Facing “Goliath” at the Jewish Book Council Conference

Last month, I participating in the JBC Network program at their annual conference to pitch my book to the representatives of over a hundred Jewish institutions, in hopes of being invited to speak at book fairs and community programs throughout North America over the following months. It is an event that delights member sites and terrifies authors. Delia Ephron dubbed it “the Jewish Hunger Games”; others have likened their experience to competing on American Idol. As a 2014-2015 JBC Network author I saw it as my personal Goliath. Here was how I summed up my experience. 

Jews have a special place in their hearts for the underdog. The story of David and Goliath immediately comes to mind. Who would ever root for Goliath?

Last week, I had my own David and Goliath experience. I was at the 2014 Jewish Book Council Network Conference, promoting my new memoir on Jewish identity and heritage, Vodka Shot, Pickle Chaser. If you don’t know the details of the JBC Network Meet the Authors event, let me explain. Over 250 authors submit their  work and attend the conference in New York. Each is given a 2-minute opportunity to present their book and themselves to Jewish organizations from around the country, hoping to be invited for a speaking engagement at some point in the upcoming year. It’s stressful, and to top it off, the two minutes are just that: no more, no less. Well, less is acceptable, but more is not.

So, there I was with my heart racing, palms sweating, and thoughts swirling. About an hour into the program, the JBC coordinator called my name. I was on deck. I got up from my chair located in the corner of the synagogue and walked toward the 300 pairs of eyes feasting on the upcoming speaker, knowing I was to follow. Sitting in the on deck chair, I sat motionless, trying to run through my comments one last time. I had spent endless hours preparing my speech and then memorizing it, only to find out an hour prior that using notes was actually acceptable. Holding my marked-up rough draft as my security blanket, I glanced at it knowing there was nothing more I could do.

I tried to review my speech, but instead, I thought about how I got here and questioned whether I belonged. Yes, I wrote a book and it had strong Jewish content, it received a strong review from Kirkus Reviews, and thus far, people who read it, loved it. But, the quality of the writers and their experience here at the JBC Network was unmatched. The evening started with a university president, who was followed by a writer from a nationally renowned magazine, and then progressed with bestselling authors, professors, and acclaimed activists. Their presentations were polished, their stories were compelling, and their qualifications were impeccable. To top it off, most were published by large publishing houses.

Thirty more seconds and it was my turn. I kept thinking: David vs. Goliath. This was my first book, I was self-published, and I had never even been a contributing writer to my local newspaper. But here I was, which meant I had a chance.

When my two minutes arrived, I took a deep breath, gazed out at the audience, and spoke from the heart. My notes lay still, unused, allowing the passion for my creation to come through.

Following the speaking portion of the event, I attended a wine reception where a middle-aged man representing a JCC from Pennsylvania approached me. “I liked your message, well done. Tell me more about your story and if you’ve already been in front of audiences…”

A new underdog was on his way.


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