Monday, May 20, 2013

Target Practice

A forty-something year-old woman in casual business attire walks into a suburban salon/spa and the two women working the counter literally fall over themselves to get a brochure into her hands. What do you think they spotted first? The unchecked gray in her hair? Her un-manicured nails? Or the face lacking all traces of the scant make-up applied 8 hours earlier? She is exactly the customer they target.

Unfortunately for them, that woman was me. And all I was looking for was the single salon hair product I buy about once every 6 years because I use so little of it. But I was flattered, in a comical way! No one has fallen all over themselves to get to me since my boys were toddlers! The two times in my life I’ve gone to a beauty spa, I only went upon coercion from friends. It is awkward and uncomfortable to me and not something I seek out. But for every one of me, there are 50 other women who love the experience and keep the salon/spas in business. They correctly identified me on the surface. But I’m an outlier!

I think about that funny encounter as I research target companies in my day job and as I attempt to define my target reader audience for Preacher Kid. Sometimes the target market is so well defined and so recognizable that it walks right up to you and says “hello.” Other times, it takes more finesse, not to mention trial and error, to locate the company or person who will be receptive to the “brochure.”

I am excited to be invited to speak at my local library as part of their annual speaker series. The single reason they were receptive to my "brochure" is because I adjusted my target to highlight my journey of discovery. I am joining them not because my book is such a sensation. In New England, far from Esther Miller’s roots, the attraction to the book about a girl from Ohio lies more in the research process than the story. And I have to say, I am thrilled to present my research journey, especially if it demystifies the process or encourages others to start their own search. Of course I would love to talk about Esther, but it would probably feel like sharing my home movies with strangers! Not that that ever stopped my Grandpa McCarthy – invited by the Lakewood Library, on many occasions, to show his films from his globetrotting!

I discovered that my local library offers free use of from their PCs. I think this is a common, yet often overlooked, benefit offered by many public libraries. I spent hours there, inputting ancestral names, deciphering cursive census entries from the 1800s, following a genealogical path down the decades until I lost the trail, and combing through birth, marriage, and death records trying to match names and dates to fill in the missing puzzle pieces. I found the whole task utterly captivating and was often startled out of my seat by the library bell notifying patrons of the impending close.

Some people put off the research because it seems overwhelming, they think it will be tedious, or they don’t realize how accessible old records have become. Not only is it accessible, it is free. I gathered many stories and memories from my living relatives, but that still left many holes in the story. Every bit of research to fill in those holes came from sitting at my computer or the library’s computers – with the important exceptions of my mom and sister, Megan’s, fact-finding mission to Asheville and my time, elbows-deep, in the archives at the Western Reserve Fire Museum in Cleveland. There is so much at our fingertips! It is simply amazing.

It is off in the distance a bit, but mark your calendars for January 26, 2014 and please come to the Needham Library for a fun little journey. Party at my house afterwards! Complete with home movies.

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