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To Pitch or Not to Pitch: Lessons from the Jewish Book Council
Contributor
Written by
Dorit Sasson
February 2016
Contributor
Written by
Dorit Sasson
February 2016

Have you ever found yourself struggling to make an important decision that could be a potential game changer, but money is the one thing getting in your way? 

When I started writing my memoir, I struggled believing I could  write the damn thing. Every day, voices of self-doubt crept in but at the same time, telling my story motivated me to the finish line. Now, that the book is on the track to be published, I freak out every time I have to shell another dollar for promotion. 

Since signing the contract, I factored publicity and publishing costs for my She Writes Press book Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces, but the thought of pitching it at the national Jewish Book Council (JBC) which could potentially expose me to a multiple Jewish audiences from across the United States didn't cross my mind until I mustered the courage to ask a former IDF soldier (who now works for the Jewish Federation in the US) how I could get maximum exposure. With so much negative press about Israel and most of the IDF memoirs male centered and political, I knew my memoir had a vantage point. Female and immigrant. In two words, culturally unique. 

The Jewish book Council has a built-in Israel audience. They have never featured an IDF female memoir, let alone an immigrant tale. I am charting new territory in my niche.

Would I suck it up and pay the $1,500 expense to send 110 review copies and the conference fee along with transportation and hotel costs to pitch my book knowing there would be less money in the food or daycare budget? My husband was already groaning over the monthly publicist fees. This was another "pay to play" scenario. But at the end of the day, could I afford to lose out on this one?

I emailed a local author who couldn't see the value of paying unless her publisher paid the fee for her to attend the JBC but graciously connected me to one of her friends, a television producer and author with an established platform. As he talked about his pitching experience, I saw myself, former New Yorker, standing in front of 200 Jewish New Yorkers, which would symbolically mean a "coming home pitch" to my former New York City home. I imagined the moment on stage, encircled in the buttery glow of spotlight pitching to my New York City Jewish tribe, but once we got down to nitty-gritty practical stuff, the spotlight dimmed and blackened out on me on that stage, and my enthusiasm waned until the flame flickered and died with these harsh points the author made:

1. If you're not an established author, they won't fly you in to their book club. Why would they take a chance on you? You're just an unknown to them.

2. If your publisher doesn't pay the costs, why should you?

3. The competition to get noticed is stiff – 200 plus authors from around the world are all wanting to get noticed on that New York City stage. I'm an established author and only got two speaking gigs...

On one hand, this well-known author painted such a realistic picture. On the other, I was disheartened. What happened to good storytelling? Isn't the merit of a book worth its own weight in gold? Sadly, even if the stories aren’t even hitting the mediocre storytelling mark, the masses will gobble it up even if it is nutrient-depleted fluff.

In my mind's eyes, I tried fishing for a reason that would make this decision to pitch feel right. Surely, there was more than just money, money, money? As I weighed the "do it" and "don't do it" voices, I reconnected with the themes of my story. Surely there must be something in my story pitch-worthy. Jewish American, college dropout, daughter rebel, kibbutz and IDF soldier. Yes, there's a story. Hold your ground. Believe. Don't lose sight of it. Here’s the lesson I’m learning:  If you believe in your work, chances are, others will too.

When the author told me he came from Brooklyn and this was primarily a New York Jewish audience, memories of feeling not worthy enough by the New York City competition at Laguardia High School for the Arts, otherwise known as the renowned Fame school, threatened to flood me. Throughout High School, I got good grades but never felt I had a voice. I dropped out of a third class college and left New York City to serve in the Israel Defense Forces for the exact same reasons I wrote my memoir twenty five years later: To heal that eighteen year old who suffered from a lack of self-esteem who didn't feel loved by her mother.

Forty-five year old me acknowledged the need for comraderie and support. So I reached out to several authors at She Writes Press Facebook author group, my publishing group, and shared my plight.

Four authors from our publishing group who participated in the Jewish Book Council brought up important topics that could impact the committee's decision: is your book non-fiction or fiction, alternative versus mainstream Jewish topics, children versus adult, history versus storytelling. The list went on.

I kept hoping someone would say the word "Israel" in relation to my book so I wouldn't feel "less-than" between the "haves and have-nots." I didn’t want to let others define my creative endeavor. I wanted to make sure I had a voice and my story was heard.

Some authors said: "Dorit, your book holds great promise. Your memoir focuses on Israel and the IDF."

In an uncertain moment that felt stormy, I allowed those words to uplift me. The subject of my book was been acknowledged. I relaxed a bit.

Still, a decision is a decision. And in the publishing and promotion world where every author wants to build a name, money seems to be part of that equation at least for self-published and hybrid authors who are responsible for footing all the bills.

So...to pitch or not to pitch?

One author sensed my worry and angst around the money, and she suggested looking at my "investment" differently.

1. Think about your long term game plan. What do you want to achieve with your book? Are you writing other books and if so, how will the JBC help broaden your platform?

2. Think of the people you might potentially miss because you didn't attend this event and didn't send out review copies. These people could help spread the word.

Her second suggestion hit me. Knowing that my book is so Israel centered, could I live with myself if I didn't attend the JBC event?

As of now, I still haven't finalized a decision. Money is still, a sticky point. And yet, unfortunately, it’s a reality most have to consider, like me. I have no idea where I'm going to get that $1,500 fee, possibly more. I still lose sleep over it. There's no guarantee that there might be a return on my investment. But part of me doesn't want to give up on pitching my book to the Jewish Book Council solely because of the money. Israel is a strong subject on their agenda. If I forgo pitching my book to this Jewish audience, my story won't be heard. My history is one of silence and suppression. How deeply do I care?

Here's the lesson I'm learning about the promotion opportunities that eventually come your way as an author. If that opportunity is worthy enough, you've got another challenge. You've got to convince yourself you're not only worthy enough to invest in your story, you've got to believe in your story. As I write this, I’m reminded by the hope that self-published authors can get a publishing house to back them sometimes, too and a lucky break. Take Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice who left the agent world and went to self-publish against an agent’s warnings: “You’ll kill your writing career before it would even begin.” Her book would soon be snatched by a big publishing house and later, became a national bestseller.

So you just never know, right?

I continue to believe in my story and lean into a decision that feels right for myself and my memoir.

 

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Comments
  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Best of luck, Dorit!

  • Dorit Sasson

    Iris, I am trying to put money aside a bit and when I do, I see a lot of positive reasons for attending the JBC. Either way, it's good experience. 

  • Dorit Sasson

    Thank you, Patricia!

  • Dorit Sasson

    Miriam, I would love to chat with you about this. Yes, please. 

  • Patricia Robertson

    So hard to know what will pay off and what won't. I can certainly relate. Been there, done that - I know how easy it is to agonize over these decision. Wishing you the best, whatever you decide.

  • Miriam Weinstein

    I was part of the JBC world for two previous books: one won the National Jewish Book Award (for its category), the other dropped with a thud. I will be attending this year to pitch my new book, All Set for Black, Thanks. Can you whittle down your expenses (don't you have an old friend or relative you can stay with?) Above all, don't spend the next months agonizing over this. My impulse would be to say yes. I am happy to talk to you about this.

  • Iris Waichler

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece Dorit. It highlights the struggle all of us are going through. Especially if we have a tight budget. It is really tough to make the money back you invest in your book and the associated costs. There are no guarantees when you do a speaking engagement or an author event that your book sales will significantly profit.  The only known is the money you need to put out to make it happen.  As you noted the passion, quality, and power of you and your presentation topic will influence the outcome and hopefully book sales. The unknown of connecting with people is interesting too. I got a wonderful testimonial on my book from an expert I met at a workshop I attended. Networking involves luck but the right person can certainly help your cause. Trust your gut. Don't agonize about factors you don't know or can't control. Do what feels best for you and trust your gut.  It has gotten you this far.