Judaica: Books

Judaica (Books): Filling a Niche in the Jewish World

Tomi Mager interviewed by Deborah Gazit and Tirza Deutscher

Key words: Tomi Mager, Maggid Books, Koren Publishers, managing editor

Tomi Mager is currently assistant editor at Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers, located in Jerusalem, Israel. Established in 2009, Maggid Books publishes works from the Jewish world’s leading scholars and helps to bridge the Jewish world’s two largest language communities by identifying and translating prominent Hebrew works into English and vice versa.

Surprisingly enough, being a professional editor was not a career Tomi Mager had planned from the beginning. As a child, she wanted to be a zookeeper, a national park ranger, or a Jane Goodall-type zoologist. However, she discovered that the academic study of biology in the twenty-first century was much more molecularly oriented and not what she was looking for. She decided to leave biology and get a degree that was “fun.” No career goals, just something she would enjoy. English literature, with a minor in theater studies, was the obvious choice and she continued immediately from the BA to the MA program at the Hebrew University.

Q: How did you become an editor?

In the second year of my MA studies, the English department advertised they were looking for teaching assistants. I applied and was given a position teaching the first-year academic writing class. Until then, I had mostly been an intuitive writer but teaching this course made me stop and think about what goes into a well-constructed academic paper. I wasn’t given ready-made lesson plans, just a general curriculum outline, and in researching and creating lesson plans more or less from scratch, I taught myself as much as I taught the students. Aside from teaching, part of the work involved reading student papers and giving suggestions on how to improve the content, structure, and style. After graduating, I realized I had the tools to edit as well as teach, so I started editing academic works on a freelance basis.

Q: How did you get into the field of Judaic texts?

I wasn’t specifically looking to get into Judaic texts, but Judaic texts were mostly what came my way. I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community and went to day schools and an Ulpana high school. My background in Talmud was initially weak, but Rabbi Steinsaltz’s The Essential Talmud is a great primer and I picked up a lot as I went along.

Q: Do you remember the topic of the first Judaic text you edited?

The first specifically Judaic text I worked on discussed how to incorporate ḥavruta learning into modern educational techniques. It was a nice, soft start since background was not strictly necessary, though it helped to have a sense of how ḥavruta learning generally takes place.

Q: How did you advance from freelance work to a permanent position in a publishing house?

About a year later, Gila Fine, editor in chief of Maggid Books with whom I’d studied in the MA program, hired me to do a freelance job. Not long after, she mentioned Maggid was looking for an in-house assistant managing editor. I sent my CV and got the job.

Q: Could you describe the nature of your work?

I consider most of my work to be administrative work that requires an editor’s knowledge and background. I evaluate manuscripts to determine the work that needs to be done; serve as a liaison with freelance editors and proofers; maintain the schedule and the house style guide; answer editorial/proofing queries from freelancers; and pass on author queries to the appropriate address, as well as do whatever administrative and production jobs need to get done. I also review the final files for layout and proofing issues that might have been missed. Essentially, I make sure that the process of taking a manuscript from a Word file to print runs smoothly.  To that end, I work with Maggid’s executive staff, freelancers, typesetters, graphic designers, and sometimes authors.

Q: How important is it to have a solid background in Judaic studies in your job?

Given the nature of the material we work with, it is frequently necessary for editors and proofers to have at least a basic working Judaic background. However, the requirements vary with some texts needing editors with more experience. Part of the job is to match up the manuscript to the right freelancer.

Q: Is it necessary to have a good knowledge of Hebrew for your job?

A good working knowledge of Hebrew is certainly preferable since transliterations vary; the editor needs to be familiar with the original Hebrew phrases and text or at least be able to research it.

Q: Is knowledge of Aramaic also necessary?

Aramaic is not usually needed, though you become familiar with certain terms as you go along.

Q: How much querying is done in your job?

The number and type of queries sent by editors and proofers changes depending on the experience of the editor and the specific challenges of the text. The queries generally can be divided between style, content, and language. A straightforward text presents fewer challenges in style and content, while some texts can be quite complex. I ask that queries be sent to me in batches via email from time to time as the work progresses, while queries intended specifically for the author be sent all together near the end of the work.

Q: What payment system is used by Maggid?

Maggid prefers to pay its freelancers by galley sheet as we find this the most precise method of calculation. A galley sheet equals 24,000 characters. Word count per page can shift and there is a big difference in words/page in a Word doc or typeset PDF. Paying by the hour, while perhaps logical from the editor’s point of view, also means that quicker, more experienced editors are penalized for working quickly – obviously not my goal.

Q: Do you enjoy your work?

On the whole, I find it satisfying to work for Maggid Books. I feel our books contribute to modern Jewish scholarship and fill a necessary niche in the Jewish world.


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