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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Interview with The Jewish Publication Society Director of Communications & Development, Suzanne Selengut




1.        How do you help market the books of The Jewish Publication Society?
It is a joint effort between me and the marketing/publicity staff at The University of Nebraska Press (UNP). Our publishing relationship means JPS is both an imprint of UNP and our own independent entity. We craft a publicity plan for each book and incorporate social media community building, targeted newsletters and seasonal discounts. In many ways, I serve as a liaison between the authors and the staff at UNP. Since we are a small niche company, we have found that leveraging authors’ strengths helps us to find our readers and keep them coming back. Our team, which also includes the JPS director and its managing editor, is always working to come up with new ways to market books– including special sales and book events. Our goal is to keep things fresh, while also maintaining our brand as a source for quality Jewish books for over 125 years.

2.        Any titles especially good for the holidays?
The Talmud of Relationships (Vols 1&2) by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman is a popular new book that is appropriate for the holiday season as it asks what ancient Talmudic wisdom has to say about our relationships with family, community, God and self, while The Hanukkah Anthology, edited by Philip Goodman provides a good overview of the holiday.  Kids books for Hanukkah include The Kids’ Catalog of Hanukkah by David Adler and One Night, One Hanukkah Night by Aidel Blackman.

3.        What do you like about working with authors and books?
Books are one of my first loves. I’m just crazy about them -and I include e-books and audio in that – so anything I can do to help others enjoy them makes me smile. As I have learned, giving birth to a book often takes years – sometimes decades for our labor-intensive Bible commentaries – and it’s amazing to be able to help folks bring their creative labor to fruition. Some authors are great at sustained detail work but not entirely comfortable in the more extraverted marketing sphere, and I serve as a conduit for them – to help them bring their vision to a larger audience. In other cases, we work with veteran authors with high expectations for marketing campaigns. They keep me on my toes and that’s great for getting better at what I do!

4.        How important is it to promote Jewish history and culture?
Very important. When we don’t study and celebrate a culture, it tends to just fade. That’s what history has taught us all. Books are a wonderful way to pass on traditions – and Judaism is a book and narrative-oriented tradition. JPS is blessed to have a diverse readership from Jewish scholars to Jews learning more about their faith to readers of other faiths or no faith who enjoy the window into a different cultural world. It’s such a pleasure to have that kind of deep connection with our readers. It’s one of the perks of the job!

5.        What advice do you have for struggling writers?
I’m not sure I’m the best person for that question. I have been a freelance feature writer for many years, but I still have a mini panic attack every time I start a new article. I have noticed that our most successful writers are those that believe in their vision. Whether it is historical research, a biography, or a book about mysticism, the best writers seem to be those who have genuine pride in their work. I don’t think being the best is always necessary. But confidence is key.  And the zitsfleish (Yiddish for patience) to get the job done even when obstacles get in your way.

6.        You also served as an internet editor at The Jerusalem Post. How different is it to work in real-time news vs books that take months and years to put together?
There is nothing like a newsroom for an exciting, stressful work life. I remember working the graveyard shift in Jerusalem: translating breaking news, fielding calls from journalists and trying to find a good image for the homepage, all at 2 am! Luckily, I was young enough not to realize how insane that was. Media is about catching eyeballs and being accurate. It’s rarely about creating something beautiful and long-lasting. Books are different. In our fast-paced world, books are still a place where we can tell a nuanced story. Of course, selling that kind of thing to people addicted to thrills is not easy. As book marketers, we are tasked with becoming extra creative! Read this blog for tips on that.

7.        With an MA in English Literature from Hebrew University, can you give me insights as to what makes Jewish-themed texts so important?
First, all texts are important. I am interested in literature from other traditions and read those with great enjoyment as well. As for Jewish texts, traditionally, oral and written learning are some of the key ways Jewish culture is passed on to the next generation. Lessons such as how to treat others, how to cultivate a relationship with the self and what values are important for a good life are all part of the larger pursuit of Jewish scholarship. Also, Jewish texts – especially Biblical and legal treatises –do not  generally teach in a dogmatic way. Forming your own opinion is a part of Jewish tradition, and this is rather apparent in many Jewish books. So, I would say Jewish texts help us both to preserve an ancient tradition and also to keep it fresh by asking hard questions and trying to find new answers.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America and participated in a PR panel at the Sarah Lawrence College Writers Institute Conference.

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