Sometimes what is obvious to fans isn’t necessarily obvious to the writers. I speak of pigs.
Yes, pigs: one of the most populous large mammals in the world, with more than one billion of them rooting around at any given time.
I grew up with pigs. Sort of. My uncle owned a dairy farm on which he also raised pigs. Along with my cousins, I slopped the hogs each day, carrying heavy buckets of food scraps (Phew!) and dumping them over the rail and into the hog troughs. So, yes, I know about swine.
In fact, swine barged into my first early reader, Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories [Houghton, 2005]. Although that book contained three stories, each about an idiom (don’t buy a pig in a poke; don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched; you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink), readers both juvenile and adult never ooh-ed and ahh-ed about the chickens or the horse — it was the pig they went gaga over.
While the success of that book led me to write another, Waltur Paints Himself into a Corner and Other Stories [Houghton, 2006], it never led me down the path of writing about pigs. That is, I never said to myself: Gee, readers seem to love pigs, maybe I should create a pig character in something I write.
I wasn’t aware of the pig character. But the pig character, it seems, was aware of me.
Biding its time.
Which is why, as I was writing my second mystery novel, Sound Proof, a pig suddenly, unexpectedly, and definitely popped up behind my detective as he was studying an anomaly on the back porch of a farmhouse.
I did not consciously create this situation: the pig just popped up. The story is set on a farm, and the pig lives on the farm. His name is Richard. He roams around creating havoc here and there. Richard is a pet pig, belonging to the music festival organizer, Mary Ployd. In fact, Mary is secretly convinced that it will be Richard, not Frank Dragovic, who solves the mystery of who has been stealing guitars and dulcimers from the festival each year. Never mind that Frank’s also working on solving a murder — Mary is far more interested in the stolen instruments.
So Richard barged into my book and tried to steal the leading role (I prevented this). Writing all of this came natural to me, I guess, because pigs were part of my childhood.
What I didn’t expect, however, was the fact that almost everybody who read Sound Proof would say to me, “I loved the pig.”
Obviously, the 500-pound Richard made a huge impact on fans.
But this is just background to what I really discovered about mystery fans and pigs.
A couple of months ago I purchased a program called KDP Rocket, which allows me to come up with more relevant keywords and categories for the books I self-publish, thus presumably increasing my sales.
One of my original keywords for Sound Proof was simply “pigs,” because Richard plays a role in the novel. But with KDP Rocket, I could type in various phrases to see which garnered more reader hits. So there I sat at my keyboard trying various phrases.
And I thought, Why not try pigs in mystery. It seemed a bit far-fetched, I know. I mean, how many times would somebody search for such a phrase on Amazon?
Well, the very first thing I learned was that I have eighty-three competitors! Eighty-three! Eighty-three other people have somehow or other written about pigs in their mystery novels! Not just present-day mysteries, but mysteries set in the time of the Roman Empire. And these novels sell well.
Perhaps because of the pigs, perhaps for other reasons.
I also learned that people search for pigs in mystery maybe 100 times a month on Amazon
Totally convinced, I changed my pig keyword to pigs in mystery.
All I have to do now is rewrite my promotional material to feature the pig. Frank Dragovic isn’t going to like that. But hey, he’s still one up on Richard because he, Frank, solved the mystery.
Richard tries to hog the spotlight in Sound Proof.