Oren Litwin likens his life to learning how to ride bigger and bigger bicycles: The key is to leep moving forward, try to stay balanced and not crash into things, he says.
The analogy reflects not only Litwin’s professional life but his family life, as he and his wife, Diane, pursue their 2 year old, Elisha, on his balance bike at their Fairfax home. A transplant from the West Coast, Litwin, 36, graduated from Yeshiva University with a bachelor’s degree. He went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in political science at George Mason University, served as an adjunct professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and monitored the financial influence of Islamist groups in American politics for the Middle East Forum.
Litwin is an author and has his own independent publishing imprint, Lagrange Books. His upcoming book, “Beyond Kings and Princesses: Governments for Worldbuilders,” draws on his political science background to guide authors, gamers and other storytellers in creating “imagined worlds that go beyond the usual retreads of Robin Hood and King Arthur,” he says.
What drew you back to school, now for a law degree?
I really wanted to get back to my work on financial regulation. I worked in financial advising for some time, which gave me a strong grounding in the financial markets and in how they affect real people, so I wanted to be involved in policy. I just wrapped up a project researching how companies are using intrusive data like your social media history and your shopping patterns to decide whether to lend you money, and the social and regulatory problems involved.
Watching Islamist money in politics sounds like something from an episode of “Homeland” or a new Netflix series. What does the work actually involve and why is it important?
Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have gotten very good at setting up legitimate organizations in the United States to participate in civil society and gain influence. Some of them do good work in society, but the Brotherhood’s goals remain the same and we need to keep an eye on them. Often it involves monitoring which politicians are getting their donations, or how Islamist activists are joining local political parties directly. The growing acceptance of boycott, divest and sanction [the BDS movement], and anti-Israel attitudes more generally, in the progressive movement is the direct result of a 30-year campaign by the Brotherhood to influence our politics.
What prompted you to get into publishing?
It started when I put together my first anthology of other people’s stories, “The Odds Are Against Us.” The experience of assembling the anthology was fun, and I wanted to do more. One of my authors encouraged me to start my own imprint, so I did.
Where did the name Lagrange Books come from?
A Lagrange point is a concept from astronomy. It’s a point in a planet-moon system where the gravity of the two bodies cancels out. To me, that represents a transition point between two worlds: a place of infinite freedom, possibility and perspective.
Some writers worry there is a stigma to self-publishing on a platform like Amazon or going with a small independent publisher. What are your thoughts?
Publishing a book boils down to editing, proofreading, cover design, layout design, dealing with the publishing platforms and building an audience. It requires a stable of trusted collaborators. I do story edits, hire experts for most of the technical roles (especially cover design and proofreading) and pull it all together in consultation with the author.
A reputable independent publisher has standards for acceptance and works with the author to edit rigorously. Either we pay the author for book rights or else the author essentially hires us to produce a high-quality book and keeps most of the royalties. A vanity press is a publisher who accepts any book regardless of quality and charges exorbitant prices for mediocre cover design, perfunctory editing and a marketing package that promises the moon but results in zero sales. And if you self-publish with Amazon, you’re responsible for everything: editing, layout, cover design and, most importantly, marketing.
Sturgeon’s Law says that 90 percent of everything is garbage. Self-publishing removes the gatekeepers, so a lot more garbage is flowing out into the market and most of it goes unsold. But if you invest the effort and have a sense of professionalism, you can still produce and sell excellent books.