By Callie Oettinger | Published: June 5, 2015
About ten years ago I worked on a documentary that was screened at military bases and indie theaters in non-military base markets.
The film followed a group of soldiers in Iraq and the thinking at the time was that the military market would come out in hordes to see it.
Not the case.
The film did best at two screenings held with a “progressive” think tank instead. A few people showed up at the military base locations, while standing-room only was the case in other locations.
What happened? This was a film about soldiers, showing events soldiers had lived through. Why wouldn’t they want to see it?
A decade later, The Lion’s Gate was released. Steve and his publisher’s marketing team were looking toward Jewish-American readers for support. We pulled a list of synagogues nationwide to send books and did a giveaway on Steve’s site, similar to the one Steve announced this past Wednesday. There was a bit of a response, but… Not what we hoped.
Then, Black Irish Books released Solitary by Giora Romm. Giora came to the States, with Steve as his Los Angeles host and yours truly tailing him in the Washington, D.C. area. Here’s Steve’s take on Giora’s L.A. visit, as shared in his “A Tale of Two Covers” post this week:
Giora came to Los Angeles, where I live, to promote the book. He’s a bona fide national hero in Israel. The L.A. Jewish community rolled out the red carpet. I served as Giora’s driver for the week he was in town. I was there at every reception, book signing, speaking engagement. Giora is hugely charismatic, funny, charming, a paragon of the Israeli war hero. People loved him.
But the book didn’t catch fire.
I can only guess, but I think it’s for the same reasons that The Lion’s Gate didn’t take off. American Jews don’t want to read about war. It’s a turn-off to them.
Let’s get Giora to Washington, D.C., where I was the fly on the wall. The first meeting matched Steve’s description of Giora’s L.A. reception — to the point that all those in attendance stayed seated when a hurricane warning set off alarms on a few of our iPhones, and the dark, fast-moving clouds surrounding the floor-to-ceiling windowed room we were in, high-up in a D.C. office building, sent me up and out in search of security and an evacuation plan. The individuals there were Americans, Israelis, retired service members, historians and/or Jewish Americans. With a few exceptions, almost all were 50-something or older.
Naval Academy was up next. The late-teen-early-20s students “got it.” They hung onto Giora’s stories about being a pilot and a prisoner of war, and then his personal battle to return to flying. The questions kept coming and I didn’t think we’d ever make it off the campus…
Third stop was a group of 20-something Jewish Americans and Israelis. Giora presented the speech he’d given at the other two locations, with a few minor tweaks. After he spoke… Crickets. One person wanted to know why Israel wasn’t mentioned on the cover. Another wanted to know what they should share about the book to make others excited about it. That was it.
How to analyze the three D.C.-area experiences?
The first group was of an age that either experienced what Giora wrote about first-hand, and/or was alive and remembered the news reports.
The students in the second group weren’t alive during the period shared in Solitary, but with Giora being a pilot and many of them looking toward the skies themselves, they saw him as a role model. They wanted to learn from him.
The third group, like the students at Annapolis, weren’t alive for the events Giora shared. Unlike the students at Annapolis, with perhaps a few exceptions, those in attendance were removed from the skies, from battle.
What to do with this information? Fold it into Steve’s experiences with the hardcover release of The Lion’s Gate, my previous experiences with military books, and the outreach that has always worked for the Black Irish Team.
The first D.C.-area group that Giora visited makes sense, but it can’t be assumed that all Israeli, military, historian and/or Jewish Americans of a certain age or older will want to read Solitary or The Lion’s Gate. It’s one sampling. An example to this point arrived this week, via a comment Marvin Waschke wrote, in response to Steve’s last post. Here’s a slice of it:
My good friend is an orthodox rabbi who lives in the US, but has many relatives in Israel, including his mother-in-law. I don’t think he would read The Lion’s Gate, but for none of the reasons posited. He is a jovial man with a flock of children, not anti-war, but he prefers cozies to rip-roaring adventure.
Same lesson I observed with the American military audience. Just because the book features a soldier doesn’t mean other soldiers are going to read it. Some, however, will read it.
The second group makes sense, too, but students are often strapped for cash. They aren’t going to put down money for a hardcover — and might not jump on a paperback either.
What to do?
Send free copies to the first two groups. These are the individuals most likely to read the book, so let’s get it to them. This is what we’ve done will all of Black Irish Books’ titles, with the exception of Solitary, where we also traveled a more traditional route. It wasn’t wrong, but it made me wonder what would have happened if we’d invested our time in getting 10,000 copies of the books into the hands of readers as we have with other titles (read more about this via Shawn’s article from last Friday, titled “Patience and Faith.”)
For the paperback, the publisher of The Lion’s Gate has contacted ROTC programs nationwide to provide a free paperback to the program. My hope is that they’ll sort out a way to get free copies into the hands of all the departments that respond — for a large number of students, rather than just one copy.
When we requested 200 books for giveaway, we did face the same argument Shawn discussed in “Patience and Faith.” Wouldn’t it make more sense to give books away to people who might not buy the book?
NO. NO. NO.
Get the books into the hands of the people who are most likely to read them first. Make it easy and then they’ll read and share the book. The people who are on the fence about buying a book will be on the fence about reading a free book, too. If you give the fence sitters a free book, you’re chancing it sitting on their shelves. Instead, put it in the hands of those who will definitely read it. (More on this via Shawn’s post Readers First.) Thankfully, the publisher of The Lion’s Gate is on board and is sending out 200 books to those of you who were so quick to sign up this week.
Along the lines of rethinking audiences… There’s another audience that I’ve been curious about approaching, to get them interested in reading The Lion’s Gate and Solitary: Steve’s War of Art audience.
In the past, we’ve found that Steve’s military readers are also readers of The War of Art and his other Black Irish Books titles, while his readers that know him for The War of Art first aren’t often readers of his military titles.
For those in the second group: If you didn’t sign up in time to receive one of the 200 free copies of The Lion’s Gate that the publisher is giving away, shoot an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a few more and will send them your way if you’re open to reading (not just receiving) something that might not be your typical genre. Leave out the politics. Leave out the religion. Leave out the battles. Instead, look at the stories shared within The Lion’s Gate and you’ll find the stories (with different names, places, times) shared within The War of Art. Look at how those profiled pulled something out of nothing. Look at how they refused to stop. Look at how they moved forward when the odds were stacked against them. These, by the way, are some of the topics Steve and August Cole will be speaking about in their Google Hangout June 25th at 3 PM ET (more details to come).
Bottom line: You never know how things will work out. The only thing for certain is that giving away books to the audience most interested works — and the obvious audience isn’t always the one that will be interested.