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Advice for Writers: Six Ways to Publicize Your Jewish Book

StarSome months ago, I wrote a post in which I attempted to provide general advice regarding some of questions that I receive repeatedly from writers whose work–fiction, poetry, or nonfiction–features Jewish themes or subjects. I promised a follow-up post (someday!) written to address a specific subset of questions concerning how to promote and publicize such writing.

This is that follow-up post.

Most questions that writers ask me on this topic are inquiries regarding ways to connect with “the Jewish literary community” (I won’t digress on the topic of the diversity within this community; suffice to say that the community is not monolithic). Sometimes, people ask specifically about reaching bloggers and review publications that spotlight Jewish writing. In this post, I’ll offer basic information and share six of the most obvious (and mainly low-cost) ways to promote your Jewish book.

But just as I made clear in the earlier post, I want to be sure that you do not ignore promotional possibilities beyond those that specify interest in Jewish-themed work. It’s equally important to emphasize that many of the same rules apply everywhere, regardless of book content. For example, writers who self-promote their books incessantly within a Jewish-themed Goodreads group will alienate as many group members as those who endlessly self-promote in any group.

With that said, let’s begin.

1. Sources of first resort
Most writers (or their publishers) target several “mainstream” pre-pub review magazines (Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly) to glean early and extensive coverage of their books. Writers of Jewish books should add two more publications to their lists: the Jewish Book Council’s Jewish Book World magazine and AJL Reviews, which is published by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

2. Reviews in magazines, newspapers, and websites that feature Jewish content
Hopefully, if you’re engaged in Jewish-themed writing, you’re already familiar with many venues that feature such content. But you can also check the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) membership directory [UPDATE, February 2014: With the AJPA site redesign, the membership directory is no longer freely accessible. For now, you might consult these lists instead]. Tip: Especially if you/your publisher may have a limited number of review copies to offer, begin with your local or regional publications. It’s also worth targeting the local Jewish press for any area where you’ll be touring with your book or that has a connection with your book’s setting.

3. Excerpts/related work in magazines, newspapers, and websites that feature Jewish content
You know how you may read something online or in a magazine and discover, in the author’s bio appended to the end of the piece, that the author happens to have a new book about to be published (or just released)?

That author can be you!

Whether it’s a previously unpublished excerpt from your novel that’s placed in a literary magazine, or an essay or article on a topic related to an aspect of your book, there are ways to draw attention to your work through one of your main strengths: your writing! For excerpts and similar material, consult–but do not limit yourself to–this list of literary magazines and websites that have expressed a specific interest in Jewish-themed work. For essays and articles, pitch editors as you would for any freelance assignment.

4. Coverage (reviews, Q&A, guest posts, etc.) on blogs with expressed interest in books on Jewish themes and subjects
Where can you find these blogs? Some bloggers participate in the monthly Jewish Book Carnival, which is organized by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Some of us are also members of the carnival’s group on Goodreads (but if your only purpose in joining that group is to promote your book, please limit yourself to the thread “Authors Announcing Their Books”). You might also want to peruse the blogroll links on My Machberet.

5. Awards and prizes
Awards recognition can bring your book added publicity (and sales). In addition to relevant awards outside the Jewish literary sphere (for novels, for nonfiction, for debut books, etc.), consider prizes that recognize books on Jewish themes. If your publisher can’t foot the bill for entry fees, you’ll be happy to find several competitions that are free to enter. Check this list for some ideas.

6. Speaking engagements
Think broadly. As wonderful as bookstores are, they aren’t the only places where you might be able to meet readers. For my story collection, Quiet Americans, I’ve had the good fortune of being hosted for book talks by a number of congregations (and/or their book groups). One of my very first events was hosted by the remarkable National Museum of American Jewish Military History (one of the stories in my book is based on my grandfather’s World War II service in the U.S. Army).

Moreover, an event in a Jewish setting might form part of a set of engagements. For instance, after my application to participate in the Virginia Festival of the Book was accepted, and I learned exactly where and when my festival panel would take place, I tried to think creatively of ways I might meet still more readers in Charlottesville, a place where I didn’t know a soul. I reached out to the local synagogue, where I was invited to give a presentation (and sell a few books). It helped that, as an active Reform Jew, I was familiar with the Union for Reform Judaism’s website, which helped me locate the congregation. It likely also helped that my rabbi offered to write an introductory email on my behalf.

To explore ideas about organizations and institutions that might welcome your book, check this list.

NB: If you have the money (or your publisher will foot the bill), you might consider participating in the Jewish Book Network. It’s pricey, and there are no guarantees that your participation will lead to speaking gigs. But it’s there, and you should know about it (if you don’t already).

A few final (and general) words of wisdom

  • The best way to become known within any community–literary or other, Jewish or other–is to participate in and contribute to it. Hopefully, you are interested in Jewish books other than your own. Why not review some books on Goodreads? Comment on some of the Jewish Book Carnival blog posts? Propose another author’s book for your synagogue book group?
  • Don’t delay. Lead time can be crucial for many (if not all) of the endeavors listed above. Do not wait until the week (or month) before your book is published to get started.
  • To maximize the benefits of Goodreads, read this.
  • Before contacting any blogger to request a review or other coverage, check for the blogger’s stated review policy. At the very least, spend enough time with each blog to ascertain why you think the blogger might be interested in your book.
  • Don’t forget your built-in support network of friends and family. Take a look at Chuck Sambuchino’s list of ideas on how to support an author’s new book. Share them with said friends and family!

What have I left out? Please share any tips you may have in comments. Many thanks!

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20 Responses »

  1. Thank you so much! This is an incredibly timely post as I am gearing up to self-publish my book BURY THE HOT (the true story of a boy who hid from Hitler, then spent a lifetime trying to escape his past.) I so appreciate all of your advice and energy towards helping new writers.

  2. Excellent advice and very helpful. This needs to be widely distributed. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.

  3. Hi Erica
    I’m gearing up to publish my narrative cookbook Jewish Soul Food., Brandeis University Press 2013, I hope. This is wonderful. Thanks

  4. Thank you, Erika, for another highly useful post—and so thorough.

    Some of the organizations and periodicals you mention might also have Facebook pages that allow visitors to post on their walls. Any thoughts on this practice?

    All the best!

  5. First, I want to thank everyone for the warm response. And special Mazel Tov wishes go to Deb and Carol on their forthcoming books.

    Germaine, I don’t think that simply posting on an organization or publication’s wall–“drive-by” posts, for lack of a better phrase–makes much sense. I don’t recommend it. On the other hand, if you participate genuinely in those communities–sharing their links, commenting on their updates, and so on–group members are likely to take note. After all, people who find your insights and contributions compelling are likely to seek more words from you!

  6. What a helpful post. And so timely. Thank you, Erika. I found myself in a funny situation. I got a novel with a Jewish heroine accepted for publication last November and I thought I’d have to wait for six months or more before it got published. Suddenly in January, my publisher announced they’re releasing my title on Feb 1. There was some rushed editing involved. As I subscribe to your newsletter I though I’d check out if you have any advice — and here you go: the new post on promoting Jewish books. Just what I needed. It’s like you read my mind and responded to my anxiety. Thank you.

  7. Thanks Erika. These are valuable tips.

    There are more than 9 million books at Amazon. Unless your name is Stephen King or Tom Clancy, no one will click on your name without some motivation. Having an appropriate landing page is good; but it won’t attract anyone. No matter how perfect your book’s page is, it is useless without driving in motivated viewers. Having a terrific Amazon author page is equally important, particularly if you have more than one book for sale. You should be sure to update the author page regularly. But the best pages are pointless unless thousands of people visit them regularly. How can one attract more people to an Amazon book page? See below.

    If you want to drive traffic to your book, develop and post a terrific video book trailer on every social networking site. If cost is a factor, take a look at http://www.animoto.com. You can create your own 30-second teaser ad for FREE. Mine is here: http://youtu.be/-YDnOAKoGM4. You can also pay a good developer to create a full (2-minute) trailer. The cost for a full video trailer is between $500 and $1,500. I’ve used my 30-second teaser ads and full-length videos for different reasons in various circumstances.

    Create a good Facebook fan page. Mine is here: http://www.facebook.com/jacobs.courage#. It doesn’t need to be huge or fancy, but it should distribute plenty of information, links to your teaser and trailer, plenty of advertising and as many powerful reviews as possible, plus links to global retailers. Drive as much traffic there as possible. Do the same with Twitter (https://twitter.com/Chuck_Weinblatt) and splash your book cover across the background. Finally, create an author web page for all of your published books, with one-click purchase links to each one. Here’s a site that’s free: http://tiny.cc/4sndi. You can harness this to attract people to your Amazon page.

    Spread the word even farther. Place your book and its trailer on every writing and reading-related web site on the Internet, especially Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Zing, BlogSpot, Shelfari, LibraryThing, Skillpages, StumbleUpon, etc. Wherever you can post a page about you and your book, do it.

    Write and publish articles on the Internet. They don’t even have to be related to your book. I’ve used Ezine and TRCB. Go there and plug my name in. Most of my articles are not powerful sales pieces. Hopefully, they provide some valued information. When you finish each article, sign off as, “author of …” and include a link to your landing page or the Amazon page. But that’s just a start. I write articles as a contributing journalist for The Examiner. Almost anyone can do that. Each article allows one to sign off with the name of her or his book and a link to it. I’m also a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. This puts me in a position to help other authors.

    Be sure that you have a solid landing page for each book. This is the place that most potential readers will use for the first time, or where you drive them from another site. Include all positive reviews and one-click optios for purchasing. Two of the best landing pages are WordPress and BlogSpot. I use both; but I prefer WordPress because it delivers better and more detailed analytics, such as who visited from where and how. My WordPress landing page is http://jacobscourage.wordpress.com. My BlogSpot address is http://jacobscourageaholocaustlovestory.blogspot.com.

    Even though I have been trade-published twice, I just received another new publishing contract for my Holocaust novel by the press of a large American university. I also have a talented literary agent. Regardless, I will still sometimes decide to self-publish or e-publish. All authors need to market, including trade-published authors. I’ll have benefitted from these years of experience, working on my own. So will you.

    • Absolutely the most informative piece I’ve tead–and I’ve read plenty. As are readers’comments. A suggestion: neighbors can be invaluable in sending out invitations for a book signing/reading. At my first three weeks ago I sold 33 copies and a fellow in the audience washed that I do one a month later for him,

  8. Thank you for your most informative post, Charles. It highlights what I’ve tried to emphasize above: the same rules (that apply to publicizing books of not especially Jewish content) apply here. That is to say, the advice about videos, Amazon author pages, etc. is applicable for all authors. I would caution, however, that if one isn’t already active or familiar with various social media, it’s essential to take the time to learn how to use Twitter, Facebook fan pages, and so on. Mismanagement can do a lot of harm and distance or alienate lots of potential readers.

    I used animoto for my video, but I thought that it couldn’t be uploaded to YouTube. Is that a new animoto feature?

    • Erika, I apologize for the delay.

      I have had no trouble uploading Animoto to You Tube. Have you heard of problems doing that?

      Your advice about marketing is spot on. I have a short e-book on author marketing (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/2595), as well as a blog on publishing and marketing from an author’s perspective (http://cweinblatt.wordpress.com) and I could not put it better than you have.

      One aspect that I stress is to be comprehensive and to be confident. Learn the ropes and go to it, as if it were your full-time day job. I always believed that I was a decent writer, but I never imagined being traditionally published (three times now) or having a well-connected literary agent (who, by the way is also Jewish). Next year, I’ll be published for fiction by a major American university press. I have never anticipated any of this. As I look back, I’ve had one novel that people rave about. But that has given me the confidence to continue. If it could happen for me, it can happen for anyone.

      The aspect that I cannot stress enough is developing a winning author platform. This is important for non-fiction authors; but it is absolutely critical for fiction authors. When a publisher or an agent decides to Google your name, you want many, many pages of positive material to appear. Everything counts, including writing awards, public speaking, Internet, newspaper and magazine interviews, published articles, outstanding reviews by the most compelling and persuasive organizations in your book’s genre, etc. You do not create a platform overnight. It is developed over several years.

      Finally, I’ve SP three books. But, I much prefer working with a traditional publisher. While their talented team is making your book successful, you’ll have more time to write your next books. Yes, all authors must market. But only SP authors must hire a printer, graphic artist, talented editor, and a distributor for each continent; then there is sales, stocking, restocking, as well as promotion, marketing, etc. That’s a job in itself. Rather than being burdened with doing everything to create, distribute, promote and sell your book, you could be writing new ones, with your publisher handling much of the effort. If a publisher is willing to throw at least several thousand dollars into your book, they will be willing to work hard to make it successful.

      When I finished my debut novel in 2007, I discovered that there are literally thousands of small independent publishers around the world and most of them will take a chance on a novice author with talent and a marketable book. Because my novel was about the Holocaust, I selected an Israeli publisher. In the years since 2007, I’ve developed the confidence to write more books, acquire an agent and develop a platform. I’m still an unknown author. But I’m moving in the right direction.

      Please keep up the great work, Erika. One final question, would you mind if I linked some of your articles to my writing blog? I think that my readers would find your content very useful. If you would rather reply privately, you can reach me at [email protected].

      Best,

      Chuck

      • Hi, Chuck:

        Many thanks. The problem I encountered w/Animoto and YouTube was the requirement to grant Animoto access to my YouTube account, and I always hesitate when it comes to granting access like that. So, for now, I haven’t changed anything.

        And sure, link away!

        Best,
        Erika

  9. Thank you very much for the excellent article. I self published my first novel, American Moses in 2009, which is a Jewish-American Passover fable. My second novel, The Street Singer, which doesn’t have Jewish themes, was recently picked up by Changing Lives Press. However, every Passover season, I re-market American Moses, and thus reading your article was very timely.

    • Thanks for commenting, Stephen. Good luck with the upcoming marketing round, and congratulations on the news about your second novel.

  10. As many people know, I started my own small press to publish Volume 1 of my “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy in 2005. In order to get distribution, I prepared a thorough marketing plan, a task that is even more important today. I started with a website and Yahoo group, but now I’ve added Google+, Facebook, Linked-In, Goodreads, and Amazon author pages. But those are passive efforts. I also actively sought out my target audience, Jewish women.

    To reach them, I joined every Jewish women’s organization I could find so I could: 1. get their magazines so I could send them review copies and take ads, and 2. approach their chapters and regions to speak at their meetings. Believe me, Hadassah and the like are much more likely to invite you to speak if you’re a life member. I offered to speak without a fee if I could sell books myself afterwards. Considering all the Jewish women’s groups, including synagogue Sisterhoods, who have monthly meetings and are desperate for free speakers, I had no shortage of invitations. In my first 18 months, I spoke at over 150 venues and sold over 25,ooo copies, all while still working at my day job.

    The big publishers keep track of such things, and when it came time for me to publish the second volume, there was a bidding war between Penguin, Harper Collins, and Crown for the trilogy. I sold out to Plume, a division of Penguin, for a six-figure advance and the rest is history. But I haven’t stopped promoting, and I have spoken at over 500 venues since I bega my author career. Now that the first volume of my new series, “Rav Hisda’s Daughter,” is out, I have over 50 speaking gigs lined up for the first 6 months of 2013 and will soon be scheduling fall events. I invite folks to visit my website, http://www.maggieanton.com, and check it out.

  11. Thank you Erika for your excellent advice.

    I am looking to publish my Historical Romance fiction novella of a torrid affair between Hitler’s sculptor and his neighbor’s Jewish wife. As such your advice is timely and useful.

    Also special thanks to Charles for his excellent tips. I hope to follow them to succeed. Cheers!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tBXZGxub9A&feature=youtu.be
    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9959422-the-tattoo-series-volume-1
    BLOG: http://vickramediwan.wordpress.com/

    Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/vickramediwan
    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/vickramediwan
    Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vickram-E-Diwans-Fan-Page/124646507599801
    http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/40634.XoXo_Publishing_authors

  12. Erica, Great article. I am using your ideas to sell my book, “A Hebraic Obsession” and they are working.

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