What It Takes

What It Takes

Avoid the Most Obvious

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?

The first (hardback, 2014) cover for "The Lion's Gate"

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.

Why?

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 support@blackirishbooks.com. 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.

Posted in What It Takes

10 Responses to “Avoid the Most Obvious”

  1. J Thomas
    June 5, 2015 at 6:27 am

    Micheal Lewis was surprised years afterward that he would meet people who told him that his book Liar’s Poker inspired them to get a job on Wall Street. Considering the book portrayal of Wall Street, this seems impossible.

  2. Mary Doyle
    June 5, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Thanks for sharing this process Callie — good luck with “The Lion’s Gate” paperback release – it’s a great book and deserves more attention, as does “Solitary.”

  3. Regina Holt
    June 5, 2015 at 9:25 am

    The last couple of paragraphs where you talk about how this story can translate to the human condition is exactly why I love both The Lion’s Gate and Solitary. As you and Steve are detailing the different groups that would like this book, I’m asking myself which category I am in. The Pressfield and Black Irish fan club. (duh.) But if I hadn’t already been hooked, what’s my group?

    The power of word of mouth is prime here. It’s why the strategy of free books.

    But it’s not all there is because I really really want one of those Black Irish lunch boxes that can’t be sold in stores! I’d pay double for it! (I know it wasn’t even for sale.) But what of that marketing mentality? It deserves a place here too.

    Back to my group, stay at home mom wanting to know the meaning of life? or am I looking to understand the problems within the Middle East with no background at all? (or little) I don’t know exactly but being fan club, I’d share what I can and I know there are others here who would too. Poll us? I don’t know the answer but I LOVE that the discussion is started.

  4. Dick Yaeger
    June 5, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Instead of a “Jewish/Israeli” or “military” marketing theme, I would suggest “love-of-country” as a broader, more appealing concept. That was what moved me when reading “The Lion’s Gate.” I was in a position to talk with those involved with the IAF immediately after the six-day war. Their passion for their country and its destiny made me a life-long supporter of their everlasting struggle. If the US had such a passion, we would be as united as they are. Sadly, it is unlikely. Key to Israel’s passion is a common religious belief and conscription, both of which are buried in America’s history, never to return.

  5. Marvin Waschke
    June 5, 2015 at 10:50 am

    I wonder if the Foolscap and Shawn’s Story Grid do not contain the starting point for marketing a book. The inner and outer genre, and values at stake are the most basic criteria for choosing books to read. Maybe a deep analysis of the genre of the book should be the first step in marketing. Shawn’s analysis of genre has been a revelation to me. Has anyone thought about extending it to marketing?

  6. June 5, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    I am a full-on, Kool-Aid drinking acolyte of Black Irish Books…and other than witty Christmas letters, haven’t published anything, ever.

    I fit the military fan, then fan of The War of Art group.

    Got the freebie hard cover of The Lion’s Gate–passed it on to 4 other known readers.

    Immediately signed up the for the free paperback, because I know a few others I want to read the book.

    I’ve done the same with “The Return”, handing it to people in the business of helping Soldiers/Veterans.

    There are times I almost feel like I’m stealing from BIB with all the free and discounted stuff I get. Bought Story Grid…and again, I haven’t written anything.

    Basically, I think the world will be a better place the more people read the Black Irish Book inventory, and read this blog.

    While I’m a ‘serial recommend-er’ I’ve never been an acolyte of anything. I think that speaks to the authenticity and content found here on a consistent basis.
    bsn

  7. Cindy
    June 6, 2015 at 9:09 am

    I used to work in marketing & advertising. No matter how many focus groups we did, no matter how many expensive experts weighed in, we could never accurately predict how a campaign would go. One variable in particular some of us would discuss was timing; ie: the very vague “mood” of the potential customers at the time of the launch. Think launching a product during a stock market disaster, 9/11, Hurricane Sandy or while Ferguson was on fire.

    Despite the economy being somewhat stable now, it has been years since any polls have indicated that the majority of Americans feels the country is going in the right direction. I think its possible that this has an impact on everybody’s purchasing decisions and entertainment choices. I know of no one right now who is buoyant and optimistic about the future–from teenagers to retirees, from progressives to ultra-conservatives.

    It also seems like the more challenging life is, the more the public seeks to distract themselves with pointless diversions (reality tv, celebrities, cat videos). I am not immune. I am a crime victim who lives next door to the sociopath defendant who is terrorizing my lovely neighborhood & attempted to kill me & refuses to leave me alone (yes, he is free). I have also been diagnosed with cancer. As much as I want to read and be inspired by Giora Romm’s amazing story I confess that I am currently addicted to reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” and Tiny House Nation. While I know it is slightly ridiculous, I find it soothing nonetheless!

    So, if it were me trying to market “Solitary” for example, I would focus my marketing efforts on how Romm’s inspirational story would help the reader to persevere with their own struggles.

    By the way, I rarely post and am not really writing these days but I love this blog and look forward to the posts so thank you for a great site. Also, I cannot count how many people I have recommended The War of Art to. All agree it is simply brilliant. So brilliant in fact that I often think my situation is the ultimate in resistance and the novel I have finished and am mustering up the energy to find an agent for will be a huge hit. That thought helps me on my darkest days so to Steve and all of you at Black Irish, thank you for that too.

  8. LeAnn G.
    June 6, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Steven,

    I’m not one that comments on posts very often, but this particular post resonated with me.

    I am the wife of a retired Marine Lt. Col. My husband is an avid reader, and most of the books he reads are about true-life stories from past wars. When he was deployed in Iraq, he was always requesting that I send him books, as he had a lot of down time and there wasn’t much to do other than to read. When he was done reading them, he’d pass them on to someone else, and they’d do the same.

    The only rule when it came to this was no books on recent or current wars, as it was too close to home for him. He has yet to watch the movie Sniper. And I know there are other soldiers who are of the same mindset.

    If I may offer a suggestion, you might consider getting your books into the hands of the wives of soldiers who are deployed, as we are their lifeline during those times. They depend on us to send them care packages. I’m sure if you offered free books to military wives, they’d pass them on to their husbands.

    Thank you for your time. If this message gives spark to a helpful idea, then I’ve made good use of both your time and mine.

    • June 10, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      Leann,
      Good point about spouses. When our BCT was about to deploy in 2013, we were creating ‘reading groups’ so spouses and deployed Soldiers would share something together while separated. The unit was off-ramped–I guess to let ISIS really gain a foothold–but the idea was to do something in common during a 9-12 month separation.
      bsn

  9. June 14, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    This was a great lesson in expectation.

    Everything is a learning process. I feel good reading the breakdowns of various publishing experiences you guys are having. It makes me feel like I am apart of the process.

    I continue to buy everything you guys put out and will do.