Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jewish Book Council Network 2012

On 6/5/12, I auditioned for American Idol…of the Jewish book world.

It’s called the Jewish Book Council Network, or Jewish Book Network.

Every year this organization chooses a roster of authors whose latest book has a Jewish connection in some way and markets these authors as speakers to synagogues, JCCs, book fairs, and other Jewish institutions nationwide. The council’s goal is to support books with Jewish content and the authors who write them. They organize the engagements and cover travel expenses. The roster includes authors of books of all kinds, from cookbooks to political thrillers.

And each of those authors must indeed audition…in a way. Authors must be nominated by their publishers, which must send 100 copies of the book for JBC members to review. Some of those authors are then asked to come to New York to deliver a two-minute pitch for their book to a sanctuary full of program directors from across the country. The JBC emphasizes the two minutes. They do cut you off if you go over. And this, of course, pumps up the stress for some. Most.

What I and some of my fellow authors didn’t realize is that once you show up to give your pitch, the JBC has actually already accepted you. The audition is not to make the roster but rather to sell yourself to the audience—the people who book speakers.

There were 54 authors at the audition…and ours was the sixth (and last) in three days. So the roster comprises at least 300 authors. By chance I knew two others in my session—I graduated from college with one and had done an author panel with another.

Here’s the first minute and change of my pitch:

Ask anyone on the street to say the first thing that comes to mind about Batman and chances are she’ll name a concept that came from Bill Finger. Robin the Boy Wonder? Bill’s idea. Gotham City? Bill named it. Pointy ears? Bill even designed the costume.

Yet check any Batman story and the only person credited as his creator is cartoonist Bob Kane. That’s the way it’s been since Batman’s 1939 debut even though Bill wrote the first and many of the best Batman stories of the first 25 years. When Bill publicly revealed that it wasn’t just Bob at Batman’s beginning, Bob accused his onetime partner of lying.

It wasn’t until 1989 when Bob finally acknowledged Bill’s massive contribution to the Dark Knight. But Bill didn’t hear it. He’d died in 1974, alone and poor. No obit. No funeral. No grave.

No kidding.

Bill Finger forged one of our greatest champions for justice. It’s high time for justice for Bill himself. That’s why I wrote Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, the first book in any format on the real mind behind the Bat.

Unlikely as it might seem, it turned out that someone in the audience had a connection to Bill Finger. A woman came up to me at the cocktail dinner afterward to tell me that in middle school, she was best friends with the daughter of Bill’s second wife. In 2008, I blogged about both mother and daughter. In fact, it was thanks to daughter (let’s call her ES Jr.) that I found mother. Here’s the crazy story how.

This woman who was a friend of ES Jr. was astonished to learn that I had talked with ES Jr. But I think I was more astonished about the whole thing.

Institutions can request authors at any time but we were told most bookings are for the fall. Soon we find out which—if any—institutions wants more than two minutes from us.

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