If Jewish writers are so good, why don't they publish secular?

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  • #610979

    pixelate
    Member

    I’ve found that most Jewish books I’ve read are very cheesy at beast. these authors (of novels) think that the more twists, the better the book. and the biographers have a very stale, monotonous way of writing.

    If there truly was a good jewish wirter, why would they publish in the jewish market?

    #983530

    writersoul
    Member

    There are two answers:

    A) You answered your own question.

    B) If they want to write Jewish books. While there is somewhat of a mainstream market for Jewish books, they’re not necessarily publishable if they’re al taharas hakodesh, if that’s what you want your book to be. (Maybe, but probably not. I remember reading that the author of Go, My Son considered publishing in the mainstream press but did not for that exact reason.) Unless you publish at a Jewish publishing house that distributes in the mainstream marked or self-publish, this is likely to happen.

    #983531

    Bookworm120
    Participant

    Yes, some books, Jewish and secular alike, are always advertised as being full of “surprising” twists that’ll leave you at the edge of your seat. They leave me more confused and wondering if this is even the same story or not.

    One thing that more people ought to try is self-publishing. That way, you don’t have an editor, Jewish or not, who will insist that your book conforms to their “hashkafa”.

    Someone mentioned to me how some secular author was forced to put a gay character in their book, or else the publishers wouldn’t publish it. I don’t know who this was, or whether she was famous, but if anyone could name her, I’m sure the info could come in handy.

    #983532

    akuperma
    Participant

    Because an author is good at producing books for mainstream Americans, reflecting their literary convention, assumptions, etc., doesn’t mean the author is capable of writing for a different subculture with different literary conventions, assumptions, etc.

    and vice versa

    There is no “inherent” quality in literature other than what the readers will pay for.

    #983533

    pixelate
    Member

    akuperma- There is no “inherent” quality in literature other than what the readers will pay for.

    The art of writing should be an “inherent quality” of literature.

    There is hardly such a thing as light reads in jewish publishing

    #983534

    Queen Bee
    Member

    Not sure I understand what you’re asking. I am a Jewish writer–what I mean by that is that I’m Jewish (frum) and I write. Not that I write/publish Jewish books. I have self-published a few secular novels, and to all those who claim self-publishing is easy, it’s not. Not at all. It takes A LOT of hard work and the market is very competitive. It’s extremely hard to stand out. I’ve heard over a hundred books get published a day on Amazon Kindle.

    I am considering the possibility of publishing a frum Jewish novel. I will definitely self-publish as opposed to finding a Jewish publisher. Not sure if anyone would be interested in reading my Jewish books, though (Jews or non-Jews). What I’d really love to see is frum writers taking control and writing REAL books with deep, complex characters dealing with REAL issues, and are gutsy enough to actually write about topics that no one would dream of writing in the current Jewish publishing market. And self-publishing them where readers from all over can have access to them (and pay a decent price as opposed to the ridiculous prices they pay for Jewish books now).

    #983535

    🍫Syag Lchochma
    Participant

    i hate when people start threads like this.

    #983536

    akuperma
    Participant

    Does anyone want to argue that Denielle Steele or Sir Arthur Clarke or Alice Walker could write a frum novel if they tried? An author can only write about what they understand. Most frum authors no matter how competent are alien from the goyish world, and vice versa.

    #983537

    🍫Syag Lchochma
    Participant

    HI Queen Bee!!!!

    #983538

    eclipse
    Member

    I had one book for young adults published when I was about 22, and I am still traumatized by the unprofessional editing.

    #983539

    sharp
    Member

    pixelate, not everybody wants to read secular books. So having Jewish authors publish in the Jewish market, helps.

    #983541

    GRATEFULBLAC
    Participant

    Having read widely I would say the greatest Jewish writer of the frum world of literature is

    1. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov – his stories border on mystical fantasy and create amazing worlds full of beggars with super powers, lost princesses, evil cults etc.

    2. The modern frum writers are somewhat limited by the publishing companies trying to keep the stories within halachic guidelines. Whilst the companies are looking for exciting fiction such as a John Grisham type thriller – the stories have to be filtered through a halachic filter.

    3. Most of the frum thrillers really deal with one plotline – how a non frum person became frum because of a number of bizarre events that took place during their life. Explosions, natural disasters, illnesses, intrigue and crime are frequent in these stories.

    4. In the non Jewish world, thrillers are also looked on as being the bottom of the literary pile. Its what sells and thats all. Their greatest writers – Frank Kafka (who was Jewish), Philip K. Dick, David Wallace Foster, etc were talented enough to be able to write stories that reflect their own thoughts resulting from their creative imaginations, life experience and feelings.

    5. In the frum world thriller writers cannot create a story that shows you what it means to be living a frum life in the modern world. They cannot write what their battles are with sin and taavos(desires), living with poverty and hardship, nor would their publishers want them to. They are then less able to give a true picture of life but create an artificial one where everything works out well in the end. Besides the readers of these books are looking to be entertained and the publishers are looking to make money. Instead of they lived happy ever after with faith in G-d despite the hardship, we are told they lived happily ever after without any hardship!

    #983542

    🍫Syag Lchochma
    Participant

    catch yourself – you must think very highly of yourself if you can speak so negatively so freely about so many people.

    MODS – this is not just opinions on books, these comments are Lashon Horah about many many individuals and could possibly discourage people from more appropriate reading. PLEASE reconsider posting these types of comments!!!

    #983543

    wallflower
    Member

    Frum writers are generally not immersed in mainstream culture enough to write about it convincingly.

    And nobody will write Jewish fantasy novels. Too bad.

    #983544

    yichusdik
    Participant

    Loaded question, loaded answers. First of all, Jewish writers, good ones, have been publishing “secular” for a very long time. They’ve been writing in many languages, including Hebrew, English, French, Italian, and Russian. Did you ever hear of Boris Pasternak? Michael Chabon? Primo Levi? CN Bialik? Jean Jacques Bernard?

    As a writer, I know that one of the first elements of good writing – for anyone – is to be a voracious reader. There is something in our culture, clearly the imperative of learning, but something more, which breeds well read individuals. If they have talent, opportunity, and an experience worth writing about or injecting into their work, they will do so successfully.

    Without exposure to good writing – and Akuperma, I completely disagree with your statement

    “There is no “inherent” quality in literature other than what the readers will pay for. “

    – a nascent writer will have no examples to emulate, no style or structure to model, and no foundation upon which to build their own unique literary vision.

    (For example, the structure of the second half of the sentence I just wrote utilized the threefold example structure that I gleaned from novelist, poet and Professor of English & Anglo Saxon Literature JRR Tolkien)

    If you mean “frum” writers when you describe “Jewish” writers, there are a few, like Joseph and Faye Kellerman, who have been able to make a successful go of it in the secular publishing world. Unfortunately, though, for those who restrict themselves from reading secular literature, especially the classics of earlier eras and some of the best writing of the 20th century, there is no substitute. Their writing will demonstrate the lack of influence they suffer from.

    There is indeed a very well founded “quality” in literature that the late Professor of English Literature Northrop Frye wrote about in his seminal work “The Secular Scripture”, which demonstrates that tropes and themes that have influenced individuals throughout history are the foundations of any good novel.

    I suppose that frum writers can be as “good” as anyone else in publishing pulpy, plot deprived, grammatically challenged, character thin novels, but I wouldn’t call it literature.

    #983545

    I think that this topic suffers from a lot of vague questions and false assumptions.

    1. The question is unclear what sort of “Jewish writers” OP is referring to.

    2. The question is unclear as to what sort of quality OP is referring to.

    3. The question (and many of the answers) seems to think that writing is something that you are either good at or not good at. But that is untrue. In addition to innate talent, good writing is the product of education, practice, and work.

    4. Pursuant to the above, there are lots of reasons why frum books are not as “good” as secular books. Frum people writing for the frum market are unlikely to have a literary education. Frum people writing for a frum audience are unlikely to be able to generate the type of income that the level of work would require. The very best-selling frum books sell 20,000 copies, and those are a very specific type of book – populist fiction. If a frum person wanted to write the “great frum American novel” it would take him thousands of hours and he would lose money on it. It’s not a coincidence that even the best-sellers (Yair Weinstock type novels) are written mostly by Israelis – they find it worthwhile to put in the work for less money than an American would require.

    5. Even if everything I’ve written above is false, it would be easy to understand why frum writers don’t write in the secular market. Even the most talented writers need a ton of luck to get noticed and make a living off their writing. If among 100 published frum writers, none of them happened to get lucky, it would not be anomalous at all.

    #983546

    heretohelp
    Member

    The good writers already publish secular- Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, etc.

    #983547

    charliehall
    Participant

    Herman Wouk is a frum writer (98 years old and still alive and writing) who has written novels on Jewish themes, and has also published three excellent sefarim in English for the popular market.

    #983548

    eclipse
    Member

    catch yourself:

    Now you see why it’s traumatic?

    Proper grammar and realistic dialogue are my 2 writing strengths, and they were compromised by an obviously amateur editor. This occurred AFTER I’D APPROVED the galleys,so I only saw the mortifying changes AFTER 5000 COPIES were printed.

    So we must give authors the benefit of the doubt:).

    #983549

    eclipse
    Member

    wallflower….you must be male.

    #983550

    Bookworm120
    Participant

    @eclipse – That really, really stinks. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I think that’s yet another reason why I’m afraid of editors! O.o

    And you’re absolutely right about giving authors the benefit of the doubt.

    @Queen Bee – Thanks for the heads-up. I admit I have some experience in self-publishing, but it’s obviously dwarfed by yours. (It would probably be identity compromising if you told me some titles of your publications, but I’d love to read them.) One downside to self-publishing is definitely that you’re on your own when it comes to promoting books.

    #983551

    wallflower
    Member

    @eclipse- – what makes you say that?

    #983552

    catch yourself
    Participant

    Syag –

    You are right. I was wrong to post that comment.

    At any rate, as eclipse has said, the authors are probably better than they seem.

    I imagine, also, that writers have gotten better since the last time I checked.

    And, after all, I am no professional linguist – just a voracious reader.

    I join you in requesting the post be taken down, and I apologize to all the writers out there – I definitely painted with too broad a brush.

    As part of my teshuva, I hereby renounce my membership, and will bli neder refrain from posting ever again.

    As it says – syag lchachmah….shetikah

    #983553

    Queen Bee
    Member

    Hi, Syag 🙂

    Bookworm120, cool you have some experience! What kind of books did you self-publish, if I may ask (Jewish or non-Jewish? Fiction or non-fiction?) As for reading my books…hm. I’m not sure if my books are something most frum people are interested in. I could be wrong, though. I write mainly for teens and most have a male point of view and there is always romance in there, so I guess it would depend on the person and what he/she feels comfortable reading. I don’t feel comfortable posting their titles… Maybe I would tell you privately, if there was a way.

    #983554

    Receptionist: How do you write women so well?

    Udall: I think of a man and take away reason and accountability.

    (As Good as it Gets)

    #983555

    Bookworm120
    Participant

    @Queen Bee – I was in the process of releasing one secular fiction piece, but I really need to tweak the manuscript a bit more before I let the public see it. 😀

    If this inspires you, Susan Eloise Hinton, author of The Outsiders, chose to publish under her initials because her publisher was worried that the message of her story wouldn’t be taken as seriously by the intended audience. It, too, was from a male POV, and I personally think she portrayed him very well. I don’t recommend the book, but it was well-written for a secular audience.

    I don’t read a lot of teen fiction, especially if the main focus is the romantic aspect, but if it’s only a minor aspect of the story, I can tolerate it. 🙂

    @VM – LOL!

    #983556

    eclipse
    Member

    Wallflower: This line of yours:

    “And nobody will write Jewish fantasy novels. Too bad.”

    Am I right?:)

    #983557

    eclipse
    Member

    catch yourself: You caught yourself, no need to expel yourself!

    #983558

    wallflower
    Member

    Eclipse: Nope, you’re actually wrong. I’m female. And a teenage one, at that (OMG!!!!!)

    #983559

    Bookworm120
    Participant

    @wallflower – COOL!!!

    #983560

    Shopping613 🌠
    Participant

    Goes along with my theory, half of us are female (pre/after) teens and the other half old ppl with nothing else to do but post

    #983561

    “Having read widely I would say the greatest Jewish writer of the frum world of literature is

    1. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov – his stories border on mystical fantasy and create amazing worlds full of beggars with super powers, lost princesses, evil cults etc.”

    Having just finished reading an English translation of the collected stories of Rabbi Nachman, I have to disagree.

    The stories are long, complex, and feature many characters, almost all unnamed, and sub-sub-subplots. It is extremely difficult to keep track of who’s who and what’s what. I found myself frequently flipping back a few pages to remind myself where I was in the story. This is a structural issue, so I really don’t think it would be any easier to get through in the original Yiddish (and besides which, the translators wrote an extended introduction basically saying that every word of Rabbi Nachman’s is precious and meaningful and therefore they didn’t change anything). Sure, the fantasy stuff is fun, but not if you can’t actually understand it.

    #983563

    Bookworm120
    Participant

    @Shopping – I bet we *do* have better things to do, (someone tell me I’m not the only one) but it’s just so much fun here we can’t help it! 😀

    #983565

    👑RebYidd23
    Participant

    Good ones often do.

    #983566

    GRATEFULBLAC
    Participant

    jewishfeminist02 –

    Yes the best fiction is challenging – try James Joyce’s Ullyses, Kafka’s The Trial and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Samual Beckett etc – they are all difficult to read but rewarding in the long run.

    Rebbe Nachman’s stories are also complex but require close attention to detail, repetition and some knowledge perhaps of Breslov Chassidus and Kabbalah. I would recommend Aryah Kaplan’s translation and commentary.

    In some respects there could be thousands of interpretations to the stories and Rebbe Nachman purposely left them opaque and open to each individual to find themselves in the stories.

    My point is in answer to the question whether (Frum) Jewish fiction can be for the secular community also – that no – frum fiction today would not appeal to non Jews as it is written in the style of basic thrillers, and the non Jewish fiction world is already inundated with such fiction and would see nothing appealling in it.

    #983567

    notasheep
    Member

    I am thoroughly discouraged from trying to publish in the Jewish market. For one thing, I am very much into fantasy, and that’s not gonna happen. For another, I was brought up in a home where reading was considered something important – we are all bookworms and grew up reading clean, well written children’s literature and the classics (like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen). My writing style reflects the well-written English I was brought up with, and every piece I have tried submitting to Jewish magazines I have had the response “we feel your writing is not for us”.

    Personally, I feel that my vocabulary is very good, I do not use a thesaurus whilst I am writing, unless I find myself wanting to find a better way of saying something, and I feel like these ‘popular and well known’ writers write with a dictionary by their side as they use long words that sound fancy, some of which I have never heard! And I pride myself on good, high class language in my own writing… Some of the words which I do understand are written in completely the wrong context as well…

    I feel that unless you have been brought up reading decent literature, you are not going to produce anything outstanding for those who are very well read.

    On a side point, two of my favourite Jewish novels are The Betrayal and The Outcast. The author is Israeli and they are translated into English. They are very well written (yes, they also have their flaws but they are so much better than anything else) and the plot is intriguing without having too many twists. I really enjoyed them.

    #983568

    “Yes the best fiction is challenging – try James Joyce’s Ullyses, Kafka’s The Trial and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Samual Beckett etc – they are all difficult to read but rewarding in the long run.”

    With all due respect to Rabbi Nachman, his stories do not have the literary value of the work of Kafka and Joyce.

    #983569

    “The best fiction is challenging” may be true in a sense but it’s also circular. What is this literature best at? Another school of literature believes in a balance of readability and “literary quality”.

    #983570

    writersoul
    Member

    VM: I’d say the best fiction is not the best fiction because it is challenging- rather, it is the best fiction sometimes in spite of it being challenging. Of course, the challenge can sometimes contribute to the quality, but many times just the fact that it’s still gripping and fascinating despite being difficult to read is a credit to the author.

    I love Les Miserables. While in and of itself it’s not a mentally challenging book to wrap your mind around, it is long-winded and occasionally confusing, especially when you’re a lot more used to Terry Pratchett :). Even so, it’s a fantastic book and I really enjoy reading it, even if I occasionally only end up skimming the fifteen chapters about the French monastic system and ergot mold. I definitely think that’s a credit to Victor Hugo (the well-told story, not the ergot mold).

    #983571

    notasheep
    Member

    Writersoul, for the same reason, Dickens is amazing. His chapters are long winded, but that’s only because his novels were published as a serial and they paid per word in those days. His characters are so well defined (think Micawber from David Copperfield) and you really understand them. My favourites are David Copperfield and Bleak House. I felt like I really understood the characters and got what they were about. Plus, Dickens’ novels were drawn on actual events (the court case in BH is based on a similar case that went on for years) and he paints a very real picture of what life was like in Victorian London.

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