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Steven in the Press

Israel's English authors jump on the e-publishing bandwagon

By Mordechai I. Twersky
Aug.31, 2012

Author Steven Greenberg simply did not want to wait any longer. Having spent four years writing his dystopian novel depicting a ravaged Israel following a massive earthquake and an Iranian-led attack, Greenberg felt now was the time to publish his book.

haaretz"I approached publishers and agents, but the lag time for traditional publishing is very long," said Greenberg, 44, a Texas native who immigrated to Israel in 1990. "Even if I found an agent, there's no way this book was going to see the light of day for a year and a half."

So, Greenberg, an independent marketing consultant who lives in the central city of Kadima, took matters into his own hands. After exploring several alternatives for self-publishing, he opted for Kindle Direct Publishing, a suite of tools that allows authors to self-publish their books on the Amazon Kindle Store free of charge. Depending on the pricing category they choose, authors either earn 70 percent of the royalties that Amazon makes from the Kindle books, or 35 percent, as well as a portion of the profits from print-on-demand paperbacks.

In early June, Greenberg launched his 293-page e-book, "Enfold Me: A Novel of Post-Israel." The novel spent two days in the top spot on Amazon's "Political fictions that have been downloaded for free" category. (There is also a category for political fictions that were purchased. ) And it was ranked No. 10 in the "suspense" category. Though the initial distribution of his book via Kindle involved free downloads, Greenberg was happy to take the gratis publicity and exposure that came with the high rankings.

While there are no figures available indicating to what degree English writers based in Israel are resorting to electronic self-publishing, a recent Pew Research Center study estimated that one out of every five American adults has read an e-book in the last year. E-book sales, according to the study, grew from $78 million in 2008 to $1.7 billion in 2011. A study conducted by Juniper Research last year projects that the e-book market will climb to $10 billion by 2016.

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, an author and tour educator, as well as a translator for Haaretz, has published several nonfiction books about daily life in ancient times via conventional means. But when she wanted to publish her first work of fiction, she was forced to turn to other avenues.

"The Scroll" is a multi-generational historical novel about the survivors of Masada, and Feinberg Vamosh admits the genre is not an easy sell. "When you try to publish a work of historical fiction, the agents and publishers are not beating down your door unless you're already a very famous person," said the 57-year-old native of Trenton, New Jersey, who's lived in Israel since 1970.

Feinberg Vamosh learned about e-publishing about a year and a half ago from a magazine article. "It made me realize that now that I have the platform for e-publishing, I don't need a conventional publisher to say my work is valuable," she said.

Feinberg Vamosh published "The Scroll" two weeks ago via two platforms: Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. Her total expenses came to less than $1,000. She spent $250 for the book cover design and another $500 to hire a layout professional.

"I wanted the message out there, and it was money well spent," she said. In the two weeks since the book was launched, Feinberg Vamosh has earned $12.87 in royalties on her book, which sells for $4.99, and she is keeping expectations low. "It's hard to be an author and keep your day job," says Feinberg Vamosh. She invests about an hour and a half each day managing the various aspects related to her book and says she hasn't even begun the marketing phase. "If a person is expecting to retire on the proceeds of any book, they need to rethink that," she maintains.

Dalia Jayes, a 46-year-old patent attorney from Modi'in, has also thought about self-publishing, albeit reluctantly. Jayes recently completed a 260-page fantasy novel for young adults set in 1939 England, entitled "Lollipa." But the book has not yet elicited the interest of literary agents, and Jayes is mulling the best course of action.

"In the back of my mind I decided to look into self-publishing," said Jayes, who moved to Israel from London in 1990. "It's not too complicated, but I still want to try via an agent because I think that's the best way to get the exposure you want for your book."