Today, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, I’m officially a published novelist, something I’ve longed to be since I was six years old. The Reluctant Coroner was a frenetic, messy, wonderful process, and I learned a whole lot—especially the way writing and publishing a book correlates to B2B marketing. For the next five weeks, I’ll share five lessons about what I learned during the writing of The Reluctant Coroner.
Lesson 1: Judge a book by its cover.
For all the talk of artists talking about writing what their heart wants to write, when it comes to getting other people to pay attention to your book, 90% of it is done with the title and the cover. My book was originally called Out of the Park—because the main character was named Fenway Stevenson (yes, after the stadium where the Boston Red Sox play). And because the murder victim was found outside a state park. Two details which would never get across in the half-second someone browsing on Amazon or Kobo or in an independent bookstore would ever get.
I had to ask myself: if I saw a novel called Out of the Park in the mystery section, what would I think? Would I think it’s a thinking person’s mystery with family drama, suspenseful action, complicated people making heartbreaking decisions? No. I’d think it was a baseball mystery. And I’d be disappointed, no matter how good it is, because it didn’t meet my expectations.
If you’re in product marketing, like I have been for most of my career, this means you can’t be overly clever naming your products or your features. By the same token, Woman Solves A Murder isn’t descriptive enough (like “Acme Network Firewall”), but Out of the Park was so, ahem, out of left field—just like some of the weirder product names you find, that may make a lot of sense in context. But it’s context the audience doesn’t have when they’re making the purchase decision.
In addition, I needed to get rid of the notion that my book cover had to “stand out.” It actually had to meet the expectations of the reader. Putting myself in the shoes of the reader was very helpful. I love reading mysteries (especially Sue Grafton, Faith Martin, and Agatha Christie). There’s a point where you see the author’s name and buy the book automatically. But I’ve taken a chance on interesting-looking books before. The cover has to give me a really good idea of what kind of book it is. It shouldn’t detail a scene from the book—especially one that’s thematically relevant to the story but super-weird out of context. For example, in my book, I have Fenway Stevenson walking through a monarch butterfly waystation and being overwhelmed by the connection she feels to her dead mother. But having a book cover featuring a monarch butterfly would be a supremely bad idea. It needs to look like a murder mystery, not a nature book.
In the same way, the product packaging—and the product itself—needs to conform to your audience expectations. I hear all the time about companies who say their products don’t compete with any other product on the market, that it’s completely unique. That doesn’t give your audience a touchstone, though. They don’t know how a completely unique product can solve their business problems or how they can sell it to their CFO.