The Jewish nation is numerically one of the smallest in the world, and when you’re trying to sell books to it, by golly do you feel that paucity of numbers.
But when you’re an orthodox Jewish writer writing in English - and your brand of orthodoxy isn’t so mainstream frum either - well, good luck shifting ten copies of your latest offering.
The Forward won’t be interested in promoting you and your books, with all your backward ideas about God actually existing, and about people having souls, and about them having a mission in life that extends beyond being famous, thin or rich.
And mainstream orthodox magazines like Mishpacha won’t be interested in you either, because you don’t paint a picture of Yiddishkeit that is uniformly monolithic and unbending, where all of the orthodox Jews in the world are apparently all keeping all of the 613 explicit mitzvoth, all of the time, and NEVER having even the tiniest little spiritual struggle or crisis of faith.
And yet, the English-speaking orthodox Jewish world is crying out for these sorts of words from the heart, and this sort of honest self-expression. If the mainstream orthodox magazines won’t give voice to this, then who will? And if you’re not being covered or reported on by these magazines, then how on earth is anyone even meant to know who you actually are, or what you really stand for, let alone be persuaded to buy your books?
Another huge obstacle that orthodox authors have encountered is that many of them try to spend as little time as possible on the internet, which they (often rightly) view to be a moral swamp, a sea of evil speech and a massive waste of mankind’s most precious commodity, i.e. our time.
Relatively few orthodox Jewish authors have the same interest or motivation to ‘be online’ and to do all the things that network-savvy authors are supposed to do to sell their books, like sticking up Facebook posts, or servicing a regular blog, or sending out clever Instagram pics of their book being read by minor celebrities.
Not only that, a large swathe of their target market are also adverse to the internet, which means that even when an orthodox Jewish author does do all these online things, finding anyone out there to actually connect to is still proving to be quite a struggle.
Add all these things together, and you arrive at a number of formidable obstacles stacked up in the path of an orthodox Jewish writer who doesn’t have a comfortable ‘label’ to fall back on, or a standard ‘box’ to fit into.
But when, o when, did real change, real creativity, real society-transforming prose and poetry ever sprout from the midst of a comfort zone?
Which kind of sums up the problem. And until now, there really hasn’t been much of a solution, but hopefully, what I’m about to tell you is going to start changing the picture for unorthodox orthodox Jewish writers.
The glimmer of light at the end of this very long tunnel is called Sassonmag.com.
Sasson Magazine has a very simple premise: to pull some of the English-speaking orthodox world’s most talented and creative writers together into one place, so that they can find their target audience, and so that their target audience can also find them.
The site is being bootstrapped into being by around 15 committed Jewish writers, who are freely sharing their time, energy and creativity to get Sassonmag.com off the ground, and into Jewish reality.
Issue one came out at the beginning of October, and contained an eclectic mix of poetry, prose and fiction. Issue two is already well underway, and there are plans afoot to start a podcast interviewing Jewish authors, and a fiction and poetry workshop, which will help new writers really hone their craft.
The founders are also trying to encourage creative expression by doing things differently from most other websites out there, Jewish or not. For example, Sassonmag.com welcomes pieces that you’ve already posted up on your own blog or Facebook page, and you retain the copyright on anything that appears on the site.
If you’re being paid for a submission to a publication that’s one thing (and also, lucky you! That’s an increasingly rare perk in today’s world where words are cheaper than they’ve ever been.) But if you’re anyway volunteering a piece, then why on earth should the publication that publishes it claim ownership to it?
You care about your writing much more than they do, and you’ll probably do much more with it, if they let you.
The nascent site also contains a library where featured authors can upload their book titles, and interested readers can click straight through to buy them in their thousands. (A girl can dream).
It’s early days still, but the process of real change nearly always sprouts in a quiet, gentle way initially. So if you’d like to be part of Sassonmag.com, please go check out the site HERE, check out the Submission guidelines HERE, and get in touch!
There’s thousands of English-speaking frum readers out there who are really struggling to find decent stuff to read, and tens of orthodox-friendly Jewish authors who are struggling to find their audience. So let’s make the shidduch, shall we?
Someone asked about how to do Print-on-Demand if you're a Jewish author, and this is what I emailed her back. If you're an author with more to add, please feel free to share in the comments field at the bottom.
There are really 2 options to use for POD, in terms of getting your book out to the widest number of channels, and those two are Create Space (Amazon's own company) and Ingram Spark.
There are pros and cons for both. Here's a brief rundown of what they broadly are:
CREATE SPACE IS GOOD FOR:
People on very tight budgets, who want the POD process to be as easy as possible, and who aren't planning to print a lot of their own books for face-to-face sale.
It also helps if you live in the US (or UK) because while Create Space do give a discounted price on the books authors themselves buy, first of all it's not such a big discount, and second of all the postage costs of getting those books shipped to Israel are prohibitive.
The main 'con' of create space is that is stamps the book as 'self-published', and many traditional book buying channels won't touch it with a bargepole. That may be less of an issue anyway in the Jewish book world, but it certainly is the case in the non-Jewish book world.
INGRAM SPARK IS GOOD FOR:
Anyone who's planning to publish a lot of books, who wants their books to be available in the more 'professional' book distribution channels, and who wants to print a number of their own books, to sell face-to-face at events, etc.
I find the pricing is much more flexible, and reasonable, especially for people living in Israel.
The main downs of Ingram spark is:
You have to pay a set-up fee for each book, while Create Space is free (currently $50 a title).
Sometimes, the book shows up on Amazon as 'out of stock, but more coming soon' - especially if you aren't selling a lot via Amazon - while Create Space titles always show up as available.
Whichever option you choose, you will need to get the book properly designed, although again, Create Space makes it much easier, at least in theory, for you to 'design' the interior of your book yourself in Word and then have Create Space turn it into a PDF etc, (although that can sometimes look a little amateurish, depending on how well you do it, and doesn't suit every type of book), while you will have to have a professionally designed PDF done for Ingram Spark.
You can also do your own cover on Create Space for free, but again, it's very hard to avoid the book looking a little amateurish when you do that (unless you're unusually talented at putting covers together.)
So in terms of costs for POD, it stacks up like this:
Create Space - you could potentially do it all for free, but if you want it to look professional expect to pay a minimum of $200-300 for good book design and cover
Ingram Spark - will cost $50 set up fee, plus the $200-300 for good book design and cover.
They are both 'suitable' for Jewish books, inasmuch as you choose if you want the book published or not, but again, I find it's much easier to control what actually shows up on the Amazon website if the title is from Ingram Spark.
With both companies, the books will show up both on the Amazon website and Book Depository.
In the (now far distant) past, I used to wolf down fiction books in one gulp. In fact, my addiction to quality fiction was one of the biggest challenges I had when my kids were very small, because I couldn’t put books down when I needed to, in order to give them the time and attention they needed.
When I moved to Israel and frummed-up, the fiction books got the heave-ho, along with a bunch of other things like movies and internet in my home, which I’d come to realize weren’t so good for my soul or my aspirations to be a good parent.
Did I miss the fiction? Yes and no. Yes, I missed the pure escapism, but no, I really don’t miss the thought that I just wasted a day reading the product of someone else’s imagination.
But every now and then, I make an exception to my ‘no fiction’ rule, and one of those exceptions was for the book ‘By light of hidden candles’, by Daniella Levy.
The prose is very easy on the internal ear, the story is just fast-paced enough to keep you reading avidly, and the subject matter - a Jewish girl who almost gets swept up in a romance with an apparently Catholic student, set against the backdrop of a research project exploring Spain’s crypto Jews - is definitely captivating.
Here’s what I really liked about the book: It’s not at all pretentious, it’s extremely well-written and well-researched, and it explores the issues of intermarriage, interfaith relationships generally, and the always fascinating subject of conversos, in a way that I think most Jewish readers would really appreciate.
(The converso, or crypto Jews were Spanish subjects who were given the choice of converting to xtianity or being forced to leave the country as penniless wanderers. Sadly, many Jews put their bodies ahead of their souls, and they and their descendants have paid an extremely heavy price for that for coming on for 600 years’, already.)
Here’s what I was less keen on: all the detailed xtian stuff it contains, including descriptions of catholic mass, xtian teachings, and the general tolerance and even, dare I say it, respect for xtianity.
In terms of the book, if the author Daniella Levy had been a jot less detailed, or a touch less tolerant and respectful of xtianity, her artful depiction of the characters involved, and the integrity of the book, would have definitely suffered as a result.
And yet…as a frum Jew, I have to admit to wincing through a couple of the passages, and wishing there was a kind of ‘third way’ where Levy could accurately portray the main protagonist without having to drag the reader straight up the baptismal font after him.
But let’s be clear that most people, most frum Jews, even, probably won’t have the same strong reaction to those scenes that I did.
If you find all things ‘xtian’ distasteful, this may not be the book for you to settle down with this Autumn. If you can at least tolerate references to xtianity, then I think you’ll find this book a very good read, and a thought-provoking excursion into the deeper questions of what really makes a person a Jew, anyway, and how much most of us would be willing to sacrifice to hang on to our Jewish faith.
You can buy the Kindle and Paperback version of 'By light of hidden candles' on Amazon, HERE.
Rivka Levy's Books: