I need to be honest—I’ve really struggled to write this little essay. When Barbara asked me to scribble something about the promotion of Jewish picture books, I said yes immediately! Because it seemed a simple enough task, and Barbara’s blog is (of course) delightful. But in fact, I’m finding that it’s a pretty hard topic to discuss.
Still, hard subjects are worth putting out there, so here we go… an explanation of why it’s hard to talk about promoting Jewish picture books:
1. Promotion is generally kind of awful!
Authors love getting press, but we don’t always love promoting our books. Because, in essence, promotion is like begging people to compliment your children, isn’t it? And the more this role falls to the author, the harder things become, because it is much easier to ask favors for someone else than for yourself. So, one solution is to do the work of writing your own press kit, but then have your publicist actually send out the emails and packets for you.
In a lot of cases, this will be doubly helpful, because your (Jewish or not) publicist may not be familiar with the subtleties of the Jewish calendar/publications/denominations, etc. As always, it’s really important to form a team with your publicist, but in this case it’s crucial. You may find she (or he) really appreciates the help with research and content.
2. The Jewish Market is tiny and insular.
It’s true. If you ask a handful of Jewish readers to name good Jewish publications, you’ll find they all lead to a few sources. Jewish local papers syndicate a ton of content, and when it comes to National Jewish Press and websites, there are only a handful of good ones out there (though new ones are popping up lately!). While you have to know these outlets, it’s also true that they tend to buzz the same books over and over.
So start with a list like this one (http://www.world-newspapers.com/jewish-magazines.html) . But if you find you aren’t getting very far, try looking at non-Jewish local papers, and maybe offer to write them a piece explaining the Jewish custom or story in your book. Non-Jewish publications (especially around Jewish holidays) like to educate their readers about the Jewish world too. Also, don’t overlook Jewish bloggers, who may or may not write Jewish-specific posts.
3. Jewish books tend to be seasonal, so timing is tricky.
Speaking of holidays, watch the calendar closely! Most bookstores, libraries and magazines will happily run Jewish content in November, as a build-up to Hanukkah, and some will do so again for Passover. But getting attention for a Jewish title in June can be hard.
Make sure that if you have a Jewish book coming out for a holiday, you start knocking on doors several months in advance, and if it’s not Hanukkah, offer to provide a story time or other event related to your book. Few bookstores will think to do a tree-planting party for Tu B’Shevat, but I promise that if you show up with a crowd of kids and a handful of saplings, they’ll welcome you with open arms. And then stick your books after you’re gone.
4. You do need to know the right people
This is perhaps the hardest issue to address, but it’s important. Because the Jewish picture book world is well organized, and has a lot of connections to Jewish Book Month (November), and to organizations like the Jewish Book Council, the Association of Jewish Libraries, and The PJ Library, I’ve heard people say that they feel left out of the loop if their book isn’t part of these initiatives. This is a legitimate complaint. It does matter who you know! In this, the Jewish picture book world is no different than the mainstream market.
The good news is that you already know how to play Jewish geography, and the folks at the JBC, AJL, and PJL do want to meet you! They’re just busy and overworked like all of us, and can’t always beat on your door. So make certain that a year before your book comes out, your editor and publicist know that you want in on the action. Especially if your publishing team doesn’t do lots of Jewish titles, they may not know how to go about things. Educate them, and yourself, by checking out these organizations closely, taking note of important dates and applications, and gently introducing yourself! Otherwise, your book will come out, and it will be too late to join up. You don’t need to do the Jewish Book month tour to get coverage in the Jewish press, or to have your book stocked at JCC bookstores around the country, but it sure helps!
I could go on like this forever. I could tell you about Blog Tours and the Jewish Book Carnival. I could mention podcast series like Book of Life. I can nudge you to nudge your editor, so that she doesn’t forget to nominate you for the Jewish book awards each year, and the Sydney Taylor. You should be attending conferences, visiting Hebrew schools with your books, and reading everything you can get your hands on. But I don’t have time for everything today.
So I’ll end with a reminder—that promotion is a never-ending job writers must work at to succeed. But it is nowhere near as important as writing the books that only you can write. So try to stop thinking about promotion as much as you can.
Write an unusual book. Be surprising! Tell a distinct Jewish story! Find an authentic Jewish voice! In the end, incredible books will sell themselves. And if you sit and stare at the internet every day, hunting publicity, you will miss out on the next incredible story.
Which is, in the end, the job that really matters.
Laurel Snyder is the author of many books for both children and adults, including Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher and Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: BabYiddish. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an occasional commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Laurel lives in Atlanta with her husband and two small sons.
Laurel is a faculty member of the May 15-18, 2011 Highlights Foundation workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books.