Q. Erika, what is the Jewish Book NETWORK?
A. Well, Erika, according to the Jewish Book Council’s website, “The Jewish Book NETWORK is a membership organization of close to 100 participating sites, JCCs, synagogues, Hillels, Jewish Federations and other related organizations that host Jewish book programs. Through this NETWORK, the Jewish Book Council is able to provide extensive resources to the program coordinators, including introduction to authors interested in touring Jewish book festivals, advice from experts on topics that affect a book program, and a chance to learn from the experiences of others in the field. “
Q. And what is “Meet the Author”?
A. Again, right from the source: “Each year the Jewish Book Council sponsors a conference for all Jewish Book NETWORK members and their lay leaders in conjunction with the annual BookExpo America. This conference begins the new season of book festival planning. In addition to workshops and networking among the NETWORK members, the annual conference includes a program called Meet the Author. Through this event, authors are invited to speak to the members of the Jewish Book NETWORK in the hopes of touring and visiting with the Jewish book programs that are represented.”
Q. So what does this have to do with you? Your book?
A. With a new book out this year (Quiet Americans: Stories), I am one of the “Meet the Author” authors. The program is sufficiently large that the Meet the Author events take place over several days. The event that I attended was held on Sunday.
Q. And what happens at one of these Meet the Author events?
A. Three things. First, the Jewish Book Council offers an optional session for participating authors on book promotion strategies. This also provides a great opportunity to chat with a smaller group of fellow authors in a relatively quiet setting. I was able to introduce myself to Joan Leegant, with whom I’ve corresponded via email, and meet Evan Fallenberg, an Israel-based writer I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about.
Next comes the proverbial main event: the series of two-minute presentations (also likened, in some other accounts, to speed-dating). All of the authors are seated alphabetically near the front of the room in two facing clusters of seats. This year’s guide to participating authors is left on each author’s seat, open to the page bearing one’s own photo, book cover photo, and other information about one’s book.
I had an aisle seat; to my right was David Bezmozgis. I was delighted to meet him (and to tell him that the Kindle in my bag was set to the first page of his novel, The Free World). Directly behind me was Melissa Fay Greene, another author I’ve long admired. (Yes, I was somewhat star-struck!) Across the room was my AWP co-panelist Anna Solomon (who kindly offered a thumbs-up sign when I returned to my seat after my two-minute talk). Also present: the wonderful Randy Susan Meyers, in town to promote the paperback edition of The Murderer’s Daughters. And so many others.
The audience includes all of those aforementioned representatives from Jewish Community Centers and other organizations.
Each author-speaker is instructed beforehand, and reminded again at the event, to adhere to a strict two-minute time limit. I’m happy to say that vast majority of authors complied.
It’s very tough to present yourself AND your book in 120 seconds. It helps that everyone in the audience has a copy of the guide to consult for some background–and as each author is introduced his/her corresponding page number in the guide is also cited–but it’s still a daunting task. I’m just not sure how “well” I performed.
But here’s one certainty: It was fascinating to hear other authors talk about their work, especially when their books have not yet been released. I’ve added a slew of titles to my own tbr list.
And, fortunately, you do have more than your two minutes onstage to make an impression. That’s thanks to the third phase of the event: dinner. Authors are assigned to specific tables to meet and eat with audience members. After the meal, everyone is encouraged to move around the room and continue introductions and conversations.
Q. Sounds great. But what’s the result? Just how many speaking engagements/visits did you net from this?
A. It’s too soon to answer that question. Remember, the event that I attended was just one of several Meet-the-Author events this week. The program reps in the NETWORK need to return home, revisit their notes, read our books, and confer with their colleagues. Then the invitations will come. Or not.
But here’s what I can say (in addition to everything I’ve already shared): I gave my book (and myself) the best shot that I could as a newbie. I met lovely people from JCCs and other Jewish organizations across the country. I distributed plenty of business cards and postcards. However this turns out for me, I will be very glad that I had this opportunity to give it a try.