Laurie Fialkoff interviewed by Dvora Bitcover
Key words: Laurie Fialkoff, Studies in Contemporary Jewry; Jewish history; Jewish religion, specialty editing, Jewish people
Laurie Fialkoff has been working as an editor in the field of Jewish studies for 22 years. She is in the enviable position of being a salaried employee at the Hebrew University and so does not have to look for work, worry about rates to charge, or any of the other issues freelance editors have to cope with. She also has the privilege of working in an academic environment where her seniors have advanced degrees in Jewish studies. So she has many people to learn from and a multitude of resources to call upon, in addition to her own not insignificant skills, education and talents.
Her career began with a BA in English from Queens College (CUNY), and an Ms.J. (Master’s of Science, Journalism) from Columbia University. Laurie’s professional background includes a three-year stint (1977-1980) writing articles about current events for junior high students at Junior Scholastic magazine. After the birth of her first child she did some freelance editing work in the US until immigrating to Israel in 1982.
In Israel, Laurie received a great lead from a previous classmate who suggested she contact a master editor. This woman was impressed with Laurie and her résumé, and this led to freelance work via the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Her outstanding work for this institute, the recommendations of the master editor, and propitious timing next led to Laurie being hired by the Hebrew University to work on the prestigious Studies in Contemporary Jewry journal.
When she began her career at this journal in 1989, volumes 6 and 7 were in production. At the time of this interview Laurie is now working on Vol. 29! In a synopsis of our interview with Laurie below, she shares some of her “trade secrets” as a veteran specialty editor in Jewish studies.
Q: Tell us about your current work in editing
Studies in Contemporary Jewry is a multidisciplinary academic publication. Each volume centers around what we call a symposium: a specific topic in the humanities, social sciences or cultural studies (Vol. 9, for example, is called Modern Jews and Their Musical Agendas). I’m one of two managing editors; above us are four editors, all of them members of the HU faculty, three of them full professors. The editors take turns editing the journal.
Q: What background knowledge do you need for this specialty editing?
Generally speaking, the [senior] editors have expertise in the specific area being covered; if not, they do some homework. I sometimes have a certain amount of background. Over the years, I’ve picked up a fair amount of knowledge in modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies, for instance, and I’m reasonably knowledgeable about Jewish religious issues. But even if I don’t know anything about the field, I consider myself an intelligent reader— this means that I hold an author responsible for anything I don’t understand. And of course, in the process of editing, I’m constantly looking things up. Wikipedia is definitely a useful resource…
Q: Can you tell us about the editing process at your workplace, and your specific role?
For each symposium, we invite specific scholars to contribute essays. The managing editors are responsible for the correspondence with the authors. My co-managing editor deals with the correspondence until material comes in, and at that point I take over, as I’m responsible for the copy-editing. There’s always a bit of give-and-take before the final text is ready. Usually the [senior] editor reads the piece first. If there are substantive problems, the author will be asked to make revisions, and I only start to copy-edit the text when it’s in the form of a final draft.
When something is unclear, I usually take a stab at rewriting it myself or I highlight the text and write “unclear” in brackets [ ], and usually add an explanation of what makes the passage unclear (unless I’m totally in the dark, when “unclear” is all I can say). Many times I also check facts, for instance the dates of historical events or subtitles of books. I prefer to do this myself so that authors don’t feel unduly burdened, and also because this way I know the work will get done more quickly.
A few years ago, I finally made the switch to editing onscreen as opposed to writing on a hard copy of the text. I rarely send authors a file that contains tracked changes. In addition to making stylistic changes that are generally unnoticed by the author, I highlight text about which I’m unsure and mark it with a bold bracketed query: “[reworded okay?]” Here’s an example in which I added a phrase and wanted to make sure the author noticed/approved:
Along similar lines, Omer Miller, chef at a successful Tel Aviv restaurant called “The Dining Room” (the name is an ironic reference to the communal dining rooms of kibbutzim and state institutions)[worded okay?]
Q: What happens next?
Once I finish the copy-edit, I give the text to my co-managing editor to read and comment on. We go over the material together (sometimes we have a full and frank exchange of comments…) and then I send it to the senior editor. What this means is that the text has been carefully read by three people before it’s sent back to the author, a fact that I note in my accompanying email message. I also make sure to write something complimentary about the piece. Sometimes this is hard, as many scholars are not particularly good writers, but more often than not the actual research is solid and the article can truly be said to be making a “real contribution to the volume.” The author sends back a revised text in response to all the editing changes and queries. At this point, there are usually a few more emails back and forth; often the subject line is something like just a few more queries or almost there.
Q: Do you ever meet with authors in person?
Infrequently, when an author is locally based (sometimes at the university), it has happened that I’ve sat with an author and gone over the text line by line, and paragraph by paragraph.
Most often, authors don’t particularly notice everything that’s been done to their text. Sometimes they do, and are grateful. On occasion, they go ballistic. I usually have the senior editor intervene if that happens. It’s exceedingly rare that an author doesn’t eventually agree that the end result justifies all the hassles encountered on the way.
Q: Can you tell us about the financial compensation you receive?
Regarding financial matters: I have the good fortune of having a salaried job with benefits. In my freelancing days, I tended to undercharge. The last freelance work I did, about five years ago, I charged 60 ILS/hr. (about $15). I wasn’t taking things like income tax into consideration. If I were to freelance now, I’d probably ask for 80-100 ILS/hr. (between $20-$25).
When I first began to work as an editor, my employer explained the three basic editing rates as set by the Israeli Association of Writers. She then gave me what I thought was a very fair directive: keep track of your hours and use that to figure out what rate you should charge. We agreed that the rates should be pegged something as follows:
- Light editing: 5-6 pp./hr.
- Major editing: 3 pp./hr.
- Major, scientific (or specialty) editing: 2 pp./hr. or fewer.
There were cases when I varied the rate according to the work, such as when I was practically rewriting the text, following advice to double the number of galleys I billed for (a galley is 10 pages of 500 words each). This only works when both sides trust one another and respect each other’s professionalism.