Thursday, March 13, 2014

Advice for turning a manuscript into a published book

I thought the following description of the process of turning a manuscript into a book would be helpful to motivate some of you want to publish but really had no idea of how to do it. This is not to be construed as an endorsement of the services of Moshe Cohen as I have never used his services.

Guest post by Moshe Cohen

Before you publish...

Books distribute in two general paths:

1. A publisher thinks your book is a money maker and distributes it. Sometimes they even fund publishing. 2. The author or his agent does so, on his own dime.

A publisher or distributor will take a sefer only if he gauges it a winner. He can probably tell just from a sample. One person you might want to contact is Mr Yoni Posen of Y'fei Nof. He will give you his honest opinion on if your sefer is profitable. Most seforim are not.

On the other hand, although most books are not popular best-sellers, that does not mean they ought not be printed. Why?
  • People publish a book to establish themselves as an expert. An author is instantly an expert. Often, that turns into more clients.

  • A therapist will sell his client a workbook to cement their commitment, or to add another product to their service. In place of therapy alone, they offer a book too.

  • Speakers often sell their books from a small table in the back of the lecture room. 

  • People write to impact or inspire others - they want to get their message out.

  • Writing itself is often the goal. For some it spurs their growth - writing a book is an excellent focuser. For others its therapeutic, healing and enlightening.
Profit is nice, but not always essential. And besides, books can sell online too, cutting out the need for extensive distribution or printing many copies. So although most people dream of Feldheim, Gitler, Yfei Nof or Artscroll distributing their book, perhaps that focus is misplaced. (The publisher/distributor will often take three quarters of all profits. It may still be worthwhile, but be aware of this.) 

How to start:

Stage 1: Type the book. Hand written notes cannot be published. Type it out yourself, or give a typist your manuscript or audio. Typing is usually charged per character, expect to pay $2 for each thousand characters, meaning that a normal page is about $4.50, either Hebrew or English.

Stage 2: After the typing, edit. Rearrange the content into the most logical sequence, add or subtract material and add a table of contents and index. Do it yourself or get a pro. Anywhere between $10 and $30 an hour is reasonable.

Stage 3: Proofreading: check for mistakes and typos. Again, can be hired out.

Stage 4: Typesetting, or layout is $2 to $5 per page, depending on if its a single text, or multi-text, such as a main text and a perush or footnotes. This will also furnish that professional look a real sefer has, with its varied fonts and typefaces.

At this point you can admire your finished, handsome, print-ready pdf file.

Stage 5: Cover design. This is for a pro, unless you have something really plain in mind. Graphics for a sefer run $200 to $500

Stage 6: Printing. What paper are you using? How many pages? Oh well. Ballpark, printing can be $4 to $9 each book.

Often graphics are incorporated in the sefer [not just the cover]. Allocate pages for haskomos, iluy nishmas, divider pages between chapters and so on. Just saying...
You will notice that each stage can be done alone. It can be done part by part, as your time and resources permit. Do take note of that, for many worthwhile seforim went unwritten because the author thought its all or nothing. (It was Nothing...)

What are some bear-traps and problems to look out for?

When you come to an agreement with an editor, take pains to ensure that the agreement is understood the same way on both sides. Did you intend that your editor would recast the text, but he thought to skim over it with a light hand, only taking out obvious errors? Well, you are heading for a misunderstanding and disappointment.
When you are making a cover, you surely have some picture in mind. Does your graphic artist share that picture. Are you SURE? When one of you speak English and the other Hebrew, please double check everything. Yes, it does seem redundant.... until you receive the wrong color imprint for your cover!!!! (Actually happened to us!)
Ok, thats pretty much it. With so much time and resources needed, sometimes Yiush sets in, and the bustle of life blocks this worthwhile endeavor. There are people who specialize in all this hachanah l'dfus, and do explore using them. They are working with editors, typesetters and printers regularly, and can often save you much time, money and effort!

About the author: Moshe Cohen prepares books and seforim for print and looks forward to working with you. Contact him at moshe @ His website is


  1. Two additional points:

    In general, money should flow to the writer, not the other way around. Beware of publishers who demand that you pay them for the privilege. If you self-publish, you will need to pay an editor, you may need to pay for cover design or typography or interior layout, but in these days of CreateSpace, Lulu, and other print-on-demand services, paying a publisher is an even bigger scam than it used to be.

    Also, while a professionally-designed cover can well cost $500, you can often do a more-than-good-enough job on your own. Fiction author Sarah Hoyt has a series of blog posts on this topic at ‹›. The first point she makes there is the most important one: make sure the cover you’re designing is suitable for the genre you’re writing in.

  2. Mr. Salamon; good points!
    I have used too, besides the ones you mentioned.
    Be aware, however, that prices per book are higher with POD (i.e. double or more!) and the template layout looks like a template layout. Sometimes thats okay. Sometimes you need better.
    Also, Hebrew seforim don't really have that option. You can design and typeset in Word or OpenOffice. It can be done, although its neither fun nor the best use of your time, I think.
    As per your last point, again, you CAN do it. I have also used freelancers and fiverr. But you get what you pay for. If its free, it might be worth that much...


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