Some 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. [UPDATE, 2016: the Jewish Book World magazine seems to be phasing out in its print form, but the Jewish Book Council continues to publish reviews online and remains a “source of first resort.”]
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.
- 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!
NB (As of fall 2017): If you desire more detailed/customized advice than what I’ve been able to include here, I am now receiving inquiries from authors and publishers concerning freelance book-publicity consultations and campaigns. Please email with book title, publisher, and publication date if interested. Thanks very much!