How to Write (and Publish) a Book
By Doron Kornbluth
I’ve been writing, co-writing, editing, and ghost-writing Jewish books for almost 20 years. Because I’ve been at it for a while, people constantly ask me about writing. Now that I help run Mosaica Press (with Rav Yaacov Haber, shlita), I get asked about it just about every day. So, at the risk of sounding arrogant or self-serving, here are my thoughts on a few common questions:
Should I write a book? Many people have a book in them, most likely including you if you are reading this article. Go for it. The Chazon Ish never had children but said he felt like a new father when his sefer was published.
How do I do it? Just get writing. A writer writes. Make it deep. Make it personal. Be original. There are lots of parsha books out there so yours should be a little different if it will get noticed (or you need to change your name to Frand, Wein, or Hashem). If you help people become a little better, a little happier, and a little more spiritual, you’ll be doing a huge mitzvah.
Do I need an editor? Everyone needs an editor. Mark Twain had one. Only a professional editor can take your book from good to great. The editor should have lots of experience and no fear. Your wife (or husband, or brother) doesn’t count, even if she (or he) happens to be a professional editor. True, your marriage is more important than getting a good edit — but find a way out of the situation (“Honey, I really want you to edit the book, but the publisher won’t let” usually works — except when I tried it on my wife. She knew I was the publisher…).
How do I find an editor? Don’t look. Find a publisher and benefit from their entire staff’s know-how. Creating a good book is a multifaceted enterprise with many interconnected parts. Whether you choose Mosaica Press or another fine Jewish publisher, don’t try to do it yourself. It takes experience and professional project management. Readers can tell the difference between a “real book” and a DIY (Do It Yourself) job. In the vast majority of cases, working with a publisher will cost you less (and make you more!) as well. Finally, because books can be edited in many ways, most publishers insist on using their own staff.
Author beware: Be prepared for an editor who will insult you, interrupt your sleep with incessant phone calls, and make you wish you hadn’t started this book project in the first place … just joking. But it is important to know that an editor’s job is NOT to fix your phrasing, bring italics and spacing to accepted standards, find synonyms, and remove typos. Those are important jobs, but they are done later by copyeditors and proofreaders. An editor’s job is to point out problems and make suggestions: Page 56 seems to contradict page 123. Pages 1-297 and 299 until the conclusion made me fall asleep (don’t worry, page 298 was GREAT!). You need footnotes for page 123. You forgot to mention xyz. Chapter 9 isn’t up to par with the rest of the book. Do you have to accept all of the editor’s suggestions? No, but once the book is printed, it is printed — so take the time to do it right.
How long does the process take? Most publishers will tell you that the process takes about nine months to a year from manuscript to seeing the book in stores around the world, more or less. The others are lying, overly optimistic, or not putting in the time necessary to do it right. And it shows.
What about marketing? Many books deserve to be written even if they aren’t bestsellers. Still, it doesn’t hurt to expand your readership. Some books can sell surprisingly well if planned ahead. Pick your publisher’s brains.
Final thoughts. Books have an amazing impact. Consider just a few Mosaica titles: The down-to-earth inspiration of Rav Ron Yitzchak Eisenman’s The Elephant in the Room was so popular and effective that he wrote a sequel (For Everything a Time) and is now working on the third in the series. Rav Yisroel Miller’s In Search of Torah Wisdom applies classic hashkafah to contemporary frum life, and has attracted lots of attention. Financial maven Baruch Labinsky’s A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel has already helping thousands of Jews around the world make Aliyah and/or invest wisely in the Holy Land. Bereaved husband Boruch Sirisky wrote Noa’s Strength — one of the most touching and inspirational books you’ll ever read. You have probably heard Rabbi Benjamin Yudin on JM in the AM – we’re honored to have published his first book (Rabbi Benjamin Yudin on the Parsha) and are hard at work on his second book. Mrs. Yocheved Nadell’s Adina: My Design Sketchbook is giving young girls a fun – and kosher! – drawing activity, and selling like hotcakes.
Many of our authors were never published before. They had a good idea and went for it. You can too. Books can change the world.