand up for ourselves, failing to support longevity research, and failing to build a better future for all.

Goodnight moon – total lunar eclipse on Purim

You will have to excuse me if this post lacks coherency. It is 1 am, and I have just come in from the garden where my husband and I were sitting with a shot of whiskey and binoculars, as we witnessed a total lunar eclipse. It was the most strikingly beautiful sight in the world. Just now the earth’s shadow covered the moon, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting time for this to occur than on Purim night when G-d’s face was concealed. This world is filled with so many miracles and wonders if you only look for them.

Goodnight and Happy Purim.

Toddlers posing as stuffed animals

Warning: the rant you are about to read has nothing to do with editing, books, or any observations on the world.

I am blessed to be the mother of two gorgeous little girls, Eliana who is three years old (right) and Tzofia who is 18 months (left).

Kids eating frosting

Both girls attend gan (daycare), and today being their last day in gan before Purim, the children were supposed to come dressed up in costumes. (If you want to find out about the origin of the custom to dress up on Purim, check this out and scroll down to the title, Masquerading.)

My oldest, Eliana, is a princess through and through, so it didn’t require much effort on our part to fulfill her dream of dressing up as a princess. Luckily, she fit into last year’s princess dress, and thankfully she had no recollection of the fact that she wore this outfit last year. All is calm chez the Weinsteins.

Now we turn to our little one, Tzofia, who is just a year and a half and as well as recovering from a stomach bug is teething terribly at the moment. Now that we are older and wiser(?) as parents, and realize that Purim has absolutely no significance or meaning to an eighteen-month-old toddler, we figured we’d save her the discomfort and annoyance of dressing her up in an uncomfortable outfit – especially since she has no comprehension of what is going on. (She’s an extremely bright kid, but I am not going to subject her to wearing a Purim costume until she is able to say, “Purim” and actually be conscious that her friends are wearing Purim costumes.)

When my husband dropped her off at her gan this morning, he was accosted by the sight of twenty toddlers posing as stuffed animals in ridiculous heavy outfits. Tzofia was conspicuously human in her sweat pants and sweater. Josh came out of gan, got back in the car, and said, “I hate it when people make me feel like I am a bad father.” Apparently, one of the women at the gan (who, by the way, has no children of her own – I’d like to see her force a teething baby into one of those heavy things) was horrified that Tzofia didn’t come to gan dressed up. “You have to dress her up,” “What – you didn’t even bring the costume with you???”

Now, I ask you, for whose benefit is dressing up a child of that age? Trust me, the kids are not getting a kick out of it – if they were old enough to actually speak, they would be saying, “Save me! Take off this ridiculous outfit so I can actually breathe!” The kids are being dressed up for the parents’ amusement and so they can pose in the group picture.

It is a scary thought that even at this extremely young age, when my daughter is still in diapers, that they are trying to make the children conform. I say, it won’t be long before my kids are doing all sorts of bizarre things out of peer pressure, so why not try to enjoy these few years of blissful innocence?

Writing on the wall – Jewish school targeted in Germany

I have never been able to understand how, after the atrocities of the Holocaust, any Jew is capable of living in Germany; yet the figures show that the Jewish presence in this country is formidable – over 200,000 Jews have made Germany their home, making it one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe.

 A few days ago, a smoke bomb was thrown through the window of a Jewish kindergarten in Berlin. The thought of what could have happened if the smoke bomb had successfully been ignited sends shivers down my spine. Thankfully, no one was physically hurt, but the anti-Semitic imprint was left on this kindergarten after its walls were spray-painted with swastikas, anti-Semitic symbols, and Nazi slogans.  This was the first time that a Jewish school in Germany has been the target of anti-Semitism; unfortunately, I don’t envisage that it will be the last.

 In today’s world of senseless terrorism and hatred, where Jews are so often the target, people are scared to be direct in their obsession with being politically correct. “You can’t generalize, not all Arabs are suicide bombers,” “the Germans have learned their lesson – you cannot blame them for the sins of a previous generation,” but these words ring hollow in my ears.

In this day and age, when it is unsafe to go on a bus in Israel, let alone fly, should I feel guilty about mistrusting each and every Arab I encounter? I definitely feel sadness about the reality of our world, but certainly not guilt. In my mind, I am responsible for keeping my children safe, and if that means that I won’t let an Arab step foot into my home to do repair work, out of fear that he will stab me in the back, then so be it. The Arabs who built our apartment in Israel filled our pipes with stones; an Arab who my uncle hired to do odd jobs around his house, and trusted him implicitly, turned out to be an accomplice in a suicide bombing. The man who took money from my uncle and smiled at him deferentially each day was the same man who transported a suicide bomber to his final destination.

Yes, there are countless Arabs out there who are decent and who only want to live in peace, and yes, there are Germans who are shamefaced and are genuinely sorry for the unspeakable acts of cruelty that took place in Nazi Germany, but until Israel and Jewish communities in the Diaspora stand firm in their fight against anti-Semitism, generalizations and protective measures are the only defense mechanism we have at our disposal.

Beware of Italian teachers with scissors

If you have yet to eat your breakfast, dinner, or lunch, do NOT read on. Save this for a moment when your digestion is sturdier.

A teacher in Milan was suspended for cutting off her seven-year-old student’s tongue with a pair of scissors because he was “lively”. No, folks, this isn’t a Purim joke, you can read more about it here. The understated tone of the article makes it sound as if cutting off a child’s tongue is commonplace and happens almost every day. (I shouldn’t joke, it probably does.)

The child is apparently scared to go back to school (no kidding, Einstein) and now has a fear of knives. The 22-year-old teacher, who warned the child, “Pull out your tongue. I’ll cut it, and you’ll no longer talk,” has since apologized and claims it was an accident. An accident?

It’s a crazy, crazy world we live in. Reading articles like these makes me want to break into my daughters’ daycare in the middle of the night, and install webcams EVERYWHERE. I do fully trust the women who take care of my daughters, but then I say to myself, I bet parents who sat down with this female teacher in Milan for parent-teacher evenings would never have guessed that she is the tongue-cutting type.