The Jewish Book Council: A Friend to Authors

by Claire LaZebnik

So when my publishers asked if they could fly me in to do a Jewish Book Council event in New York in May, I said yes, assuming it would be something similar to previous literary festivals I’ve done, where you speak either alone or on a panel for 20 minutes to an hour.

My sister said, “Oh, I know this event–a friend of mine did it. You and a bunch of other authors go and speak for like five minutes–it’s essentially an audition to get booked to speak at Jewish Community Centers and temples around the country.” I laughed and said something along the lines of, “Silly sister! You don’t know what you’re talking about. This is just a book festival.” And I continued to cling to that belief until I got all the official info about the event and discovered I would be one of fifty authors that night (and 150 overall since there were two other nights of the event), each speaking for TWO MINUTES.

Clearly I needed to do a little more research on the Jewish Book Council, so I visited their website and read, “The Mission of the Jewish Book Council is to: promote the reading, writing and publishing of quality Jewish content books./Serve as the resource center for information about the North American Jewish literary scene./Serve as the coordinating body of Jewish literary activity in North America.”

Toward this end, they host these “Meet the Author” events–and then coordinate speaking tours for the authors who participate (assuming, that is, that your two-minute speech is appealing enough to get you bookings–more on the pressure of that down below). They also present a National Jewish Book Award, and they… well, visit the website and see. They have a lot of programs, events, and resources, all aimed at promoting Jewish authors and/or books with Jewish content.

So here’s how the actual “Meet the Author” event worked: the authors (whose publishers had submitted their names to the Council and had to be formally accepted by the JBC) filled up the first three rows in the auditorium. In alphabetical order, each of us ran up to the podium in turn, spoke rapidly for two minutes (although some people ran over and I think you know who you are), and ran back off. One right after the other.

This went on for over TWO HOURS. One author played the fiddle and another one drew a picture: they were the smart ones because they stood out. Although plenty of people stood out for their sheer brilliance. Actually, almost everyone there was brilliant. It was an impressive group of writers–which made it hard for someone like me not to feel like a bit of an impostor–a potato chip left on a table filled with foie gras and filet mignon.

There were quite a few books I’d personally like to have heard more about (and plan on reading) and while I don’t know if I’ll end up booked at any events, I think it’s a wonderful way for authors to find new venues to present their work in–something we’re all looking for. And it was sheer joy to be surrounded by so many people who love books.

From Bookstore People

The original text of the article may be found here.


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