Susan Holzman interviewed by Rachael Masri and Esther Esses
Key words: editing numismatics, editing archeology, Israel Antiquities Authority, Professional Certificate Program in English Editing at David Yellin College, Susan Holzman
Dr. Susan Holzman is certainly not an archeologist, yet she has developed a laudable reputation as a leading authority in archeology-related text editing. Susan is originally an English language specialist, educator, and researcher hailing from Chicago, IL. She received her BA in literature from Northern Illinois University, her MA in applied linguistics from Bar Ilan University (Israel) and a PhD in rhetoric and linguistics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She is a former president of the English Teachers Association of Israel (ETAI) and currently teaches at Bar Ilan University and the Professional Certificate Program in English Editing at David Yellin Academic College. Furthermore, she teaches professional writing courses and lectures at conferences worldwide.
A professional writing course given for archeologists at the Israel Antiquities Authority was the conduit for the first numismatics book she edited. The book had been edited by someone with an archeology background, but the publishers demanded that the book be edited again by someone with more language expertise. Since that first effort in 2011, she has edited a total of four books in this field. She contends that with the proper professional training and skills, one can edit within almost any text specialty.
When students in the Professional Certificate Program in English Editing at David Yellin College ask her how to determine whether to accept an editing job in any specific field, she asks in return, “How hungry are you?” If a student is ready for the challenge, and wants the work, anything is possible!
In the following interview, Susan provides a personal account of her background, accomplishments, and the journey of her career as an editor of archeology texts.
Q: We heard you taught before you began editing; how did you make the transition?
It is frightening to think about—but I began teaching in 1967, which means I have been at it for 48 years! In addition to teaching high school in America and Israel (EFL) I have had various niches teaching jobs over the years– each adding to my understanding of the English language and of the people who wanted and needed to learn English or use English. I have taught Basic English to Illiterate Hebrew speakers; I have taught speaking to adult learner groups, I have concentrated on reading comprehension; more recently, I have specialized in teaching academic and professional writing. A recommendation from the professional writing niche gave me my first editing job (a journal article in special education that had been returned by reviewers for major revisions) and a workshop on professional writing at Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) gave me the connection to archeologists who hired me to edit their books.
Q: What is your specialty editing and what work have you done?
The topic of my specialty is listed as archeology, but actually, it should be listed as numismatics which Merriam Webster defines as “the study or collection of coins, tokens, and paper money and sometimes related objects (as medals).” The first book, The Coins of Herod: A Modern Analysis and Die Classification, had been returned from the reviewers with comments about language and coherence and the authors hired me as one supposedly knowledgeable in those areas, not as a specialty editor. After the successful completion of that project, the author of the book sent me to his colleague in the office next door to edit Gold Coin and Small Change: Monetary Circulation in Fifth-Seventh Century Byzantine Palestine. From there it was only short leap of faith to Small Change in Hellenistic-Roman Galilee. The Evidence from Numismatic Site Finds as a Tool for Historical Reconstruction, also written by an IAA archeologist. And this led to Material Culture and Cultural Identity: A Study of Greek and Roman Coins from Dora, written by an archeologist in the US who had done her research here in Israel.
Q: Tell us about the hiring process.
In the case of these four books, each had a publisher lined up, but I was hired as a freelancer by the authors and had direct contact only with them. My payment came from different sources (research grants, institutions). When possible (if we were on the same continent), I met with the book author before beginning the project. I asked for a hard copy of the manuscript and I worked on a section or chapter as a sample to see that we were communicating and that I was doing what the author wanted. I emphasized that I was not completely familiar with the historical context and the terminology of the field and I often couched my queries (especially when I think the author was not being clear at all) with phrases like, “Because I am not an informed reader perhaps this paragraph is not clear to me, but, can you please clarify X and Y?”
Q: How do you work on your projects?
Usually I worked on a chapter or section, maybe 30 pages, and then I send it to the author who would get it back to me within a few days for a second pass. If there were outstanding questions, the author would write comments to me and would highlight sections that had been rewritten. General formatting issues would be discussed by email, for example the italicizing of the foreign names of coins and the use of hyphens when discussing a coin type.
Q: Do you do any background research before embarking on a new project?
Before editing the numismatics books, I had taught a number of in-house professional writing courses for the archeologists at IAA. In these courses, I learned a bit about the genre of an archeological field report and I became acquainted with some of the terms, but the courses were more about writing and less about archeology. Furthermore, I worked closely with the in-house editors who checked the contents for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Q: What type of clients do you attract?
The authors that I worked with had level of English that made my work interesting and challenging. They were all at native speaker-level, so the language aspect of the editing was improving clarity and cohesiveness. The authors of all the books had published in Atiquot, an Israeli journal with an active and competent in-house editing staff, so they all knew to be careful with the spelling and translation of place-names (using official spellings) and coin names and types.
Q: What are your financial arrangements?
For all the books, I used the Israel translators’ editing rates that at one time were published on their site. For “polishing,” the recommended rate is 454 NIS per galley, which is 24,000 characters including spaces. When funds are limited by the funding source, I have been known to manipulate the text in order to make the outcome fit the amount available. However, all of it is worthwhile when an author writes the following in the acknowledgments: “The final form of this book owes much to the clever editing of Susan Holzman, steering me away from the pitfalls of the English language while retaining my personal style.”