How to Write (and Publish) a Book

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 manyinterconnected 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, mostpublishers 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 is 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.

What is Mosaica?

Mosaica Press is an independent publisher of Jewish books. Our authors include some of the most profound, interesting, and entertaining thinkers and writers in the Jewish world today. Our partners and senior staff have been putting out books for years under various imprints and with various publishers. The Mosaica label itself began appearing around 2010. As you can see from our site, we’ve had a tremendous amount of siyata d’Shmaya and have grown tremendously. We are now releasing, on average, 1–2 new books a month, and our books are (BH!) gaining a lot of attention and selling well. We create all types of books for all types of people. Some of our books are intended for the Orthodox community, some are more kiruv-y, others on subjects of interest for frum and/or Jewish people, and some develop their own niches.

What is the difference between a publisher and a distributor?

Mosaica is a publisher. We take author content (from articles, shiurim, blog posts – or, of course, from a manuscript itself) and create books, overseeing the entire process to create a finished book ready to be sold, read, and recommended. We have distribution arrangements in place with the best distributors in the Jewish world.

Why do I need an edit, copyedit, and proofread?

Mark Twain had an editor. Every author needs a professional outside editor to take the manuscript into “real book” quality. What is acceptable on a blog post may not necessarily be in written form. The difference shows, and our team is excellent and efficient. Every week we see documents that have been copyedited and proofread carefully by the author himself or the author’s neighbor…and have many dozens of conceptual, stylistic, and grammatical mistakes in them. These steps are critical.

What is the financial “deal”?

The author makes the initial investment in the publication of the book. Why?

As authors ourselves, working with various publishers over the years, we’ve come to realize that it is more profitable for the author – and better for all involved – if the author pays for the initial development and printing of the book – as has been done in Am Yisrael with sefarim for hundreds of years.

Here is why:

First of all, few Jewish publishers today can pay for the entire book-creating process and still make a profit. After taking account of the bookstore discount, costs of distribution, and relatively small market, the numbers rarely add up. When a publisher does offer to pay, the author usually ends up getting a very small royalty, with many “hidden” costs appearing along the way.

Also, when a publisher pays for a book, the publisher owns it. The publisher alone decides on the cover and title. The publisher decides how many copies will be printed or not printed, and the author needs to buy back copies at 50% (or more) of the retail price! Even if a book is effectively out of circulation and the author wants more copies for their own use, the publisher can – and often does – decide not to print again, as it is not worth their time or investment, leaving the author without copies of their own book. The publisher can do a lousy job in the creation, distribution, and promotion of a book – and the author can do nothing about it. Unfortunately, many authors have had negative experiences like this – including us!

We work differently, for all of our authors – including ourselves. Although Mosaica is certainly a company that aims to make a profit, we are also authors who are offering the best deal on the market for authors: When the author invests in the book, he or she actually ends up making more money and retaining more control.

So you work for the author?

Not really.

We work with the author.

Authors have – and should have! – veto power over the cover and title (and of course the text itself), but Mosaica is not a vanity press or Do-It-Yourself operation. Authors come to Mosaica because of our experience and expertise. We know what will be noticed, accepted, and sold – and we mold your book into a solid seller, IYH. Our copyediting and proofreading are done according to accepted conventions – and Mosaica standards. As a publishing house with proven success and an experienced, talented staff, we are able to take your book from good to great.

How much does it cost?

Each project is unique. How many words? Paperback or hardcover? Is there Hebrew, or extensive footnotes? How many copies does the author need for their private use, and how many will be printed in total? Are there pictures? It is impossible to give a set price without seeing the manuscript and understanding the project. That being said, most books end up costing between USD $12,000 and $16,000 plus/minus. This is only an estimate – every book is different.

How much money do I get back?

You keep 100% of whatever books you sell personally, and get 30% of the list price from store sales. In most cases, the first 1,000 copies pay back for the investment. Of course, there are no guarantees, but if your book is good – it could sell far better.

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