1. What motivated you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into a book? This book is a result of me watching Congress on C-SPAN for a living. I've always been intrigued by the first thing the House and Senate does every day: open with a prayer. Sometimes the official chaplain isn't there, and a guest chaplain rabbi offers the prayer. That made me curious about the history of rabbis praying in Congress: who they are and what they say.
2. What is it about and who is it for? This book is about rabbis praying in Congress, but it's not just for the Jewish community. Few have written before about the tradition of prayer in Congress based on academic research perspective, so it's geared as well for lovers of Congress history, American history, and others who are interested in the intersection of religion and politics. Or folks who just love a good prayer!
3. What do you hope the reader will be left with after reading it? Not just a deeper understanding of the history of prayer in Congress, but any understanding at all would be the win. I'm a lover of American political history, and I hope the reader will come away knowing about a little-reported aspect of everyday life in Congress.
4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers? This book defines passion project. I was personally motivated to research and write this project because it deeply interested me and was connected directly to my real job (C-SPAN Communications Director). I was struck early on by how little had been written on the subject. Being the first to a topic is both thrilling and daunting. In the end, thrilling won out. I created a lane where none had existed. And the book isn't my story -- it tells the story of others, hundreds of rabbis who have prayed in Congress. That's incredibly rewarding. So bottom line advice: find something unique to say and keep hammering at it.
5. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? I'm so new to this I'm still learning what your question even means! But I would say that the marketing of this kind of book would have been nearly impossible without social media. I use YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to get the word out -- consumer-focused social media -- and every personal connection helps.
6. What challenges did you overcome to write this book? You can't get any more niche than the topic of my book, rabbis who pray in Congress. So, from the outset, the biggest challenge was the obvious one: who would want to publish this. It's not like there would be movie tie-ins, in which Brad Pitt plays a rabbi praying in Congress. There won't be souvenir 7-11 drinking cups of your favorite rabbis in the House and Senate. No, this is a serious subject (although I do try to keep it light-hearted when possible.) I overcame the obstacle in two main ways: Through cold pitching, I lucked into a publisher, Academic Studies Press, which "got" the concept immediately. They've been so supportive of the project in both the manuscript phase and now the marketing phase. I'm so happy to be with them. And the second "win" to getting this book concept into reality: partnership with Washington Hebrew Congregation. They have had the greatest number of rabbis pray in Congress, and much of the story is theirs. They gave me resources to get the book published. I'm deeply grateful to both organizations.
7. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours? You'll learn about something you probably had no idea was even a topic! The American Jewish experience, history of Congress, the greatness of American democracy, and spirituality -- now THAT's something you don't often get packaged into a single book.
Howard Mortman is communications director for C-SPAN, the privately-funded public service providing television coverage of the U.S. Congress. A veteran of Washington, D.C., media organizations, he joined C-SPAN in February 2009 after serving in positions at MSNBC, National Journal’s Hotline, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and New Media Strategies. Mortman graduated from the University of Maryland in 1988. Published by Academic Studies Press, "When Rabbis Bless Congress: The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill" is his first book. For more information, please consult: https://www.whenrabbisblesscongress.com
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