Jewish Authors Conference Recap
I spent yesterday, October 3, on the second floor of the Center for Jewish History, where, in the Kovno Room, the Jewish Book Council hosted its second conference for authors writing for adult readers (a popular conference for Jewish children’s book authors and illustrators has been running for years, and will reconvene in November). Subtitled “The Path to Publication,” this conference packed an enormous amount of material into a day. Here are some of my (highly subjective) highlights:
Samuel G. Freedman delivered an opening address on “Becoming an Author.” Shortly before the conference began, I introduced myself to Mr. Freedman, whose work I’ve long admired and whose Writers’ Seminar on the Jewish People I’ve wished I were still young enough to join. In his remarks, Mr. Freedman was realistic about how hard it can be to get published, but he offered several encouraging points. For instance, he argued that book publishing has remained more stable than newspapers/magazines, in part because book publishing is less dependent on advertising, and in part because the increasing popularity of e-devices has shown that readers will still pay for book content in electronic form.
Mr. Freedman’s comments provided an excellent opening to the rest of the sessions. The four sessions that followed—don’t worry, we had a (kosher) lunch break along the way!—introduced the conference attendees to some of the key participants one encounters on the path to publication: literary agents, editors, publicists, and professional organizations (in this case, the Authors Guild, represented by Jan Constantine). Ms. Constantine provided a useful overview of the ways the Authors Guild serves and protects its member authors, and literary agent David Forrer of Inkwell Management made himself very popular when he offered publicly to take a look at one of the attendees’ manuscripts.
The editors’ panel was a standout. It featured Amy Gash, Algonquin Books/Workman; Marcia Markland, St. Martin’s Press; Yona Zeldis McDonough, Lilith magazine; and Cindy Spiegel, Spiegel & Grau/Random House. Plenty of nuts-and-bolts information was offered, but for me, highlights included the chance to introduce myself to Ms. McDonough (who accepted and published one of my early short stories back in 2002) and hearing about a book that Ms. Markland had brought along in manuscript form: Martin Fletcher’s first novel, The List, which takes place in post-World War II London and involves Jewish refugees (if I am remembering correctly, it will be published in about a year, and I’m already anticipating it eagerly).
Publicists Brian Gittis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) and Joseph Rinaldi (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books) were generous with their advice. “Think off the book page,” Mr. Rinaldi said, more than once, meaning that especially in this age of shrinking print review space, it’s important to think about other angles in which an author/book can be presented. Admittedly, he said, this can be easier to do with nonfiction books, especially books on, say, political topics, whose authors can more easily pop up as experts cited in news stories or as authors of op-ed pieces. But it can be done more broadly, too.
And last, but definitely not least: the author panel I moderated, featuring Gal Beckerman, Jennifer Gilmore, and Joanna Smith Rakoff. It was so wonderful to be able to meet these authors “in real life,” and an honor to be the one asking them questions. We probably could have spent our entire hour (or maybe even the entire day) on a question that had come up earlier in the conference–what exactly is a “Jewish” book?–but we managed to cover somewhat more territory, including the authors’ experiences finding agents to represent them (generally “the hardest part” of the whole process for writers, Ms. Gilmore said), working with editors, preparing a nonfiction proposal, and the experiences of engaging with audiences (especially audiences developed through the Jewish Book Network).
All in all, it was a day very well spent. As usual (and not only because of the praise that the presenters rightfully heaped on the conference organizers), I found myself grateful that I’d learned about the Jewish Book Council way back when, and proud to be a part of such a vibrant literary culture.