People like to read about places they know. I discovered this to be true when I recently published my first mystery novel, Murder on the Prairie: A North Florida Mystery. The book is being received with an unexpected degree of enthusiasm for the setting, Gainesville, Florida – home of the University of Florida – the nearby Paynes Prairie State Park Preserve, and its Visitors Center in Micanopy. Reader comments and book sales have reflected this enthusiasm.
I’ve received a number of emails from readers, who live both in and out-of-town, in which they mentioned their pleasure in a vicarious visit. As one of them said in his email: “I enjoyed references to so many familiar places and situations – thanks for an exciting weekend on the Prairie!” Others said they appreciated learning more about the Prairie.
The book is selling locally at a fast pace, and people buy several copies to give as gifts because of the locale. I didn’t anticipate the positive reception from so many different quarters. I’m finding marketing outlets, other than bookstores, in such places as historic museums, libraries, state park visitor centers, and even the Hippodrome State Theatre (a great resource though not mentioned by name in the book).
I have been asked to speak at a high school class, a retirement community, the public library, and to do a book-signing at the University of Florida’s alumni center during Homecoming weekend. The presence of the University has a bonus – alumni and their families are potentially interested in revisiting their college town by reading about it in an enjoyable novel. Several environmental groups are willingly promoting my book in their newsletters, and one of them is taking it on consignment to sell at their events. In short, the marketing avenues continue to present themselves.
In addition to extensive descriptions of Paynes Prairie State Park, I embraced other scenes, and used the actual names of streets and landmarks in Gainesville. I described my protagonist doing her work-outs at my own local health club, I mentioned a favorite home-town rock band, a high school, and a well-known country store in Micanopy and I referenced a notorious unsolved Gainesville murder (I secured the police report for details, but did not use the victim’s name).
A fictional chapter of the real environmental organization, the Sierra Club, plays a major role in the book. The contributions made by the real Suwannee-St.Johns Sierra Club chapter, in preserving Paynes Prairie, inspired me to donate ten percent of my profits to them. I have stickers on the cover of the book announcing the donation.
I was careful not to use names of people or places if there was even a hint of an unfavorable connotation, or if I didn’t receive their permission. In some cases, I altered a name for other reasons. For example, I gave a new name to a popular restaurant. The owners might have liked the publicity, but the eatery had changed hands so often, I was afraid it would no longer be current after the publication of the book.
I set out to employ an interesting, issue-oriented, and environmentally significant setting for a murder mystery, and had no intention of securing a demographic niche for marketing purposes. I am now aware of the added bonus in making a similar selection for my next book. It is a place of major ecological issues and significance, a popular tourist destination, and it is only ten miles south of the State capitol and Florida State University. The book in progress – for publication in 2006 – is: Murder at Wakulla Springs: A North Florida Mystery.
Marjorie Abrams (aka M.D.Abrams) is the author of Murder on the Prairie: A North Florida Mystery (Booklocker.com, 2005). Dr. Abrams is a long-time environmental activist and former educator. In 2004, her one-act play, The Cell Phone, was selected in a competition and produced by the Hippodrome State Theatre in Gainesville, Florida where she lives. She also received a cash prize for the play from the Mt. Dora Literature and Music Festival (2005). Her article, “Three Things No One Told Me About Self-Publishing,” appeared in the summer 2005 edition of The Florida Palm, the official publication of the Florida Writers Association, Inc. For more information go to http://www.mdabrams.com.