Sunday, September 1, 2013

Inside the Industry: Author, Freelance Editor, and Editor of Mathematics

Sunday, September 1, 2013
A look at the book business by the people who know it best.
Dahlia Adler wears a lot of hats. Not only is she the author of the upcoming YA novel Behind the Scenes, but she is also an Assistant Editor of Mathematics, a freelance copy editor with Spencer Hill Press and Ellora's Cave, and a blogger at The Daily Dahlia to boot. On top of all that, she's one of the friendliest people in the bookish community and it's because of her that I was able to interview literary agent Emily Keyes and Bloomsbury digital editor Meredith Rich (though the latter interview is coming soon!). So thank you, Dahlia! 

As an editor:

Describe a typical day as an Editor of Mathematics. What does your job entail?
My job actually looks like a lot like any editor's job, minus the editing. That is to say, I don't actually work on the main content of books - those are peer-reviewed - but I do all things related to its publication, from preparing contracts to prepping manuscripts for production, to proofreading front matter, to writing the back cover copy.... Of course, there's always a lot of author handholding, schedule chasing... all the fun stuff! I also deal with about ten mathematics journals, which is a whole other thing, and attend math conferences, so I can meet new potential authors.

What do you have to do in order to be a Copy Editor?
I first studied copy editing back when I was a Journalism major in college, and then I got an internship at Simon & Schuster at which I learned a ton, so that's my educational background. In order to get actual jobs, you have to take a test, which generally means doing a sample copy edit on a few pages or even a novella that may have intentional mistakes in it. 

There are four things I'd say are really important to being a Copy Editor:

1. You must actually know spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
2. You must know how to copy edit on paper, whether that's using marks on a printed manuscript, or using Track Changes in Microsoft Word.
3. You must be familiar with and have access to the correct style guide, which for books is generally the Chicago Manual of Style.
4. You must be able to refrain from making changes that affect the author's voice. This last one is probably the hardest, and I think it's something a lot of us don't get right in the very beginning. I think that as an author myself, I probably find it especially challenging.

You describe yourself in your bio as a Freelance Copy Editor with Spencer Hill Contemporary and Ellora's Cave. Does this mean you can also work with other publishers?
In theory, but I don't have the time :) I actually chose to go for the Copy Editing position at Ellora's Cave rather than a Content Editor position for exactly this reason. Publishers often have Conflict of Interest clauses in their employment contracts, and at the time I was applying to EC, I was copy editing for another publisher, called Dreamspinner Press, that I wasn't prepared to leave. Since there's direct competition there, a Content Editor position wasn't an option, but a Copy Editor position didn't have the same COI clause.

What advice would you give to an aspiring Editor of Mathematics or Copy Editor?
Author sensitivity is paramount. If you can't help authors with their concerns, publish their works without changing their voices, help make their work the best it can be without stepping on toes, you're going to find it very difficult to last in either position. Imagine it's your book, and do the kind of work for it you'd like to be done for you. I recently made an error in a cover of a math book, and I had to do alot of begging to get it taken care of, but I did. Because it's a cover, and it's important, and it should be perfect, just like I'd want mine to be.

What’s your favorite thing about your jobs? Your least favorite?
I love being a part of making books happen. Anything I do that makes a substantial difference to the final product feels great, even if it's just finding a typo. As for my least favorite? I'd say that's probably when I have to slog through something that's not really in my area of interest. Sometimes, that's an area of math that in no way applies to my life. Sometimes, it's werewolves. 

Just for fun question: Funniest thing to ever happen to you during work?
Most of the funny things at both jobs have to do with words I probably shouldn't say on this blog ;-) The one I can most safely share was probably the really confusing and initially off-putting discovery that several of my bosses use "FU" as an abbreviation for "follow-up." I really wish they'd told me that before putting it in emails.

As a writer:

Describe a typical day as a writer.
Between my fulltime job and my freelance work, a lot of my writing gets done in my head. I might put bits down on pieces of paper or in the Evernote app on my phone, or I might just write entire scenes in my head during my walk to the subway. Actual writing for me is what happens when I've hit my copyediting quota for the night, usually, but if I'm not feeling it, I don't force it. I'm in the mood often enough that I don't have to go nuts on nights it's not happening; I'll just copyedit more instead. A good night for me is somewhere between 1-3K. I write until 12-1 a.m., usually. Hopefully closer to 12! 

This next question comes in two parts.
            One: How do you balance editing and writing?
Editing has to take priority, since I'm on deadline and accountable to other people in a way that I'm not with writing right now. In order to balance, I really try to split my editing up, so it's something I do nightly, but in chunks of 20-30 pages at a time, which generally leaves some time for writing as well. 
            Two: And how does your editing job help your writing?
I think just reading that much inspires me a ton. I see what works for me and what doesn't in so many manuscripts, and I get to see great examples of romance and chemistry and writing styles. And, of course, it keeps me up on my grammar! 

What do you hope readers take away from Behind the Scenes?
I hope they find it to be a fun, fast read, but also find some added layers in there. The thing about "fluff" is that it never really is just fluff; there's always something. Characters are people, and people have their struggles, even when they're having fun, even when they're dating celebrities. Ally's living a dream, but she's also living a couple of different nightmares, and I hope people see that, and understand that I wrote her to be flawed, and confused, and perpetually learning through these experiences. Often I see people dismiss characters who make choices they don't understand or agree with, but I really hope people see that Ally's choices are part of her growing up, and the ones she'd make in BtS aren't necessarily the ones she'd make even a month after the book ends.

Did you take any creative writing classes in college?
I did! I was actually a creative writing minor, but, thanks to a couple of annoying scheduling flaws, I actually did the Poetry track as opposed to Fiction. It was fun, but definitely not where any writing talent I may have lies! 

Just for fun question: In Behind the Scenes, Ally dreams of studying abroad in Paris. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
The truth is, I absolutely love living in NYC, so it's really hard for me to think of picking up and moving elsewhere! If I had to divide my time between NYC and somewhere else, I'd probably pick Jerusalem - it's the only city out of the Northeast US I've ever lived in, my Hebrew is decent enough to get by, and it's the only other place I can imagine ever really feeling like home. If I was going with somewhere else in the US, it'd probably be Charleston, SC - that's my husband's and my "If we ever move out of New York" city. It's just so warm and lovely, and I'm pretty sure I could be forever happy sitting on one of those huge, awesome porches with a laptop!

Want to find out more? Check out Dahlia's Blog, Twitter, and Facebook!
If you work in the book business and would like to be featured, send an email to with the subject line “Inside the Industry.” I would love to hear from you!


  1. Loved the interview! 'Behind the Scenes' sounds interesting, and I really liked hearing about copy editing; I think it's interesting that you have to be mindful of making changes that would affect the author's voice!

    Alice @ Alice in Readerland

    1. Yeah, it sounds like a job in which you have to be very careful! Behind the Scenes does sound great!

  2. This was a very interesting interview. Thanks for posting it!

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