If you haven't checked out the Soul Foodie's excellent blog, I highly recommend you do that.
In the meantime, the blog's author, Nesanel Yoel Safran, just reviewed Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav on Sasson, which I'm reprinting below.
If you'd like to learn more, and / or buy the book yourself, please go HERE.
Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav by B. R. Levy
Over on Soferet, there's been a bit of a running debate about the lack of choice and good books available today in so many orthodox Jewish book stores. If you want a Gadol biography, or a cookbook - you're in luck!
But if you want a book that talks about real issues or challenges; or that even touches on the topics of off-the-derech children and sky-rocketing divorces; or the reasons for all the mental health and physical issues battering the orthodox Jewish community - then you probably won't find what you're looking for, in your local orthodox Jewish bookstore.
And that's a shame! Part of the problem is that nearly all the orthodox bookstores are serviced by a handful of big publishers who either have a particular style and reputation to protect, like Artscroll, or who are charging Jewish authors astronomical sums just to get into print and distributed - like $10k upfront.
So, I've been trying to explore finding ways to get more Jewish orthodox Indie authors published, as this is an excerpt of the discussion that's been going on over on the Soferet Google Group.
Feel free to weigh in, dear reader, and let me know what you think about all this, as an orthodox Jew who presumably wants to read something Jewish, at least occasionally...
Further to the discussion we've been having about book distribution options for independently published authors, this is the response I received back from Feldheim publishers:
We offer several options for authors. Some books we undertake the cost of publishing, go through rigorous editing, and pay royalties, usually approximately 10%. Other books we can do on a distribution basis, with or without our imprint . We can arrange the printing and the author pays the costs (printing, shipping from Israel where we do most of our printing, and advertising if the author opts for it ). Our sales staff works on getting the books into stores worldwide. The resulting sales are paid based on the particular contract, often at 30% - 35% range. The profit for the author will depend on the success of the book. The level of editing necessary will depend on the combination of whether it has our name on it at all, and the qualtiy of the manuscript we receive.
We are happy to receive submissions appropriate for the Orthodox Jewish market and have our editorial staff evaluate if it is an item we would like to either publish or just distribute. If we are interested, we work on a contract of mutually agreed terms. We have been working on "Torah Literature of Quality" for nearly 80 years and welcome new authors to our collection.
Manuscripts should be set to email@example.com, and usually receive a reply within a month.
Just to update you: I tried this out with one of my recent books, The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, and I got back this reply - in less than 48 hours! -
Thank you for submitting your manuscript The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife to Feldheim Publishers. Regrettably, we are unable to accept it for distribution, however, we wish you much success with it.
Separately, I also heard from an author (whose book I have read, and really enjoyed) who told me:
My book was refused by Feldheim distribution, and then another small publisher/distributor liked a the book very much and seemed ready to distribute it and then when just ‘checking’ with their larger partner Feldheim, it suddenly became an apologetic thumbs down.
No easy answers for those who truly have something to add that’s not in the box.
So it's not so straightforward or easy to get your book distributed currently, if you're not already part of the establishment.
I'm still waiting to hear back from the Israel Bookstore, to see what their policies and guidelines are, and I'll be sure to share them with you as and when they come through.
In the meantime, we are continuing to look for a solution to the stranglehold that the big book publishers are maintaining on introducing some fresh perspectives and new authors to the orthodox Jewish book marketplace, and we will keep you posted as some of the ideas being mooted mature into something more concrete.
If you'd like to be join our independent author think tank, please feel free to get in touch.
I can totally imagine how disappointed you were when you expected your book to be accepted for distribution and then apparently someone changed their mind and the opportunity was lost. Rejection is deeply painful and being sensitive people, I think authors suffer more than most.
On the other hand I was taken aback by your conclusion that the big book publishers are maintaining a “stranglehold” in the orthodox Jewish market. You feel it is time to introduce fresh perspectives and made an offer to join your independent think tank.
With all due respect, and no wish to offend on a personal level, I must point out that there may be other interpretations in this case. I personally am grateful to the “big book publishers” for protecting me and my family from certain “fresh perspectives” that I really don’t want to be exposed to. Every publisher I’ve ever met (and you can meet all of them every year at Tamar Ansh’s JWWC) has impressed me with their integrity, their willingness to consider new ideas, and their erlichkeit.
The frum public is set apart from the wide world and it’s pseudo-ethics, political correctness, and corrupted values for good reason. I appreciate when the publishers take responsibility to “guard the gates”. Anyone who is drawn to the kind of thing that doesn’t fit into a Torah lifestyle can easily find it elsewhere.
Of course I don’t think for a minute that you personally would write something offensive, but it’s a slippery slope. If a publisher feels the subject is inappropriate--chances are that some risk is involved. Our Torah sages see very far ahead of the rest of us. If an author wants to offer what they feel is a fresh perspective, then why not get a haskama from a posek? For sure every publisher will welcome such a manuscript. If an author is uncomfortable asking for a haskama, then it may say “darshayni”.
Wishing you bracha and hatzlacha in the new year,
Rochel, thanks so much for your heartfelt response, I appreciate it.
Just to clarify, the author who was rejected had haskamot from very well-known rabbis in Jerusalem, and I have absolutely no problem asking for, or getting, haskamot on my own work.
Secondly, do you not think it's a tad hypocritical and spiritually dangerous to expect orthodox Jews to get their books 'elsewhere' - i.e. from very unkosher sources and bookstores where there are absolutely no minimum standards for anything?
The reality is that most of the Jews today - even the extremely orthodox Jews - are subject to sources of tumah, and are facing challenges, that were unheard of in previous times. Just look how many people have i-Phones and are viewing things online and via Kindles etc.
Instead of pretending that this isn't happening in our community, I think it would be a much better idea to face the challenge head on, accept that many in the orthodox Jewish community don't just want to read Gadol biographies - even though they are often so very nicely written - and to start to put out more books written for and by orthodox Jews, which don't just present a particular, idealised, view of the world that so many in the orthodox community simply can't relate to, or aren't really that interested in.
Sasson has a rabbinic board, there are many orthodox rabbis who are behind our initiative, and it's not a question of trying to do something to sully the Jewish soul, God forbid, or being drawn to things that don't fit into a Torah lifestyle.
For example, my book, the Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, is all about working on emuna, and talking to God to overcome and deal with the many day-to-day challenges we all face, including rebellious teens, terrorism and financial insecurity. Do you really believe that sort of book does 'not fit into a Torah lifestyle'? How can that be?
It's much more a question of just finding as many kosher avenues as possible to enable proper Jewish expression and communication, dafka to keep people away from all those alternative tumah-dik sources of books and other forms of communication whilst still enabling them to find things that they can actually relate to, and hopefully be inspired by and grow from.
Thanks so much again for your valuable input, Rochel.
I had a similar experience with Feldheim. Some years back, they turned down a book of mine, complaining that it mentioned swearing. I reminded them that there were no actual swear words (which would have been in Greek, which I don't know), only the reference to coarse people's language.
They said a child might read it.
I pointed out that it was a book for adults, and that in any case, there was no bad language. "But a child might pick it up!" was the answer. I didn't retort, but I wanted to know, where are the parents? Lying back with a can of beer, letting their kids run wild?
Feldheim obviously weren't a good fit for me. I went to another publisher, who were willing to take the book - but it turned out they were distributed by Feldheim, who had an additional level of editorial control. I did eventually find a publisher, but one with no advertising budget. Naturally, they soon went out of business! I knew my book might have issues because it wasn't a sweet, gentle book, but one following a rough tinok shenishba's path to frumkeit, so I wasn't exactly surprised that I had trouble.
It's a cruel world out there...
The title alone tells you that this book is trying to go out on a limb in the orthodox Jewish world, so I was very happy to read a copy of this, author Bracha Goetz’s memoir.
Bracha is best known for authoring more than 30 children’s books, many of which have become a staple in Jewish homes, so this book was quite a departure from her usual style, and her usual audience.
The book spans around three decades of the author’s life, and begins with her diary entries as a young girl, to her ‘diary friend’ called Twilly. Now, a quick confession: I wasn’t overly-fond of the ‘Twilly’ entries, although I could appreciate that they were setting the scene for what was to come, and trying to depict the day-to-day life of a young secular Jewish girl in the States who had no idea what it really meant to be a Jew.
The book really started to come into its own, for me, when ‘Twilly’ disappeared off the scene and Bracha began to describe her experiences in much more adult terms. The book covers a lot of ground, ranging from trying out other religions as an older teen, to falling in with a bad crowd, to the first real experience of Yiddishkeit on a trip to the holy land.
Although the content is pretty dramatic in places, and is definitely pushing out boundaries in a frum world that likes to keep all the issues and problems we all face in our private lives firmly under wraps, Bracha writes with such a gentle hand, often via allusion, hint and poem, that’s it’s often left to the reader to peer between the lines to really grasp a little more of what was truly going on.
One of the book’s themes is food, and more specifically the unhealthy relationship to food so many people in the West, and particularly media-pressured women, seem to have in our generation.
Again, the subject is treated with a gentle hand in the book, but the picture painted is still clearly one of eating dysfunction as a result of that huge, spiritual hole that so many of us baal teshuvas had to try to fill with whatever came to hand, growing up.
Some people tried to fill it with unhealthy relationships, others with career ‘success’ and money, and still others with substances and pills. Bracha ended up with an eating disorder, hence the title of the book.
Something else you should know about ‘Searching for God in the Garbage’ is that many of the prose sections are punctuated by poems, and a few of those poems were my favourite parts of the book.
Take this verse, for example:
A box of cookies
As a temporary refuge
Doesn’t last long.
Not long enough
To be a kid forever.
So much is said in so few words about what’s really behind so many of the eating disorders, and all sorts of other ‘disorders’ plaguing the world generally.
Usually, when a book tackles the kind of heavy-weight subjects that are found in Goetz’s memoir, from seriously dating non-Jews, to dealing with family members who are upset that you’ve ‘joined a religious cult’ by getting all frum on them, to that effort to fill the black void inside our souls when God is missing from the equation and apparently out of the picture, it can often be wrenching for the reader, and pretty hard going.
Personally, I quite like wrenching accounts (call me a masochist…) but I still enjoyed the more gentle approach employed in Bracha’s book, and I applaud the author’s courage in putting so much of her real inner dimension out there, and lifting the lid on a bunch of subjects that we should be discussing much more in religious society.
Ultimately, I think the book is actually more about finding God in the garbage, than just searching for Him there. Maybe that’s a subtle distinction, but not everyone could have come through Bracha’s experiences and emerged a believing Jew, as the shocking intermarriage rates in the US and elsewhere sadly attest.
It’s not easy growing up sane and Jewish. It wasn’t easy in the 1970s and 1980s, where much of the action in the book takes place, and it’s probably even harder in 2018. And that may well be where this book will have the biggest impact in the Jewish world, as a bridge between parents who are doing their best to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and to pretend everything has always been A-OK, and the next generation that is desperately demanding that we get real, and honestly explore what’s happening in our lives, families and inner dimension.
Goetz’s book goes a long way to building the foundation of that discussion, and I, for one, am very interested to see what other positive things may now be built in the orthodox Jewish world, as a result.
Click HERE to buy the paperback ($17.99) or Kindle ($4.99) on Amazon.
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