Friday, July 23, 2010

Publishing Dilemmas

For my MA, I wrote a number of papers, and now I am debating what to do with them. Here is the complete list (the reason why it is so long is that I had to do additional work because I didn't have a BA):

1. The Sun's Path at Night

2. The Theological Significance of Geocentrism for Jews in the Medieval Period

3. Jewish Responses to Copernicus and Heliocentrism

4. Shiluach haKein: The Transformation of a Mitzvah

5. The Evolution of the Olive

6. “The Torah Speaks Like the Language of Men”: Talmudic Parameters

7. Arguing with God: When May Students Dispute Teachers?

8. Maimonides’ Naturalization of Miracles

9. Rashi and Corporealism

10. Maharal’s Multiple Revolutions in Aggadic Scholarship

11. The Sages’ Legendary Powers of Life and Death

12. Wrestling with Demons

13. Sod Hashem Liyreyav: The Expansion of an Explanatory Tool

14. North African Rabbis and Electricity

15. The Personalities of Non-Humans in Scripture

16. The Beasts From The Whirlwind: Animal Life in the Book of Iyov

17. The Extinction of Species in Jewish Thought

18. Rav Soloveitchik's Approach to Evolution

19. The Economics of Torah Study in the Medieval Period

20. The Question of the Kidneys' Counsel

Eventually, I plan to publish 1-3 in a book entitled Shaking The Heavens: Rabbinic Responses to Astronomical Revolutions, and some of the others will appear in Rationalist Judaism: Its Nature, Decline and Rebirth. But it would be a pity if they don't see the light of day until then, and besides, what do I do with the others? There are several options, each with different advantages and disadvantages.

For my career, it's best to submit them to academic journals. But then they won't be read by the people who would most benefit from them. Hakirah is another option, but there is a limit to how many articles from one person they can print. I also have to figure out how to make parnasah as a writer (I much prefer writing to teaching). With the kezayis essay, I tried making it available online and asking people to make an appropriate donation, but even though hundreds of people downloaded it, only about ten people made a donation.

I'd be interested to hear people's ideas. The essay on Shiloach HaKein is especially important to the rationalist enterprise, and would be timely for parashas Ki Setze; I would very much like to release it on this website, if people are willing to make an appropriate donation.

Meanwhile, in other news, I am pleased to announce that this Sunday I am giving a lecture at Shomrei Emunah in Baltimore at 6.45pm on the topic of Rationalist Judaism. The entrance donation is $10, and books will be available for purchase. If you have any friends in Baltimore, please let them know! I also have a few spots left next Sunday for the Torah Tour of the Bronx Zoo.


  1. Some of these look exciting. You might want to try selling on scribd
    although they take 20% plus $.25 per document, so that might put the kabash on that. But for the sake of argument, let's say you sold one for $4; you would make $2.95

    Alternately, you might consider creating a paid-subscription website, but then you'd have the overhead of hosting. It seems like the key either way is generating enough of a paying audience to support the weight of delivery, and leave enough for profit. (Heh, I should have gone to business school!)

    Hatzlachah on this! Looking forward to reading 4, 6, 8...

  2. You can charge two dollars for a downlowd, like Torah in Motion.

    Which Rav Soloveitchik?

  3. I think your audience here is too small to make any money on direct sale of your writings.

    I think a lot of people buy the Hakirah journal because of your essays. Your best bet is to start a competing journal which comes out monthly instead of quarterly and includes articles from your friends. Charge $5/month, get 5000 subscribers and you're talking serious money. I like printed magazines because the only time I have to read a multi-page article is Shabbos.

  4. Yehoshua, thanks for the compliment, but the economics of publishing just don't work that way. (Let alone that I wouldn't get 5000 subscribers!)

  5. You can always publish them in journals for the academy and then publish the rest of your collected writings in books for broader audiences.

    Also, you really ought to schedule your trips to America around the AJS Conference.

    Baruch Pelta
    ps I assume you're still coming out with your book on the ban that you promised R' Feldman. I'm very excited for that one!

  6. Don't know, but I'd love an abstract of sod hashem-it's always puzzled me.
    Joel Rich

  7. Garnel IronheartJuly 23, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    I say you publish the whole kitten kaboodle in a 5 volume hard-cover set with some catchy rabbinic sounding title. Then you sneak them onto the shelves of seforim stores in Bene Beraq and Geulah when no one's looking.

    Either that, or ask Artscroll if they're interested. 8-)

  8. I would very much like to release it on this website, if people are willing to make an appropriate donation.

    How much is appropriate?

  9. Garnel, it's "Kit and Caboodle," not "Kitten Kaboodle"!

    Anon - the Shiluach HaKein paper is very extensive, so I think $5-$8 would be appropriate. But I also view it as an opportunity for people to show their appreciation for this website in general (assuming that they feel that they have gained from it!).

  10. I’d be very interested in reading your Shiluach HaKein paper. Does it by any chance deal with whether the mitzvah is simply a “Lav HaNetaik L’Aseh” vs. a “Mitzvah Kiyumis” as is posited by Rabbi Akiva Eiger and other achronim?

  11. <> it's "Kit and Caboodle," not "Kitten Kaboodle"!

    Oh yeah?!

    So nyah!

  12. Does a book of collected essays make any sense? Is it worth it financially? Can one make somewhat of a living off royalties?

    I know personally I would buy a book of collected essays by you but probably wouldn't pay to download an essay from a website. Why? I'm not sure, but I don't think I'm the only one who would behave in such a manner.

    (By the way, this has nothing to do with appreciation. If you think of it like that, then I would pay for the essay since I really do like this site. But I'm not sure if you should rely on your readers feeling that they owe you something. I'm not sure that's wise from a business perspective)

  13. I agree with the suggestions of making them available for download for a reasonable fee, like Torah in Motion does. Making the payment voluntary did not seem to work when you tried it. If you publish them in academic journals that have limited readership and are often difficult or expensive to obtain (outside of the academy) it would be a great loss for your reading public.

  14. Perhaps a summary of your research and conclusions on these various topics could be featured in your blog with a request for an appropriate donation for a download of the articles.

  15. I would also like to read your essays especially on shiluach haken and personally value your work to be willing to pay for them

  16. Can the Gaon please put up his email so people can contact him to go on the tour. thanks.

  17. i vote for publishing a collected writings book.

  18. If you publish them in an academic journal, can you still publish them elsewhere?

    Clearly this depends on the journals and the discipline. I know that in mathematics, one can web-publish articles that have been submitted.

    If it's best for your career, I would definitely suggest academic publishing. (Always look out for Number One!) If the journals allow you to put them on the web, you could put them here.

  19. Personally, I'd pay either for book with a collection of essays, or for individual downloads, as long as each essay has a sufficient summary that I'm sure I would find it interesting and relevant.

  20. I downloaded the kzayis one and donated when I did and I would do the same for the Shiloach HaKein paper.

    I am at the AOJS convention right now. I am wondering what you think of the association and how come you're not here if you're in the US anyway.

  21. The more you write the more you become famous the money you get for speaking look at Cliton and others

  22. "I also have to figure out how to make parnasah as a writer"

    It can't be done. You're writing for the small Jewish world where a few thousand copies is a resounding success. How much can an author make off such sales after the retailer and publisher take their cut?
    Perhaps you can write something for the general population?

  23. Most Jewish books seem to be self-published. E.g. R' Bechhofer's books, both English & Hebrew. Sure, there are some big publishers, Artscroll, Feldheim, Targum (which is a cooperative venture of Artscroll & Feldheim), Ktav, Prayer Book Press, Mossad harav Kook, etc., but most seem to come either from institutions (Mechon Yerushalayim, Mechon Moshe, etc.) which have a non-profit model and the publishing is part of a larger educational enterprise; or self-published.

  24. I would prefer a book to downloading the collected essay, and indeed, I imagine I would pay a premium for the pleasure. My reason is that I like the idea of having a bound book on my bookshelf rather than a ream of paper in my filing cabinet.

    Of course, since this work was originally prepared in a academic setting, you should look for a Univeristy (scholarly) publisher. I am unsure about the humanities, in science I would recommend some form of peer reviewed publication.


  25. but what donation could really be appropriate? surely a Maimonidean like you must realize that only a negative donation will do in this case.

  26. Have you considered "hostage publication"? Basically, you publish one paper. When people donate at least $n, you publish the second one, etc.

    This keeps the donation model, while giving people an incentive to donate.

  27. You may want to consider the distribution model of the Grateful Dead who encouraged fans to tape bootleg copies and distribute it freely. This created a fan base that had thousands of hours of music which created its' own culture. They then sold out shows and sold much memorabilia.

    I would imagine that keeping your work among the few that are willing to directly pay would run counter to your overall interests. However if your material became more widely available, it would expand your ability to give speeches and charge more for exhibitions and zoo tours.


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