One of the most common stories I heard throughout BEA came from authors who had survived one of the several evenings sponsored by the Jewish Book Network right before the trade show began. Almost American Idol-style, authors were asked to get up onstage, recite a two-minute speech about why Jewish Book Fairs and JCCs should invite them to their events, and wait for a judgment call to be awarded later. Nervewracking? Certainly. A story idea? Absolutely.
So it’s no wonder the NYTBR’s Rachel Donadio not only got to the idea first but sat in on one of those evenings, which featured a cavalcade of authors from M.J. Rose to Katharine Weber to Howard Jacobson and Charlotte Mendelson, two UK-based authors who’d flown in – on their own dime – to audition. None of these authors would have taken part if not for Carolyn Starman Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Network and in possession of an “uncanny ability” to get people excited about books and authors like Nathan Englander, Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer, whose early careers owed some debt to the Book Fair circuit.
For most authors, Donadio writes, the audition experience is ” somewhere between JDate and a camel auction,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for The New Yorker who toured last year to promote PRISONERS his memoir about serving in the Israeli Army and befriending a Palestinian inmate. “Camels are very skittish, and so are writers. We don’t like having our teeth inspected. But if we’re going to sell, we know we have to have our teeth inspected.” His advice? “Do not follow the woman who just published a book on how all her children were murdered in Treblinka. It’s much preferable to follow a woman who has 100 halvah recipes.” Sound advice, to be sure.