Writing A Book
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?
Most people have a book in them. If you are reading this article, that probably includes you. Go for it. The Chazon Ish never had children, but he said he felt like a new father when his sefer was published.
How do I do it?
Just start writing. A writer writes. Make it deep. Make it personal. Be original. There are lots of parashah books out there, so yours needs to stand out to get noticed (or you need to change your name to Frand, Wein, or Hashem). If people become a little better, a little happier, and a little more spiritual because of your book, you’ll have performed 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. Your editor needs to 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 try to find a way out (“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 for a publisher and benefit from their entire infrastructure. Publishing a book is a multifaceted enterprise with many moving parts. Don’t try to do it on your own. It takes experience and expert project management to produce a quality book. Readers can tell the difference between a “real book” and a DIY (Do It Yourself) job. I get (at least) one email a week asking, “I self-published my book. Can you help me sell it?” The answer is no — self-published books are almost never produced at a professional level by a coordinated team that understands the target readers and how to reach them.
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’s printed — so make sure to do it properly the first time.
How long does the process take?
Most publishers will tell you that the process takes about a year from manuscript to seeing the book in stores around the world, more or less. The others are either lying, overly optimistic, or produce inferior, sub-par books. 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 sell surprisingly well if the marketing is planned ahead. Pick your publisher’s brains.
Some of our authors (such as Rav Asher Weiss, shlita, Rebbetzin Slovie Jungreis-Wolff, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, and Rabbi Judah Mischel) were well-known before their Mosaica books came out.
Many were not. They had a good idea and went for it. Books change the world. Yours can too.