by John J. Hohn
When I published my first novel Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds, I thought that I could make the book happen—become a big seller, harvest scores of glowing reviews, and find the world had come knocking. Some of that has come true.
The reviews have been consistently enthusiastic. I have been invited to radio and pod-cast interviews and to contribute to the web sites of others. My own web site has reaped dozens of positive comments. I thought that I was on the right track. I thought that I was making it happen. Sales of the book have been steady, but despite all of this positive activity, the numbers have fallen short of impressive.
I knew little about the publishing world when I began poking around in the industry. I had been a successful salesperson throughout my career. I felt confidant that I would find the knack to Internet selling and my experience would be a great help. The skills set had to be the same even if the marketing landscape was different.
The first step for a salesperson in any field is to define a market—an approachable large group of people who share an identified need in common and have the resources to address it. In investment management services, that meant affluent business owners and professionals who had money to invest. Finding a starting point was as easy as picking up the Yellow Pages. Points of entry to the market included service clubs, professional associations, and membership in charitable organizations—anywhere one could expect to find qualified people. But what about marketing a book?
I wanted family, friends, classmates, local bookstore owners and others to read my book, but compared against the 10 per cent of the American population that reads, they were hardly a market. 30 million people are readers in this country and millions more outside the U. S.
From the onset, I was urged to create a buzz on the Internet. I polished up my web site, created a presence on twitter, facebook, Linkedin, and a host of other online facilities. Keeping current with posting became a full time job.
Consultants and publicists urge their clients to be active on an array of sites, but I have yet to see any statistics that establish the X number of tweets will generate Y number of sales. Or that A number of Facebook posts will predict B volume in sales. I doubt that anyone is keeping track. One consultant proclaimed that it takes 50 posts on an author’s web site in order to get a buzz started. 50 is certainly better than 20. 100 might be twice a good as 50. But with neither number is there any statistical assurance the promotional effort will pay off.
Pushing into such a large, amorphous market like the Internet was a little unnerving. Not everyone out there would be interested in my book. When I lived in Minnesota, I became a good fresh water fisherman. I knew the topography of the lakes, the favored habitat and feeding habits of the species I wanted to catch. Only a novice would row out to the middle of the lake, bait a line and sit all day in the hope of catching something. Yet my entry into Internet marketing was every bit as aimless. A buzz in itself is just noise if it is not taking place in a defined segment of the market where buyers are active.
Deadly Portfolio is a financial mystery, with mystery as the overriding genre and financial as a sub-set of it. Mystery books should be promoted among mystery book readers. Forget the rest of the reading public.
The mystery market is huge. The points of entry are numerous and easy to find. Next in line, the financial market is also huge. If I was going to sharpen my focus, I needed to define what my book featured for its intended readers.
Features sell products and services. A GPS guidance system is a feature in an automobile. Self-cleaning is a feature to a kitchen range. Features appeal to a certain group of buyers more than to the market in general. Features attract.
Deadly Portfolio extends enticing features to the market. It is about aging baby-boomers in their pursuit of the American dream. It features a family reacting to a reverse in their fortunes because of a simple transgression—one that happens in brokerage houses all across the nation every working day of the week. Baby-boomers constitute large segment of the population. The financial market and the baby-boomer market over lap demographically but not in all areas of American life. I needed to find the areas common to boomers that were not being folded into the mix by a focus on financial. I found several.
Boomers worry about retirement. My book has a major character on the threshold of retirement and a younger associate amassing a fortune to assure that life after work will be worry free. College education is a concern for boomers. One major character in the book has a son who drops out of college just weeks before graduation. Boomers experience divorce and remarry. When they do, they may find themselves in the role of stepparent and trying to blend families. Joyce Sherman, another character in the book, is disillusioned about her role as stepmother and exasperated in her struggle to bond with he husband’s children.
Boomers are beginning to lose spouses due to cancer and other illnesses. They worry about surviving the death of a spouse. Detective James Raker sustained such a loss. He struggles with near disabling grief in moving ahead with his work. All of these topics are features of the book that define and narrow a market. It is my job to find the points of entry into interested audiences and work in each arena as an author with an important and entertaining message to deliver.
Part of the definition of a market is a group of people with a common need. Need for the author can be modified to interest. Even in the most exotic and fantastic adventure stories, characters that exhibit sympathetic familiar traits draw in readers. Thus, the market for my book broke down in order as: mystery, then financial, baby boomers, stepparents, widows/widowers, and finally, pre-retirees.
Logical points of entry into these markets became readily apparent. To illustrate, I posted as series of four articles on stepparents on my web site. A search of twitter produced a long list of sites on the same subject. More resulted from when I Googled the subject. The side door into my book for this market was Joyce Sherman’s troubles as an idealistic stepmother. The series of posts was so successful that several marriage, dating and divorce counseling sites linked to my web site.
I posted several articles on retirement planning and produced similar results. An article on divorce posting during the holiday season is still drawing comments now—in July. .
Someone once wrote that we read to find that we are not alone. Adult readers struggling with the task of blending a family are interested in knowing what others have experienced. They want to know that they are not alone, that they are not crazy, that others have experienced the same troubles and perhaps found a solution. These readers are interested in books like Deadly Portfolio because the book delivers a sympathetic and authentic depiction of someone in similar circumstances. To them, the mystery may be a secondary consideration. Yet they constitute a very special defined market that can be served with research and thoughtful promotional work. I began to post articles that had their own objective, that were complete in themselves. Selling the book was secondary. Showcasing my writing style and personal and professional experience took precedent on the faith that if I succeeded at one, the other would follow.
This is the depth to which publicists should take their promotions on behalf of their clients. Publicists who are not intimately familiar with a client’s book are peddling cookie cutter promotional programs. They do not know the features of the client’s story. They cannot target the promotional effort. They are fishing in the middle of the lake.
It is not within an author’s power to make it happen for a book. Destiny, luck, timing, a break—call it what you will—also play a huge part and they lie outside of an author’s control. A random casual entry into the Internet market will be predictably unproductive and generate results only when outrageous good luck intervenes. The chances of putting a book over are greatly improved when it is promoted in defined markets with established entry points. The author needs as many lines in the water as possible but they must be cast into the areas where the most likely readers congregate.
John J. Hohn was born and raised in Yankton, South Dakota, and has lived in North Carolina since 1978. For the last several years, John and his wife Melinda have divided their time each year between our cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains near West Jefferson, NC and a cottage on coast in the village of Southport at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. He gradated with a degree in English from St. John’s University (MN), in 1961 and began teaching that same year at St. John’s Prep School. His career in the financial services industry spanned a 40 year period. He was a member of the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale, on stage frequently in Little Theatre productions in Winston-Salem and served as president the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance and president of The Youth Symphony of Minneapolis. To learn more about John J. Hohn: http://jjhohn.com/