Putting Myself on the Line

jewish.professors.political.punditryAs a book editor, my work had always been behind the scenes. When Ron Rubin (an author I had previously edited for “behind the scenes”) asked me to come out from behind and have my name appear on the cover of an anthology of his works, I never considered the possibility I might wind up putting myself on the line.

As I understood it, my role as anthologist would be to cull through the anthologized’s published materials, decide which pieces fit the anthology’s theme, create “abridged” versions for some of the tangential works, organize the material in a sensible pattern, and write a preface and filler blurbs to provide a biographical background and help the reader move through the book.

All went as expected, the manuscript was submitted, and then …

Surprise!

A reviewer for the publisher’s acquisitions department gave the book a “thumbs up” but suggested adding a bridge between the last of Rubin’s published commentaries and the book’s production. Syracuse University Press’s editorial committee agreed, I discussed the idea of a “Postscript” with Dr. Rubin, and he informed me he would gladly help me write it.

Now it’s true I’ve been involved with three books written by political science professors—two of them on historical subjects and the third a more contemporary topic—but political science and history are just not my bailiwick. The research for those books was all done by the authors before I ever saw the manuscripts, and any fact-checking was done by the publishers’ editorial teams. My bachelor’s degree in math, computer science and secondary education did not require much research … what little it did require was done more than forty years ago … and the only research I did as founding editor of an IT trade association’s magazine more than 20 years ago (when I was also the association’s Executive Director) involved brainstorming with the president to figure out what topics would interest our members and industry and which of our vendors, members and technical staff to approach to write the articles.

My bailiwick is the re-organization and re-writing of sentences, paragraphs and chapters originally written by others. I’ve taken a 600-page manuscript and without removing any content condensed it into the “maximum 400-pages” manuscript that publisher wanted by simply rearranging and rewording the material. I’ve printed out a 365-page manuscript in order to cut it up into sections—some as small as one sentence—so I could put the pieces together in a way that would grab the readers’ attention and keep them interested through to the end.

What writing I’ve done personally has been mostly for promotional, marketing or fundraising purposes; the few published articles I’ve written were based on personal experiences; and if I were to write a book myself, it would almost definitely be fiction, probably of the fantasy or mystery genre.

So the task of writing the Postscript to an anthology filled with fifty years of political commentary was daunting, to say the least.

Thank G-d for the internet … for the enormous amount of pro-Israel, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic “junk email” that came into my Outlook as then-administrator of a high-profile Jewish organization and gave me a good feel for the current atmosphere … for the emphasis the organization placed on critical thinking … and for Ron Rubin’s help. It was actually fun Yahoo!ing and Googling and sorting through the legit news sources and junk; linking to, reading, evaluating and quoting material from congressional and White House reports; delving into Knesset and IDF websites; and more. Once I finished writing the Postscript—“The Obama Years: On Whom Can We Rely?”—I realized I had enjoyed the accomplishment, but it was still quite nerve-racking to realize my personal political leanings, such as they are, would be in print for others to question, challenge or praise.

And then came the cuts! Both Ron and the publisher liked the piece, but what I considered one of my two most well-researched and creatively presented sections was taken out by the publisher completely. After a lot of explanation on their part, I sort of understand their concerns, but I think much of what they left in has an even greater potential to create a stir than what they took out. Sometimes it scares me to think about the exposure—I even thought about writing with a pseudonym—but for the good of the book…

I put myself on the line.

And now it’s on to the next project…

The Visiting Scribes series was produced by the Jewish Book Council‘s blog, The Prosen People.

Posted on July 22, 2013

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