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Adam Hoch ’03: Blazing a new trail to publishing success

Adam Hoch '03 rests along the trail.

Like many authors, Adam Hoch ’03 organized book signings this summer at book stores throughout Pennsylvania. It’s important for writers to embark on promotional tours as a means of attracting the attention of the news media and readers.

Unlike other authors, Hoch arrived at his destinations not by road, but by trail—the Appalachian Trail, to be specific. Furthermore, Hoch has redressed the traditional “book signing” in unique ways. His book tour was marked with “mail-drop” book signings, wherein readers sent their copies of Hoch’s epic fantasy novel, Providence Vanished to a post office near one of Hoch’s many stops along the trail. Hoch then signed the book and mailed it back to the original owner.

Though seemingly whimsical, the idea for both the “trail tour” and mail-drop book signings came as the result of promotional necessity.

“I read marketing books, observed up-and-coming traditionally published books and their marketing campaigns, and studied self-publishing success stories. The largest hurdle for a self-published book is that they have no credibility—no publisher backing the worth of their content,” Hoch says.

“What gets books over this hump are four things: luck, reputation, reviews by reputable authors or literary publications, and continued media exposure. The first three are either inaccessible to me or out of my control. So, I was left with the latter—trying to get continued media exposure … However, I had less than $3,000 to my name—and no car to drive anywhere. Fortunately, creativity is always a substitute for money. Hence, the Appalachian Trail.”

This book tour doesn't involve fancy hotels.

But Hoch’s innovative book tour came with its own perils, ones far more dangerous than the long hours and lack of sleep that other authors encounter on the traditional road. In mid-May, while hiking the trail, Hoch was overcome by fatigue. Regarding his tiredness as simple exhaustion, he went to bed.

But he soon awoke feeling nauseous and sweaty. While scrambling to find a nearby privy, he lost consciousness twice. Shivering and exhausted, he made it through the night, and took shelter in a nearby small town the next day.

“After spending a day off the trail, I felt slightly better and hiked on,” Hoch recalls. “Eight days later, though on the correct medication, I was still fatigued, with diarrhea [and] headaches. I decided to get off the trail to recuperate.”

He had, in fact, contracted a gastro-intestinal related illness while hiking.

The experience was similar—though less life-threatening—than the one two years earlier that set him on the path to writing his first book.

In late May 2003, shortly after graduating from Lehigh, Hoch set out on a lengthy, two-part “flip-flop hike”—a journey that would take him from Pennsylvania to Maine and finally down to Georgia. After traveling 400 miles, Hoch was struck by both an achy fatigue and fever. Having battled his ailments for 11 days, he left the trail for shelter in Albany, NY. His symptoms quickly grew more severe.

“I was short of breath and constantly coughing up mucus,” Hoch says. “After five days in Albany, I returned home to Gettysburg, where my father, who is also my physician, could better diagnose my illness.”

Hoch embarks on his latest trail hike.

Hoch soon learned that he had contracted Hantavirus—a pulmonary virus that kills nearly one in three victims, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Because there is no medical treatment for Hantavirus, Hoch began a two-and-a-half month recovery period in Gettysburg. Unfortunately, another symptom, this time unrelated to Hantavirus, soon struck the bed-ridden hiker: boredom.

“I am, by nature, an ‘active’ person; in other words, I need to feel productive. So while resting, I began to write this fantasy/classical epic novel that first teased me while at Lehigh,” Hoch says.

That novel would manifest itself as Providence Vanished, the first in a series entitled “The Flames of Antioch.” Hoch, who graduated from Lehigh with a B.S. in civil engineering and minors in literature and writing, is striving for an ambitious goal with Providence Vanished and its successors:

“My current energies are spent weaving together elements of fantasy, classical epic, history, mythology, legend, marketing, and mystique to create a work more dynamic and powerful than anything currently on the market,” he says.

The “marketing” to which Hoch refers is the unusual promotional tour that accompanied Providence Vanished. In addition to the trail tour and mail-drop signings, Hoch, set up a Web site as a means of creating a more interactive experience for his readers. The Web site offers readers a chance to read Hoch’s “trail journal,” listen to an excerpt from the novel, and even enter a “riddle contest” for a chance to win $500. Such unusual marketing schemes may also serve as Hoch’s grab for media attention in the absence of a publisher.

“After finishing Providence Vanished, I did the normal rounds of sending out hundreds of query letters to agents. I did manage to get the manuscript into the hands of one agent who ‘loved the work’ but couldn’t sell it for me,” Hoch recalls. “I found a reputable, low-cost company, iUniverse, who offered to produce my book in a professional manner and provide distribution through two major distributors and online. That left all marketing and ‘store’ distribution to me.”

Hoch plans to conclude this year's hike in November.

While such innovative marketing may be difficult without the backing of a major publisher, Hoch plans to continue the series, due largely to his unadulterated passion for the project.

“It captivates and satisfies both my creative and analytical muses—a complex mesh unsatisfied by anything else,” Hoch says.

Having overcome his gastro-intestinal illness, Hoch returned to the trail in early June to continue his book signing tour. But unfortunately, more health issues, including iliotibial band syndrome in his knee, giardia, an intestinal parasite, and a recent diagnosis of Lyme’s disease have recently brought Hoch’s book tour to an indefinite halt. He has come away from self-publishing and the trail more excited than ever about his fantasy series, however.

“With all the exposure, feedback and experience, I have learned a great deal about writing and the writing business that will help perfect and professionalize my creation,” he says. “The second book of my fantasy series, Tales of the Lyre, is near completion; once that happens, I have decided to pursue an agent and a traditional publisher.”

And overall, he has learned that perseverance pays off. “What I’ve learned through my experiences is the same thing I learned at Lehigh. Nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy. You have to work hard every single moment, continue learning, continue growing, and persist to overcoming whatever hurdles life throws your way. I set out to graduate from Lehigh. Though classes were tough, I graduated in 2003. I set out to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Though Hantavirus took me down, I’ll thru-hike it this year. I set out to write an epic worthy of the best-seller’s list. One day, no matter the obstacles, it will happen, as long as I work hard, continue learning, continue growing, and persist, persist, persist.”

--Gordon Faylor

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin Online
August 2005

Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005

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