Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Kislev 5766 - December 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Writing for the Chareidi Public

A special guide for wannabe chareidi writers

Chareidi literature has never reached such heights of prosperity as it has in recent years. The bookshelves are packed, and perhaps that is why one gets the impression that the road to producing successful literature is easier than it has ever been. What is the secret of survival in the saturated market? Can writing be counted as a profession or is the myth of the poverty stricken writer still predominant? Whoever relies solely on talent will be amazed to discover that in this field you have to know how to decipher the market from other perspectives.

Never have the shelves of chareidi literature been more packed. Books come and go and, just like in a clearance sale, there is a rush to make room for the new ones. The supply even confuses the salespeople, who try to expose new creativity while also retaining literary works which have become overripe, as it were, since new ones push them into an old, dusty corner.

One gets the impression that anyone who can push a pen [or rather a keyboard] is in a rush to share his thoughts with the public and that there is not enough space for everyone.

However, it turns out that there really is enough room for everyone and the professional competition which has broken all records is enriching every one of the parties that are essential to it.

Quantity has Increased — but has the Quality Increased as Well?

"The reality shows that the community has grown and has room for everyone, including both Torah literature and children's books as well," asserts M.P., director of one of the leading printing presses in the chareidi sector. "The proof is that the printing machines are blasting full steam ahead and all the presses are still around. Dozens of books come out every month and most do not come out at a loss."

"Many more people are publishing books today," claim those at Copy Print. "Parnossoh comes from Above and everyone gets taken care of."

The only change that the Schweid Printing Press, who specialize in color printing, points to is a significant drop in books in which both the title page is in color and the inside pages of the book. "This involves a huge publishing expense that the public is not willing to pay for, and the stores are not keen to take in the merchandise, so that it gradually decreases," explains owner Gilad.

"It is a lot more packed in the field than it was ten years ago," they say at Y.A. Productions, publishers for over 20 years. "On the other hand, the demands have grown accordingly. Let us not forget that another three chareidi cities have been added in the last decade [Kiryat Sefer, Elad- Mazor and Beitar Illit], which triggered a demographic revolution. Now numerous families purchase 5-7 books around the chagim, especially before Pesach and Succos.

"Whereas two decades ago, or even one decade ago, out of a 1,000 books printed, the authors could expect only 500 to be sold, today even books of poor quality cross the thousand mark."

"The market has undergone a drastic revolution," claims Dudi Gitler, who is considered one of the most reliable and sought after distributors in his field. "In the past there was almost nothing to read, but today about a hundred chareidi authors are competing for the hearts and pockets of the readers. The bookstores are extremely packed but, fortunately, the huge quantities do not come at the expense of quality, as might be expected. There has been a very great improvement from that perspective."

Not everyone is as sure about that as he is. The at times insufferable ease with which everything that is penned, however immature it may be, can be brought into a printed product which is offered to the masses, is more than a little infuriating to some of the leading authors, who can afford to criticize the situation.

It turns out that quite a few writers are getting a mistaken idea of the literary flooding that has been characteristic of recent years. It seems that the road to creating a literary work now does not comprise much deep deliberation, nor is it studded with obstacles, and that it is pays to try out the public reception of almost anything.

"To become a writer all you have to do is write a book," Dudi Gitler hints in his affable way.

Yair Weinstock [M. Arbel, to whoever still needs to be reminded] does not hesitate to say clearly, "There is no shortage of rubbish in the basket. Here and there you find some budding talents. It is obvious too that where there are so many books, you can find some authors who are really good there too."

"The profusion of authors and books in the market," says Mrs. Menuchah Fuchs, "deters many talented people from going into the competitive book market, but usually a professional writer has a natural feel for assessing whether the things he has written are fit for publication."

"Certainly, there are writers who do not hesitate to publish any story, who feel that anything put in writing is worth publishing. This is a mistake, obviously, and I myself can vouch that I have whole books on my computer that will never be published, just because, as I see it, they are not worthy of the public trust," asserts author Chaim Walder.

"Not everything you think has to be expressed and not everything you write has to be printed," Mrs. Menuchah Beckerman sums it up. "In my opinion, we have lost a little of our literary authenticity and are not giving books the respect that they deserve. Some of the books today do not deserve to be books. Someone just takes a small joke or an amusing story and turns it into an entire book, without any justification. There is no depth, no inner dimension, and so they are not fit to be books. All in all, the market today is big enough for anyone whose urge to write runs in his veins, on condition, of course, that it is good enough to survive there."

The Sharers in the Pie

Many among the wave of authors, which is constantly growing, think that talent and a little luck [from Shomayim, of course . . . ] are enough to ensure that the bookshelves will be enriched with their work as well as their bank accounts. They sober up quickly after the first printing, which usually ends up being the last.

"Many children's, youth's and even authors for adults print only a thousand copies, and after that you can just throw the printing plates away as if they had never existed, and that is the end of that literary work," says M.P., presenting some of the not-very-encouraging facts. "That is typical of our community—more books and with a few sales. There are numerous books whose sales are minimal, in contrast to the secular community in which there are a handful of writers who sell well. Only a few in our community sell in the thousands, and even fewer exceptional ones get to ten thousand copies."

According to Dudi Gitler, "The majority of authors on average do not sell even a thousand copies, and after two editions at most [each of a thousand books] their books disappear from the shelves. Only a few get to 3-4 editions, and anyone who gets close to 5,000 is definitely the exception." He adds that the notion of a best-seller hardly exists in our community, and you can barely count on two hands the number of writers who have reached that level.

What then is the secret of success? What can ensure that a book will enjoy a long shelf life? What can ensure that it will survive? And what do we need to consider when we decide to jump in? To change from being an unknown writer to a known one?

Like any good student, you cannot get out of the homework you need to do, especially if you want to do better than your mentor.

In order to ensure that the professional competition will produce a genuine pearl, you have to get some practice and undergo a training period before you jump in the water and can compete effectively with swimmers of the first rank.

The road to creating a literary work is paved with technical obstacles, both small and large, and there are endless stages which can be extremely discouraging if you are not prepared for them, both emotionally and financially.

All along the way, there are more than a few professionals waiting to claim their portion, who will perhaps also take some of the wind out of your literary sails. Proofreaders, layout artists, copy editors, graphic artists, illustrators, printers, bookbinders, distributors and publishers join the owner of the work and become, whether he likes it or not, an integral part of the creation of the final work.

At times, it looks as if the pie is too small to share its thin slices with everyone, and to give out such considerable pieces of your own personal creation to so many partners. Those partners will definitely show no willingness to make the project any easier, especially if you do not seem to know what the process is all about. The less you know about what lies ahead of you in creating a marketable book, the greater the chances of paying too much to the wrong people.

The name of the game is, of course, maximum savings and minimal cost — to make the literary enterprise financially worthwhile. It may sound easy to pull off, but it is definitely far from a simple challenge. Sometimes the production stages are even harder than the preparation of the actual literary work.

The Author and the Merchant

Mrs. L. Fried, one of the most veteran writers in the market, is herself living proof that a literary sense is not always enough and that every successful author has to harbor within a small merchant. For over twenty years she skipped getting involved in the publishing stages and put full trust in various agents. Her numerous activities left her no time to put into the weighty project of actually publishing her books. She preferred to let others concentrate on the technical details while she looked on from the side and continued to concentrate on the real thing, the writing itself.

Looking back, she feels that her profits were mostly literary, and her permanent assets were solely ideological and almost wholly nonmaterial — that is she made very little money. "I came out at a loss," she says, quoting the words she heard from authoress, H. Areshet [Erster], and which typify authors like her.

"Perhaps it is because I have only the writer's side in me and do not possess a business sense. All the numerous agents took their portions greedily, while making it quite difficult for me to supervise everything that was being done. That is why I am right now considering making a changeover to the do- it-yourself method, without middlemen. It might require me to put in more time, but then again the rewards will be greater."

Mrs. Fried is not the only one who is certain that a business sense is a prerequisite for literary success. That is, on condition that you are not so idealistic and so absorbed with the literary challenge that you see any other profits as meaningless when compared with the publication of the material, at all costs.

"The success of the book, contrary to what people think, is not only dependent on the quality of the writing, but also on the marketing ability of the publisher," says Chaim Walder, which is surprising considering that he is definitely considered to be a model of success by any literary yardstick.

"True, the writing is the backbone of the book. But that alone does not make it into a best-seller. From this perspective, the marketing is the most important thing. But what I mean by that is not just the selling of the physical books, but the whole framework of communication between the author and the buyers. In my experience, the image, the advertising, and the way of presenting yourself and your product is what pushes the book over and above everything else and sometimes a good marketer sells more than a good author, though both are gifts from Heaven."

After more than 100 books, most of them children's, and 24 years in the profession, Mrs. M. Beckerman is also sure that possessing a literary sense is not sufficient. "There is no doubt that you need a certain amount of business sense in order to make it," claims Mrs. Beckerman. "To know how to apply to the right parties at the best prices, to get more out of the distributor and to give less to the agents, which is an equation quite often reversed in the process of the publication of the books, is critical."

She herself had no qualms about making the changeover to an independent publisher in the days when some warned her that it would be a dangerous professional gamble.

But she preferred, even at her first book to cut down on the agent's and publishing costs, following a wise piece of advice she was given in the layout shop [in the old days when the bromides were still well-known to writers . . . ]. Some said to her that she should only go with a publisher to share the risk if she is not sure that her product is good enough. In other words, she should try to share her losses but keep all the profits for herself.

Incidentally, on the issue of advertising, Beckerman has a significant difference of opinion with Chaim Walder. He sees advertising as an essential component in the literary marketplace, which not only justifies every shekel that is invested in it, but ensures the profits over the long term, and promises the writer that his book will not disappear before it has a chance to prove itself.

She sees advertising as just another corrosive detail which cuts down the small profits, and magnifies the frustration.

Mrs. C. Regev, author and journalist, concurs completely with this opinion. She claims that she conducted a comparative experiment with another woman who published a book at the same time as she did. Her personal finding was that advertising does not make the slightest difference — except in the final basket of revenues which is damaged.

"Both of us achieved the same sales, though I printed a number of color advertisements and she did not put out any at all, which really aggravated the distributor. He argued against her that a book just doesn't go like that, and it proved to be a great mistake," says Regev.

Investment versus Results

Advertising, it is worth noting, is a very expensive business and every little inch adds on to the huge and possibly frustrating bill for the writer. The newspapers are just one big advertising arena where, in order to thoroughly dominate and reach all sectors, you end up supporting more than a few local newspapers and journals, and perhaps even considering outside advertisement in street ads (detailed in frame), which today are on the decline due to municipal participation in the costs.

The only difference is that advertising can be skipped, while other expenditures can be skipped less easily.

The Stages in Publishing

Budding authors would certainly be happy to participate in a basic review of the publication process in order to comprehend once and for all what lies ahead of them, and what dreams, if any, they can spin in light of the facts.

In this computer age, there are only a solitary few left who are still loyal to the old pen and paper. The rest save on the cost of a typist and try to economize on other costs as much as possible.

"In children's books (in Hebrew) it is difficult to skip over the voweling stage which raises the costs considerably, and there are only a few meticulous people who proofread the voweling afterwards themselves and cut another few corners," adds Mrs. L. Gellis. She is a much sought after nakdanit who is considered almost unique in her field in her handling of all the tasks involved in book publication: including pagination and layout (which generally entails converting from the software and switching the codes as well as integrating titles, underlining and the book's appearance), proofreading and copy editing.

The editing of the book can be at a number of levels: from syntax or simple, superficial copy editing to a change in style and deep editing from beginning to end, which turns the editor into the virtual writer who upgrades someone's jumbled up life story into an organized and complete thriller.

A minority, like Mrs. C. Regev, do their own layout. Fewer still try to save on the substantial costs of distribution. That stage slices away fifty percent of the profits right there: half goes to you and half to the distributor. Certain small publishers tried out this tactic—going around from store to store to save on the costs of distribution. But in most cases this amateur approach proved to be a major obstacle, and the stores were not keen to pile up their shelves with more than a few dozen isolated books [at the best of times] that were offered, unless they had a well- known backer behind them. Also, it can sometimes be very difficult for a small publisher to collect the money owed him by various stores.

According to Chaim Walder, the choice of a distributor should not be taken lightly, and it is a mistake to try to take away their authority. Their share of the marketing can sometimes be even more important than that of the author himself, he claims, adding that without good distribution it is difficult to penetrate the market.

Self-Publish or a Publisher?

A relationship with an established publisher is a controversial ingredient on the list of the author's essential expenditures. For some, the headache from the runarounds is much more of a deterrent than the strain on the pocket. They are more than ready to rid themselves of the tiresome hassles, running between all the professionals and the far-from-simple logistics of the arrangements, and pay a middleman (macher in our language) to save them, if not money then at least time.

Mrs. Fuchs, who is considered a highly productive professional writer with 24 years in the field and 200 books on the shelves to her credit, says that there is no unequivocal answer to this question. She herself debated this matter for quite a few years, and decided that she preferred earning a fixed amount and giving something up for the running of the technical side of the business, which took the weight off her shoulders, leaving her free to be a writer without having to entangle her in any commercial arrangements.

Only in recent years, did she purchase the Kav LeKav Publishing House and make it into her own business, so that she now administers the publication of her numerous books independently.

"Every author has to make a decision based on his own figures, and every person's situation is different," she says. "Some people are just not built for the complex arrangements involved in book publication, and can easily fall into the hands of the wrong people. For them, the agent is an ideal solution. But if a person has some business acumen, he can do everything himself, and no less successfully."

Illustrators and Graphic Artists

A person will need to make an independent survey of the market to locate the talented illustrators, who will not necessarily charge low fees. Today there are more than a few beginning illustrators who take minimal fees for unquestionably fine work, as well as graphic artists who design covers of a very high standard and charge lower rates than those who are well-established in the market. It is worth considering these new faces that are freshening up the literary landscape as well as the prices.


At all events, the bulk of the costs are left for the end. the printing of the book itself, which some reckon to be about four times as much as all the previous costs together. The printing itself is actually the smallest cost, but what pushes up the expenditure is the cost of paper, which changes from day to day like the stock market [one week, for example, it rose by 10 percent], and it is generally on the rise due to a severe shortage in cellulose worldwide, explains the owner of the M.P. printing press.

The rest of the costs include the numerous final stages of the book, such as printing the cover, lamination, hard binding and transportation to the distributor.

"How much should a printing plate cost?" Y.A. Distributors asks me for starters, to ardently defend their right to existence. "If a person does not understand all the small nuances, he can pay more even if he does the publishing himself," he claims. "There are quite a few people roaming around the market who can immediately pick out the greenhorns, and do not give the discounts or services that they would give if there was a professional standing in front of them. So it is definitely well worth paying someone else to take care of the hassle of publishing, and you even end up saving money sometimes."

An Income Supplement from Literary Sources

However, even when the maximum efforts are made to cut costs, there is still no guarantee that the writer will get his anticipated compensation. The myth of the poor writer has definitely crumbled in our times, but anyone who hangs his hopes on getting rich quickly like those few exceptional stars who are on top, should climb down quickly to safe territory.

Many of those in the know say that writing is neither a profession, nor a parnossoh in its own right. At best it is a cushion in times of hardship, but it is not a cashable source to cover debts, and definitely not a means of marrying off your children.

"There is no such thing as wealthy authors among our people," states Dudi Gitler in no uncertain terms, "but writing can become a profession if you are careful to publish a steady flow of books, and get them covered in the newspaper as well. Then you have a fairly regular income, and sometimes not a bad one at that."

"Anyone who has high expectations is sure to get disappointed," adds Y.A. Distributors. "Books are generally speaking not a ready source of income, unless you turn them into a major business undertaking, and publish them steadily. An author who publishes three or four books per year, can definitely bring in between 60 to 70 thousand shekels a month (about $13,000 a month). I have seen it done."

"In the chareidi world, book sales move slowly. Most people buy only when they have to, weighing it up on a scale of various priorities. The shelf life of books is particularly short, and that is due to the distributors, most of whom do not make much effort at continued marketing, and put the lid on even good books at the end of a season, when they could have kept them dribbling for a good few years more."

(It is worth mentioning the distributor's argument on this count, that the situation is caused by the limited space in the stores, which cannot be flooded with old books when new ones are much more in demand by the customers.)

"That is why a person cannot depend on the sale of his books as being more than a supplementary income, that occasionally manages to keep the house afloat, but no more than that," claims Mrs. L. Fried. "Only a person who makes his writing into a business and into his main profession, can enjoy a little more of the profits."

If You Don't Try, You'll Never Know

The classic question that novices ask, whether to enter this niche from an economic perspective is rejected outright by Mrs. C. Regev. The fact that she took a three-year break from publishing books had nothing to do with any kind of writer's block that she had gone through during the timeout period, but rather to her frustration. Perhaps it was her expectations that had been too high in the first place, or perhaps it was her lack of a business orientation, as others put it, that had led to the end result being so disappointing, if not positively disillusioning.

As she puts it, "I invested no small amount in every detail so as to give the maximum, including details that others do not deem important, such as copy editing, paying a photographer to do the title page, out of my own pocket, as well as the graphics, and paying for a special search in the archives for specific artwork. In the end, my experience demonstrated that, from a financial perspective at least, a book does not justify its outlay.

"Every beginning writer has to ask himself about his own expectations," she adds. "Does he want his book on the shelf or an apartment for a child? A best-seller or just another book? It is always best not to expect anything in advance, because you can't predict anything in this field."

According to author Yair Weinstock (22 years in the profession, 20 books), "Writing is not a main source of income in most cases, and certainly not a source of large extra sums. But it can certainly be considered as a supplementary income."

Mrs. M. Fuchs asserts that even if the expenses of publication do not make writing a path to easy money, it is at least a useful tool for income that is not to be sniffed at. She admits that, without taking over the entire business (as she did) it is rather difficult to make writing into a profession. However, if a person, as she did originally, puts out a lot of books for a period of years and focuses on that, he will certainly see his hard work pay off and have no reason to complain. For those who are uncertain, she recommends to at least try. If they can get together the resources to finance it, there is no reason not to try, she says.

There are always surprises and one can never anticipate in advance who the public will take a liking to. According to author Chaim Walder, giving things a try is a basic approach in every area, that only losers don't do.

"A person who doesn't try won't fail, but on the other hand he will also never enjoy the taste of success," he says. "It's worth trying and learning." He adds, "Even successful writers are nervous, and yet they keep on trying new directions." Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Mrs. M. Beckerman is one of the optimistic ones. In her opinion a really good book will sell, and even if it doesn't take off like a rocket and sell thousands in one shot, it will be discussed, brought and sold — if not in the short term then at least in the long term. The extent of a person's investment in the literary aspects of his writing is the major precondition for the economic results that follow later, claims Mrs. Beckerman.

"Even with a book for very young children, you have to take care of things even at a very deep level," she adds. "A person who relates seriously to a book — and not just as a passing project whose purpose is just to yield financial returns — will also enjoy commercial success."

"You can't rest on your laurels and take anything for granted. Even after the market is secure, as it were, and you become famous, still fortunate indeed is the writer who is always anxious about his future and invests in every story as if it is his first work," says Chaim Walder. This he sees as the secret of success, and the making of a successful writers or, if you will, the way to keep climbing up — after the siyata deShmaya that a person is given, obviously, which leads him throughout.

After all is said and done, it is crystal clear that the success and profits — commercial and other — are written not in the book itself but rather in another place, long before the literary scales have tilted one way or the other.

"I had quite a few guides at the beginning of the road who extended me an enormous amount of credit and faith in my abilities, which was definitely part of the secret of my success," says Yair Weinstock.

"But everyone sees clearly that siyata deShmaya is the difference between a successful author and a less successful one. It's like two people who put the same ingredients into a cholent pot, and it turns out wonderful for one person and a complete failure for the other one. For we do not put even a small finger down without it being decreed for us up Above. And if a person is not endowed with that basic humility, the road to the literary summit will be far from his reach."

Adding It Up

If you are expecting an up-to-date directory of costs, you will not get it here, simply because there is no such thing. It varies from book to book, according to the size, type of paper, amount and type of illustrations, binding, etc., and between using one professional or another, in terms of reputation, experience, and so on and so forth. But the bottom line is that you can save on costs at every stage, and not always at the expense of the quality of the product. We can only supply price ranges following the survey that we conducted. Note that the survey was taken in Israel, for work done in Hebrew.

The Job and Its List Price

Typing: From 50 cents for a thousand characters up to 90 and more.

Nikud: From one dollar for a thousand characters to 2 dollars, which sometimes includes proofreading and simple editing.

Copy editing: From 15 dollars to 25 dollars per hour.

Cover of book: 250 dollars for a graphic artist who is a beginner, to 700 and even 1000 dollars.

Illustrations [Black and white]: From 15 dollars for a beginner to 20 and 40 dollars per illustration. The price goes up when it is painted in water colors.

Illustrations [Full Color]: From 22 to 40 dollars, and even 100 dollars.

Printing [Rough estimate]: Black and white plus a colored binding: Around 20,000 shekels for a thousand children's books, average size. Three color imprints: About 30 thousand shekels for 2,000 books. Full Color — about 7 dollars for a book of 250 pages, without the paper.

Printing street advertisements: Boards of half a plate in size, a thousand units for 1,100 shekels; 500 units for 950 shekels [not including VAT].

Putting up street advertisements: About NIS 1,000 for 200 ads in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, including the fee to the municipality.

Special Tips for Budding Writers

Libby Lazewnik:

As in any craft, good preparation makes for good writing. Take the time to think through your plot and characters before committing a word to paper. If you don't have to stop and figure things out along the way, you'll find that the writing flows much more smoothly.

Make sure the feelings you describe in your stories ring true. Readers will forgive a technical error — they simply will not respond to a false emotional note!

Mrs. M. Fuchs:

Look for an exclusive angle. The market is saturated and the competition fierce, therefore it is best to search for an original and creative line that does not exist, and it may become an independent model that is in demand.

Write from your heart, because only things that come from your heart will penetrate other's hearts. A book which is not really written from deep inside — and there were only various side motives, economic or otherwise, behind its publication — will not usually go down well with readers.

Chaim Walder:

Publish only what's fit to be published. Not every conglomeration of words is even fit to be called "writing," and certainly not to be printed.

Try hard to capture the heart of the reader. Follow him the whole way and don't sniff at little details to please him [even the type of paper], to ensure that he will be captivated by your books, externally and internally.

Write your book in your own name. There is no reason to hide behind anonymity, even if it exposes you to criticism, especially since people like to know who is behind something.

The blurb at the back of the book. The most precious part of the book is its back cover, which constitutes its show window to the world. Buyers turn the book around out of instinct to get an idea of its contents, and it is really worthwhile investing in professional writing, even using a famous literary figure, to tempt the reader and draw him in.

Yair Weinstock:

Read a lot, to enrich your knowledge of good literature. Fortunately there is no shortage in our circles, and we do not have to stoop to reading foreign literature, which has degenerated to terrifying levels. The variety in chareidi literature in our times allows us to expand our literary knowledge as well as our personal knowledge, and to grow.

Do not be satisfied with one draft. The initial writing is often not fit to be printed. It is better to do a lot of drafts, write and rewrite, etc.

Do not write because you are forced to. That is a sure recipe for failure.

If you get stuck on one sentence, go to the next one. Do not persist in working on a sentence that does not flow well, since it could discourage you. Rather go on to the next sentences. Once you get going the flow soon gets its own momentum.

A person who persists will make it. If he has the writer's instinct and he feels he is meant to write, even when the writing conditions are harsh and lethal criticism sets in, he will survive and prosper.

Mrs. M. Beckerman:

A good book can be compared to a candy—I see children's books as categorized on three levels: poison, healthy, or a sweet. The conventional parameter of a book as being solely educational is not justified. It can also be like an enjoyable candy that just gives satisfaction.

A good book can be measured by the amount of times that you can read it. Every writer should consider whether his plot could be read more than once. Does it have sufficient depth beyond the simple suspense level and the final outcome, and does it create scenes that you can identify with and enjoy over and over again?

Check the quality of the product before you present it to the market. In the same way as you cannot sell a diamond you do not have, you cannot offer a book to be sold when it does not have a serious dimension, is well-prepared and unique in a way in which the reader can find a certain depth.

Mrs. C. Regev:

Give preference to stories which sell better. I have found that stories in serials are in greater demand and short stories less, and not that children's stories go down less well than adult books.

A Comment about Sifrei Kodesh

by Rabbi Y. Rosenes

The main article discusses reading material. This comment relates to the parallel field of sifrei kodesh that is also very big, but with an entirely different approach. Clearly, no one writes such works with any hope of making a parnossoh from his writing. Harbotzas Torah has its own logic.


Passing through any major Jewish center today one cannot help noticing the large number of bookstores filled with many new seforim and often overflowing on to the sidewalk. Although the non-Jewish Barnes and Noble may be larger and more organized, the sheer number of small book shops is something not found outside the chareidi neighborhoods.

Our innocent passerby will become even more confused if he steps inside. The typesetting, binding and graphics are all quite professional, but none of the authors are exactly world famous, and the majority of the titles are unfamiliar even to a serious Torah student.

Welcome to the world of sifrei kodesh, where every kollel student is an author, every home computer a printing press and even the fastest speed reader couldn't keep up with the burgeoning harvest of seven to ten new titles a week. As Rabbi Eliezer wrote, "If all the seas were ink, and all the reeds were pens, and all the heavens and earth were parchment and all the inhabitants of the earth soferim, they wouldn't be able to write all the Torah that I learned" (Shir Hashirim Rabbah I:20) . . . and to read it?

I used to ask myself why this tremendous rush to get into print? Isn't it a tremendous waste of time and money for every kollel man to print his chiddushim? Isn't it possible to distribute the resources more justly?

I stopped asking. There is no point in comparing Jewish publishing 60 years ago to what is happening today. The distance can be measured in light years. Not only has technology made self-publishing available to everyone who wants it, but also the number of yeshiva and kollel students seems to be doubling every five years, boruch Hashem.

Today I see nothing wrong in a yungerman who has a new mehalech in a sugya, or a gift for drush or divrei mussar from distributing his ideas in printed form. His family will be very proud, his neighbors and friends may get some benefit — and probably the entire Jewish world will take no notice whatsoever.

But what is his goal? To make the best-seller list? To be able to announce to the public that he is the mechaber of sefer ploni? He will probably only evoke a few yawns.

If, however, he manages to organize his learning better, to clarify his thoughts, and to leave Torah for his grandchildren to read — what could be better?

And who knows? Maybe he'll pick a topic that is really important to Klal Yisroel and he'll write it succinctly, weighing every word. Maybe his sefer will become the next, Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchosoh. Who knows?

Rav Yisroel Zeev Gustman once told me a story that his Rebbetzin had an uncle Rav Leib (I believe) who moved to Israel before World War I. He was known as a great talmid chochom and charif — even in Yerushalayim of those days.

When Rav Gustman arrived in Israel in the 70s he asked around among the old Yerushalmim to see if anyone had a story about his wife's relative. This is the story he heard from HaRav Rafael Katzenelenbogen.

Apparently, in those days it was still not an everyday event for a rov to print a new sefer in Yerushalayim. A certain Rav Mordechai, a well known talmid chochom in the Diaspora, printed a new sefer but was disappointed that it evoked little reaction in Ir Hakodesh. In Europe typically a new sefer would raise a storm of comments and counter-comments.

Finally he decided to visit Rav Leib with a copy of the new sefer in hand to see what he had to say. Rav Leib invited him in and, after a cordial conversation, asked him to leave his copy of the sefer for a few days so he could look it over. The few days passed and Rav Mordechai returned through the alleys of Beis Yisroel to hear Rav Leib's comments.

When he arrived Rav Leib took out the copy of the sefer, pointed to a line of the sefer with his finger and said, "Dos iz an emese vort" (This is a truthful statement). Rav Mordechai looked down and read the line where Rav Leib's finger was pointing: there he had written, "Lefi aniyus daati" (according my impoverished understanding)!


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