As I’ve discussed in previous editions of this column, making appearances at comicbook conventions for signings can be fun little “weekend getaways” from the otherwise mundane day jobs we all use to help ourselves support our budding careers in the comicbook industry.
Of course, these trips cost money just like any “mini-vacation” will, but, hey, there ain’t nuthin’ in life that’s free, folks… with the possible exception of this, of course.
Yes… I know I’m shameless. I just can’t help myself.
Between travel expenses (be it a rental car, plane tickets or even just plain ol’ gasoline), a hotel room, food and table costs setting-up at a comicbook convention for a weekend can easily set you back a few hundred dollars – and that’s before you even lay your books on the table!
Oh yeah… that also doesn’t include the potential cost of bringing family members and making a “true” vacation out of it either.
(It’s my experience that you’ll only get away with calling “a weekend at a comic convention” a “family vacation” once. At most.)
Luckily for me I have a fairly flexible work schedule, and that, combined with a very understanding family, results in me usually being able to make it to at least a few comic conventions a year… but that’s hardly enough of an effort for us “up-and-coming” creators to get the word out about our books, right?
So… what do we do about it?
Message boards are obviously a great start – but the key is to not be annoying about pimping your wares. Remember, if you’re not already an active member of the board there’s a pretty good chance that you just popping-on to promote your comic is most likely going to be seen as “spam” – regardless of how good it is.
Considering this, I highly recommend taking some time to develop at least a mild presence at any message boards on which you plan to promote your work. If you’re lucky it might will buy you a little leeway with the Moderators.
Also, when considering online haunts to, well, haunt, think outside the box a bit. I mean – believe it or not – there are actually non-comic-releated websites out there, people… and in some rare cases they might even have message boards where the clientele would be accepting of you promoting your comic there.
For example, in the case of NIGHTMARE WORLD, I’ve I’ve gained thousands of readers (seriously) over the years by updating one single thread each time I had new story went online. In some cases I did this for months – and as a result more and more people began clicking the thread just to see what all of the hype (and posts) were about.
Obviously you might be booted from a message board dedicated to horror fans is you try to pimp your superhero comic there – but if you can find topical online communities where you honestly think people there would enjoy your work, introduce yourself and start a thread there. After all, every reader counts, right?
(In fact, a few years ago I received some very flattering endorsements from a very respected “Sherlock Holmes” website based on the “Sherlock Holmes” story I did for NIGHTMARE WORLD. I received hundreds of extra “hits” following just that one rather “obscure” endorsement.)
Again, though, the key here is not to be a pest about promoting your book. Don’t “hijack” other threads and be respectful of the fact that some message boards will delete your posts and tell you to “buy advertising” if you want to promote your work there. These things happen and you’ll have to play by the rules of each respective site.
(I like to think of it this way: Remember the “House Rules”: It’s their house and their rules!)
Another nice avenue that can work for some creators is non-comic based conventions.
If you have a science-fiction comic, make it a point to hit some regional sci-fi cons, etc.
Finally, never overlook the possibility of good ol’ fashioned book signings at local or regional comicbook stores.
Sure, sure… usually even the best comicbook store won’t draw in as many people as even the worst comicbook convention (with a few exceptions both ways, of course), but there’s a huge marketing advantage to signing books and kissing babies at bookstore signings that many creators overlook:
There’s a major lack of competition for potential fans and sales at book signings.
I know it may sound a bit funny, but this can be much more of an advantage than you might initially suspect.
Think of it this way: At any given comic convention there are anywhere from dozens to hundreds (and sometimes even thousands) of other creators present who are all also competing for the limited funds the fan-base of the show has brought as “disposable income.”
Now, make no mistake, folks: A good percentage of fans attending any given convention are attending the show looking for certain books/creators and those certain books/creators alone… and these people are “off the market” in regards to you peddling your wares.
These are the people who – if they happen to walk by your table – will smile and nod politely as they walk by in the middle of even your quickest one-sentence pitch… and that’s OK. No one goes to a convention to be pestered by the small press folk, you know?
(I mean, hey, I’m still more or less a “small press” guy and there are plenty of times that I’ve walked by other “Small Press” booths in “Artists’ Alley” and ignored the sales pitches of other guys because I didn’t want to be bothered! It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to the cause – it’s that I’ve got limited time and limited funds and limited interests – just like everyone else at any given show.)
Well, given the fact that – for the sake of gratuity – only 25% of the fans at the show are even potential customers for your specific type of comicbook goodness (and trust me, that’s a VERY generous number!), you’re then competing with every other creator at the show for the limited funds of one-fourth of the crowd.
In other words, it’s You vs. Everyone Else for 25% of the POTENTIAL buyers.
That’s some steep odds, my friends. Very steep odds.
However… it’s not like that at most book store signings.
If you’re signing books at a comicbook store – especially one that frequently has local, regional and national small press artists come in and sign/pimp books – you’ll have a good chance to at least “connect” and then “pitch” with a lot higher percentage of your potential customers (after all, everyone at the store has come there specifically to buy a book of some sort)… which could actually lead to more sales even through less people.
I mean, hey, I’d rather be able to connect with and then pitch to 90% of 100 people then 5% of 1000 people any day of the week, you know?
(Go ahead and find your calculator if you need to – I’ll wait.)
Of course, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll sell more books at a comicbook store signing than at a convention – but I do know from repeated personal experiences that you’re more likely to sell books – even to “iffy” readers – if you’re able to make a personal connection with them… and that’s exactly what the intimacy of a bookstore signing can provide as opposed to a large and crowded convention filled with hundreds of equally hungry and talented creators.
In fact, that’s one of the main reasons my good friend and frequent collaborator Josh Ross recently took respective eight-hour road trips this past Halloween Weekend to do a signing at Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor, Michigan to promote NIGHTMARE WORLD and our debut at Image/Shadowline.
Yes, you read that right… it took us each eight hours to get there.
To one comicbook store.
To sign books and kiss babies for four hours.
OK… I’m sure some of you are scratching your heads right now trying to figure out why in the name of Cthulhu we each traveled so far for such a short signing.
I mean, we could have done a signings at local stores, right?
Sure… but, as always, there is a method to the madness that is Dirk Manning’s life.
For starters, Vault of Midnight is one of the coolest comicbook stores I’ve ever had the privilege of stepping foot in. I first discovered it several years ago after following-up on a fan’s suggestions at a convention I was attending in Michigan and have been a fan of the store ever since.
It’s current location is a two story building (a ground floor and a basement) that’s well-lit, well-decorated and packed to the gills with cool comics – with a very substantial focus on “indie,” smaller-press and otherwise non-superhero titles.
The store also has a strong internet presence, is run by a very dynamic staff and caters to a very hip and non-strictly Marvel/DC crowd – making it the perfect type of store for the two of us to peddle our wares and cause trouble (while also perusing their awe-inspiring collection of goodies, of course).
The sheer awesomeness of the store aside, there were a few other reasons for attending this particular store on this particular date… and it all revolves around that idea I mentioned at the beginning of the column about making a “mini-vacation” out of comicbook signing endeavors.
Given the fact that it was Halloween, my wife opted to stay home for the purpose of trick-or-treating festivities… and that suited me just find because considering how my expenses always seem to quadruple whenever I take my family on a “comicbook weekend” – even through there’s only three of us.
(Try as I might I still can’t quite figure out quite how that happens…)
Well, Josh and I planned the trip for Halloween weekend for a few reasons. Aside from the obvious Halloween/NIGHTMARE WORLD connection, we had both been meaning to get to Ann Arbor for a while now.
If you’ve never been there, it’s a great little college town with a ton of cool vintage book stores (for me), a massive old-school video arcade (for Josh) and several awesome restaurants (for Josh’s girlfriend). Furthermore, we had a mutual friend who lives only an hour away and was willing to let us crash at his place since it was only going to be the three of us.
The real kicker, though, was that his house was only an hour away from Cedar Point, a world-renowned amusement park that boasts no less than 17 roller coasters as well as dozens of other thrill-rides.
Oh… and there was also a Polka/Pink Floyd cover band performing just a few miles from his place, too.
(Sadly, I had a last-minute commitment came-up that meant Josh, his sweet lady and our T-Town friends ended-up taking the trip to Cedar Point without me while I instead headed home... but getting to see a band as insanely wonderful as The Polka Floyd Show more than made-up for it.)
Hopefully by now you can see why we were willing to make the respective eight-hour trips: An intimate and well-publicized signing at a cool comicbook store in a town with several other attractions located less than an hour from a friend willing to put us up for the night and take us to a kick-ass amusement park to boot.
I’m telling you, friends, if you’re willing and able to be a little creative you can get a lot of bang for your buck out of little trips like these.
The real question, though, is how the signing went. When all was said and done was it worth the trip?
When we arrived in Ann Arbor we checked in with Vault of Midnight co-owner Liz and then hit the town for a few hours before heading over to a great restaurant across the street from the store called B.D.’s Mongolian B-B-Q where they cook the dishes you make yourself with swords on a giant grill.
Yes, you read that right: They cook your food with swords. While singing, too boot.
Also, due to it being Halloween everyone working at the restaurant was in costume, and it delighted Josh to no end to see Kratos from the videogame God of War slicing and dicing his meat/veggie dishes on a giant grill while singing “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy…
As for the signing itself – it was also successful – surprisingly so considering that we were there during “Trick-or-Treat” hours on a Friday night to boot.
Not only did some fans we’d previously only known through the Internet made the trip just to see us (since they lived within driving distance), but because co-owner Liz (she’s the gal with the pink scarf, by the way) also did a lot of promotion for our appearance via e-mail and posters/fliers in the store, several of the store’s most faithful customers also came-out to see what all of the hype was about…
As the pictures show, gabbing, several zombies, a surprise appearance by a member of the Global Frequency (really!), techno music, autographs, sketches, dancing, dancing, more dancing and numerous sales were the end result as we got our books in the hands of numerous people who are even now telling their friends about us and our comic.
Again… sometimes it’s that easy – and that fun!
Sure, sure… comicbook conventions and message boards are great place to promote your work, but don’t forget about the other places.
If your product is good and you can you act in a professional manner (or, as in our case, are willing to do the “Thriller” dance with customers) there are a lot of book stores (both comicbook and otherwise), libraries, art festivals, community centers and even local colleges that might offer you a time and place to expose people to your work.
Will you make a million bucks at an appearance like this?
No, you won’t, but it’s also important to remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with just a few steps…
With a detour here and there so you can dance with the occasional zombie as needed, of course.
In the name of spreading the love, if you know of any great local comicbook stores that are good for hosting signs at, let us all know about them in the comments below, ya’ hear? Let’s start our own little “mini-network” of places around the country where small-press guys can pimp their product if they’re planning on being in the area!
Next Time: I’ll finally discuss How to crush the opposition and make friends in the process. Honest.
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD and a longtime contributing writer for Newsarama. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around MySpace as well as the comic hub at SoulGeek, Comicspace and even Facebook and Twitter. Yeesh. He tries to be fairly accessible to people who’d like to talk to (or at) him and he usually does pretty well at responding to everyone who takes the time to comment in the talkback sections of these columns… so leave some comments below and check back often if you’re into that sort of thing, have something worthwhile (or entertaining) to say or otherwise want to keep the conversation going.
Want to read Write or Wrong from the beginning? Here ya’ go!