A while back, I had lunch with Stephen Moegling, VP of Franklin St. Marketing. (Hi, Stephen.) Stephen is writing a first novel, and had some ideas about marketing. He pitched me his ideas over calamari, so I was a little distracted, but I came away thinking about book promotion in a new light.
Stephen introduced me to a concept he called Finding Your Blue Ocean. He credited Renee Mauborgne, co-author of “Blue Ocean Strategy” with coming up with the theory. She says most American companies swim in a "red ocean," fighting for limited market share amid bloody competition with very little room for growth. Innovative companies find a way to swim to a "blue ocean," where they no longer have direct competition and the growth potential is vast.
My mission, then, is to break out of the red ocean of bookstores, where I am just another book on a shelf, and find a blue ocean, where I’m the only one saying, “Ashes to Water is a great thriller. Buy it!” So how do I do that?
By finding a new market space.
Imagine yourself in your favorite bookstore.
You’re looking for something to read, but you don’t know what. You look to the left, look to the right, and finally pick up something by an author whose last name begins with A. Why? Because it’s right in front of you. Last names beginning with Z (like Ziegler) tend to be around the corner, on the bottom shelf, where browsers fear to tread. For me, bookstore is a red ocean. Amid all those thousands of books, how is mine going to stand out? It won’t.
Where would it stand out? How about a grocery store? Great idea! In fact, in 1998, Richmond author Ann McMillan set up a cardboard kiosk inside several Ukrops grocery stores when her debut novel, Dead March first came out. The display stood at the end of an aisle, all by itself; no other Civil War books to compete with. No books of any kind of compete with. Those books virtually screamed, BUY ME! And people did.
Here's another example:
Been to Starbucks lately? Who would have expected to see a book for sale in a coffee shop? Starbucks sold nearly 100,000 copies of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day nationwide, and A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Sierra Leone native Ishmael Beah, isn’t doing too badly, either.
The aim of the blue ocean strategy, then, is not to out-perform the competition in the existing industry, but to create new market space, or a blue ocean, thereby making the competition irrelevant.
I’m not as smart as Stephen Moegling, so I probably don’t have the full picture yet. Like I said, calamari was involved. Blue ocean strategy is also concerned with things like creating new demand, value innovation, and other things Harvard business grads discuss over scrod. But it got me thinking: I’ve written a mystery/thriller. Where do I find a new market space?
The answer came in the form of my smart and savvy friend, Lynda Calderon. Lynda recently opened a B&B in New Glarus, WI, and wanted introduce members of the Chamber of Commerce to her new enterprise. But she wanted to offer more than cheese cubes on toothpicks and delicious wine in plastic cups (which happen to be two of my favorite things, but hey, it's not my party.) So when I told her I would be signing Ashes to Water in nearby Milwaukee, I heard something click in her formidable brain. Why don’t I attend her event as the featured guest? It doesn’t matter that I'm not Sue Grafton. Lynda will sell my first book in advance of the event, talk up my new book, and when July 10 rolls around, have me signing at the B&B and swimming in a beautiful blue ocean. Thanks, Lynda!
As far as the blue ocean strategy goes, I realize this example is a variation on a tried-and-true model of selling books, and doesn't break new ground; but at least there won’t be other books at the B&B, stealing my thunder and distracting my customer base. And my participation will benefit Lynda as well, which makes me feel good. As far as brilliant ideas go, it’s a small step outside the red ocean, but that's okay. If Ashes to Water is going to sink or swim on its merits, I need to push it off the dock. This is a start.