Sivan 5774/June 2014
It’s Time to Publish Your Own Sefer
Even before I began publishing English-language books, I was unofficially publishing sefarim in lashon hakodesh for myself and others. Now that Torah Temimah’s English book business is established, the time has come to offer our quality services to the sefarim market too. Hence, the official inauguration of our sefarim department, along with a new tab on our website – the “Sefarim” tab.
On the eve of this new endeavor, I’ve been realizing more and more just how different the Hebrew publishing business is from the English one.
Of course, on the surface, English and Hebrew publishing seem to be similar: both deal with manuscripts, editing, typography, layout, graphics, printing, and distributing. But in truth, this is where the similarity ends. All the people involved and all the methods used are different. To give some examples:
As far as manuscripts, the typical English-language manuscript is written by a trained writer and is delivered to the publisher in a clean Word document. In contrast, sefarim manuscripts can arrive in forms other than computer files, such as handwritten notes which need to be typed, or as previously printed material (hard copies or PDFs) which need to be converted to an editable Word document. Authors of sefarim are talmidei chachamim, who have mastered the sea of Torah but are not necessarily experienced in computers (e.g., formatting, tracking changes, searching and replacing) nor in writing techniques. This makes sense: these men are utilizing their time and energy to learn Torah. However, it does mean that the Hebrew manuscripts usually need a bit more editing and polishing than their English counterparts.
Concerning editing, there is one thing that I personally find more difficult in editing a sefer than in working on an English book. Because I’m a perfectionist and like to publish books that are as correct as humanly possible, when it comes to English books, I’m on fairly solid ground, since this can be done by mastering the very clearly defined rules on grammar and style. All you need to do is follow the 1,026-page Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition!
But when it comes to sefarim, this doesn’t hold true at all. Although the content of sefarim is solidly rooted in our mesorah, there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong” with regard to style. The style of each work must be created from the ground up, so to speak, varying tremendously from sefer to sefer. For example, some authors like to spell words malei (with a yud or vav) and others don’t. Punctuation marks – commas, dashes, and so on – are used in a variety of ways. So too with sources of Gemara, Rambam, and other classic texts: they can be written in many diverse ways. To deal with this uncharted territory, when I begin editing a manuscript, I aim to establish – together with the author – one clear style for the entire sefer and remain consistent throughout.
A number of differences also arise in terms of layout, one being the different computer programs used. The most common program used to lay out sefarim is called Tag; English books are usually laid out in InDesign. When you pick up an English book and look at the internal layout, it will look – more or less – like any other book. It’s probably printed 6×9” and has a single column and no footnotes. Sefarim, in contrast, come in all shapes and sizes, and often have two columns and footnotes, making the layout somewhat more complicated.
Finally, the covers of the two are worlds apart. Contemporary English books usually have full-color, printed and laminated covers; and the formal ones are wrapped in a similar-style dust jacket. Sefarim, on the other hand, are usually wrapped with a colored cover material and stamped with a combination of gold, silver, black, or clear embossing.
But the biggest difference between these two types of publishing is in marketing and sales. Traditionally, English publishing generated enough sales to make it feasible for the publisher to invest his own capital into the title and turn a profit (although this reality has changed worldwide). However, when it comes to sefarim, only rarely has a sefer been so popular that it was guaranteed to be profitable. Consequently, the one who raises the money to finance production is the author. Even the Chafetz Chaim had to raise the funds to publish his classic Mishnah Berurah (which he did by selling copies personally, in advance of the printing, thus bypassing a distributor and bookstore).
Due to this difference, in traditional English-language publishing the publisher handles virtually all the myriad details involved in the process, along with his team of professionals, and contacts the author only from time to time for authorization or a question. But in the case of sefarim, the author himself needs to take care of the whole process himself … because there is no publisher.
In a way, this benefits the author of a sefer, because by being his own boss he has full say how his sefer – his life’s work – will be treated. On the other hand, it’s a daunting task for him to learn all the tricks of the trade in his spare time. Then, too, the mistakes that are bound to occur can be very painful.
This is where Torah Temimah’s new sefarim department comes in. We value your sefer as much as you do and want you to enjoy the experience of publishing your life’s work. Our “cooperative publishing” service can help make your dream a reality.
In the newly-opened “Sefarim” tab on our website you’ll find an introduction to our sefarim publishing service and a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs). Please take a moment to read the FAQs and send me feedback and any questions you might have.
And now, to celebrate this auspicious occasion, we are offering the first new customer a $500 discount on our sefer-publishing service.
Wishing you all a pleasant summer,
Rabbi Eliyahu Miller
Publisher and General Editor