Jewish communities sponsor the fairs to promote Jewish culture. For the industry, they are a major marketing tool. According to Publisher’s Weekly book fairs generate over $3 million in annual revenue. For many years the Jewish Book Council held its annual meeting simultaneously with Book Expo America, enabling Jewish book fair planners to look over the forthcoming books and meet the authors. In 2004 this system was replaced by an annual meeting of the Jewish Book Network coordinated by the Jewish Book Council.
Since 1994, the Council has been run by Carolyn Starman Hessel who is credited with growing Jewish Book Month and the associated book tours into one of the most important marketing events in American publishing, and a cultural center of American Jewish life. Hessel is credited with a knack for picking hot new novelists, she is said to have launched the careers of Nathan Englander, Myla Goldberg, Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer by selecting them and sending them on tours of the Jewish book fairs.
The annual meeting is, effectively, an annual author’s audition. The New York Times calls it, “a bizarre rite of passage: the Jewish book tour casting call.” Jeffrey Goldberg characterized the audition as an experience “somewhere between JDate and a camel auction.” Authors of books that range from serious works of religious history to comic novels stand and speak for precisely 60 seconds to an audience of over one hundred organizers of Jewish book fairs and lecture series. Getting signed to a tour of these venues is said to have the power not merely to launch a Jewish-themed book, but to lift titles from Jewish to general success. .