WRITE OR WRONG
#49: Self-Promotion, Hold the Spam
By Dirk Manning
Mind you, I haven’t been sitting around loafing during my recent sabbatical from this column, which I assure you is both near and dear to my heart as well as something I most sincerely enjoy writing. Rather, I’ve spent the last few months laboring away at the production and promotion of the brand new graphic novel NIGHTMARE WORLD: “13 Tales of Terror” Vol. 1 being released by Image/Shadowline this October.
(For those of you who missed the news about the book’s upcoming release, that’s right, folks, we’ve landed at Image! I highly recommend you read the interview conducted by my pal and fellow Newsarama contributor Steve Ekstrom HERE for all the details – and/or check out this message board thread which contains links to all of the interview and podcasts I’ve also been doing over the last month or so, including Comic Geek Speak and several others.)
Also, since I’m on this topic, let me get this out of the way: if you like the online version of NIGHTMARE WORLD or even if you’ve just found this column helpful over the years and want to return the favor, I’d certainly appreciate it if you’d consider pre-ordering a copy via your local comic shop (Diamond Order Code AUG09-0327), Amazon.com or Discount Comic Book Service, who, if you pre-order it soon, are offering the book for only $7.99 and ate also kicking-in an exclusive free NIGHTMARE WORLD signed by me to boot.
Pre-orders are crucial to the success of any comic or graphic novel these days in this climate, so, again, if you would consider pre-ordering a copy it would be most appreciated.
OK… I feel better now that I got that out of the way. Given how much I’ve been promoting the book lately, I guess I feel it was only right to let all of you know about it – and where to get it at the most affordable prices – too.
In fact, truth be told, the other reason I took a sabbatical from this column throughout the summer was so that this series wouldn’t turn into little more than a giant ad for the book, even inadvertently. While there’s certainly no harm in me telling you all about the book’s upcoming release through Image/Shadowline and while NIGHTMARE WORLD is the comic I talk about here the most since it’s the comic I’ve done the most work on and with over the years (52 eight-page stories and change, natch!), the purpose of this column has always been helping interested parties get closer to their goals of successfully creating their own comics rather than promoting my own work.
However, that being said, promoting your own work is a key factor of success in this industry – especially when you’re first starting out. Of course, there’s a fine line between self-promotion and being flat-out annoying/spamful… and therein lies the difficulty in effective self-promotion.
Heck, it’s a question I’m asked all the time in one form or another: How can you effectively promote your comic without becoming being seen as nothing more than a walking advertisement for it?
Again, it’s a fine-line to walk, but not an impossible one to find balance upon if a little care, effort and (most importantly) restraint is taken when embarking upon the perilous and slippery slop of self-promotion both online and in-person… if you’ll allow me the luxury of mixing a metaphor or two.
Before we start discussing specific strategies and getting into the nitty-gritty details of good promotional philosophies and practices, though, I feel there are a few specific caveats worth discussing.
First, get a website – preferably not one that’s just a glorified MySpace or Facebook page. Although we will specifically talk about the advantages of social networking sites in a bit, allow me to say now that, if you’re serious about creating comics and promoting your work, you really should have your own website.
If, like me when I started, you have no clue on how to go about setting one up you can go to places such as www.GoDaddy.com and buy both a domain name and hosting services. If you’re a bit more computer savvy, you can use programs such as WordPress and their new application ComicPress to build a functional – and perhaps even flashy – website.
However you do it, please understand that having some sort of website that you can direct people to is crucial. If you don’t have a website, don’t bother going any farther in trying to promote your work until you have one. Period.
Next, make sure you actually have a substantial – or at least worthwhile – amount of work to promote and showcase on your website. After all, if you’re going to take the time to promote your work – and ask other people to take the time to check it out – make sure there’s enough material actually present to warrant the effort for yourself and potential viewers.
How much is “enough” is entirely in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I’d say that you should at least have either one full chapter/short story or an absolute minimum of six pages of material immediately available for people to read before you consider asking people to check out your website.
In fact, I personally feel that you shouldn’t even bother asking people to visit your website (or your product’s website) if you don’t have any comics posted or available there for them to read. Now more than ever before the idea of publishing excerpts of comics (or even full episodes of comics) online are gaining not only legitimacy in the eyes of readers, but I daresay it’s becoming a bit of an expectation at this point – especially for those creators out there who are still in the process of building name or brand recognition.
Yes, I realize that some creators are hesitant (and occasionally flat-out against) putting their work online “for free” in fear of chasing away “potential sales,” but consider the following scenario, please:
Ask yourself who’s more likely to sell books. The unknown creator who shows off substantial portions of his/her work for free so people can see what it’s all about or the creator who asks people to buy his/her work sight-unseen or simply by showing-off the cover?
I think the answer is obviously the former, and I’d go as far as to say that both common sense and years of experience prove my point… but if you disagree, hey, that’s certainly your right and I wish you all the luck in the world in trying to get people to buy the book they’ve never seen by the writer they don’t know about yet.
Mind you, showcasing your work online isn’t a guarantee of success (or even of selling any product), but if even 1 out of 50 people who read your comic online decide to buy a copy of it from a print-on-demand service such as Ka-Blam or Comixpress, heck, that’s huge.
(Truth be told, the idea of even a percentage as small as 5% of anybody’s online reading population buying their product is pretty lofty – especially for an up-and-coming creator – but, hey, the point remains that more people will buy your product – especially in the early stages of your career – if they get a chance to see good portions of it in advance… with an emphasis on the “good,” of course. Besides, if you’re so concerned about making money off your comics just starting out that you don’t want to give any of it away for free you’re probably in the wrong business.)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to realize that comics is a niche form of entertainment, and the type of comic (or comics) you’ll be creating and promoting will most likely appeal only to a niche percentage of the niche population of this niche genre of entertainment who actually even take the time to bother to check out the work you’re trying to promote in the first place.
For example, I realize that with NIGHTMARE WORLD my highest hopes of getting people to read the online comic and then by the first printed graphic collection of the series are people who read not just horror comics, but online horror comics. See what I mean by that niche-niche thing? The same goes for almost any genre of comic you’ll be trying to foist upon readers – be it superhero, Manga, erotica, sci-fi, fantasy or any combination thereof. Especially in the world of online comics we’re still all fighting for scraps for the time being…
I realize that I may be painting a bleak and dismal picture here, but please understand that I’m just trying to “keep it real,” folks. After all, realism about the obstacles you face as you try to get your work noticed will result in the setting of realistic goals. That, in turn, will result in the lessening of the sense of failure you may experience by setting unrealistic goals.
Also, never, ever, mistake “difficulty” for “impossibility.” Ever.
After all, hundreds upon hundreds of comics are created and released both online and in print every single week, and many, many fans of this medium (and niche form of entertainment) have found creating comics to be a successful and enjoyable supplement to their day jobs.
Heck, there’s even a select amount of creators out there who’ve risen-up from the same spot you’re in right now to the point where creating comics is their “day job.”
(For the record, though, I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for making this an immediate goal if for no other reason than for the sake of health insurance – at least for the time being, anyway.)
So, given that you’ve got a website to direct people to, enough material posted to make it worth people’s while to check it out (preferably on a regular basis via consistent daily or weekly updates) and the drive and ability to sacrifice enough to succeed, the final step in promoting your work is actually doing it either online and/or in person – and each category has some different things to keep in mind while doing so.
Online Promotion can be a bit of a double-edged sword: On one hand, it’s the easiest and cheapest way to promote your Work (for the sake of expediency, from this point forward I’m going to refer to the collective of your website and the comics available there – be them available for free or to purchase – as your “Work”), but because of this it’s also the form of promotion that’s both the most easily abused and the most easily ignored by the majority of readers.
(After all, thanks to the glory of the Internet “Mr. Doomcock 69” can promote his Work via websites and message boards just as easily as Metallica, Gucci Man or Paris Hilton can.)
Because of this, it’s important to make sure that your postings become synonymous with quality. Also, for the love of gravy, try to only use one “screen-name” across all your various internet haunts, and in doing so make sure it’s one you’re willing to be saddled with for a long, long time…
(Yes, I’m looking at you “Mr. Doomcock69.”)
Honestly, I’m an advocate of using your real name, but if you aren’t comfortable doing that at least consider using your first initial and your last name or some other obvious derivation thereof for both all of your screen names as well as your e-mail address – or at least your “comic-related” e-mail address, anyway.
Message Boards Anyone who’s ever been to a Message Board has surely seen (and most likely ignored) threads started (and then abandoned/forgotten) by up-and-coming creators desperate to get the word out there about their Work.
What’s worse than a thread that’s never followed-up on, though, is a creator who starts a new thread every time he/she update their website, hence filling the Message Board(s) he/she frequents with numerous threads that all basically say the same thing: “Come check out my website, yo!”
If you’re in the habit of doing this to promote your work, congratulations, you’re being seen as a “Spammer” by casual readers and moderators alike – and no one likes “Spammers.”
Not even their mothers.
However, that being said, Message Boards are a good way to increase the knowledge of your Work in the eyes of casual readers who might not otherwise be unaware of it, and because of this they should still be vigorously used – albeit wisely and in a non-annoying fashion as possible.
In order to avoid being a “Spammer” I would recommend starting only one thread per Message Board and then simply updating that sole thread each time your website is updated or you have other genuinely news you want to spread about your Work.
Not only will this prevent you from “spamming” the board with countless threads, but you’ll also inevitably add more and more “views” to a single thread devoted to your Work since, as strange as it may seem, views beget views and more views beget more views on Message Board threads.
(Remember that game kids play where one person stares up into the sky at nothing in particular, yet nonetheless all sorts of other people start looking, too? It’s sort of like that in regards to thread views/comments.)
Additionally, make sure to “Subscribe” to any threads you start and then take the time to personally respond to anyone who comments on it in a timely fashion. That’s just plain ol’ good manners, my friends.
Social Networking Sites
There was a time when MySpace was all the rage and the place to be, but nowadays Facebook and Twitter are the accepted hot-spots in regards to connecting with friends and professionals. That being said, feel free to take a moment to introduce yourself via all three venues and then add me to your friend/followers lists in all three places accordingly, ya’ hear? I mean, why not, right?
See? It’s just that easy – and it can also be that rewarding!
Given that I’m sure 99% of you reading this don’t really need a tutorial about using social networking sites, especially from the likes of me, I would just caution that you make sure not to become a “Spammer” to your friends (or followers) by posting updates only about your Work.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t promote your work via social networking sites, but just make sure that your Work is not the only thing you talk about there, you know?
Instead, make sure to use these venues to touch base with people, make personal connections, post interesting or entertaining links/games/stories while also occasionally promoting your Work or keeping interested parties abreast of updates or other news of interest. Again, it’s all about keeping things in balance, you know?
Finally, please-please-please resist the urge to create fake profiles based on your comic characters. I know a lot of people do this and I really can’t figure out why they do. I mean, hey, if you’re going to dedicate all sorts of time to the fake profile you’ve created for one of your characters and make it a supplemental feature of your Work, hey, that would be cool… but creating a Facebook, Twitter or MySpace account for the leading superhero of your latest webcomic is just a waste of time and a borderline insult to everyone’s intelligence in my humble opinion.
Rather than devote such time to playing with cyber-dolls, instead pour those hours into making your personal profile as informative and entertaining as possible. After all, you as a person will last a lot longer than even your best webcomic… I hope.
If you want to keep (and promote) a blog, make sure you have interesting, entertaining and/or informative to say and that you update it on a regular enough basis/schedule that it’s worth people’s time to check it out. ’Nuff said.
Like Online Promotion, In-Person Promotion can also be a bit of a double-edged sword.
On one hand there’s nothing like being able to share a few laughs, a drink or even just a handshake with someone in order to make a true “connection” with them… but at the same time doing In-Person Promotions can become very costly very quickly. Considering this, serious financial considerations should be given to any opportunities involving attending non-local conventions or in-store signings/appearances strictly for the sake of promoting your Work.
Additionally, if you’re going to do a personal appearance somewhere – anywhere – make sure you have something of value to offer to the people who come by your table/booth/etc… and no, I’m not talking about a bowl of Tootsie Rolls.
Along with a comic, ashcan, print or poster, make sure you have a promotional (rather than personal) business card – or better yet, a bookmark! – that will remind people to check out your website long after they’ve left your table.
As I’ve discussed in previous installments of this column, I’m a huge advocate of doing small runs of print-on-demand comics to sell at conventions and signings through such worthy Print-On-Demand companies as Ka-Blam and Comixpress. Not only is this a fairly cost effective way to get some product together to sell at a conventions (especially if you print black-and-white comics or smaller-sized books), but you can also use any money from books sold to help off-set some of the cost of your table.
Again, though, it pays to be realistic, so don’t plan on so much as even breaking-even in via a comic show appearance for at least your first several shows – if ever. When you buy a table at a comic convention, do so knowing that it’s an investment in promoting your Work rather than a venue in which you will be able to make a profit.
Now, considering that this is an investment, make the most of it! Do not get a table and then sit there idly for two or three days texting your friends, staring at the ground or reading a book while you lazily wait for people to come up to you and initiate conversation.
At least – at least - make it a point to stand-up at your table as much as possible so you can pleasantly greet people who stop by your table slow-down as they show some interest in seeing what you’ve got to offer.
Mind you, this does NOT mean that you should utilize the “carnival barker” approach that some creators do, shouting at, begging or otherwise cajoling people from across the aisle. Not only is it rude and embarrassing to yourself and those unfortunate enough to be near your, but it also screams “amateur.” Remember, loud is rarely, if ever, attractive or funny. Just be cool and be prepared to gave a nice civil pitch prepared for people who stop by your table or booth.
If someone is interested in looking at what you have at your table they’ll slow down to look, and at that time you should greet them politely and be able to hit them with a ten-second or one sentence (whichever is shorter!) pitch of what you have to offer.
For example, in regards to NIGHTMARE WORLD, I’ll ask people if they like horror movies or horror comics. Easy, right?
If they say “no” I’ll joke with them and tell them that’s what I’m offering but, hey, they’re welcome to look through it anyway, at which time I’ll tell them that NIGHTMARE WORLD is more of a cerebral/Twilight Zone or even M. Night Shyamalan style of horror than your more stereotypical “blood-and-guts” stuff – not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. If I then happened to have other genres of books on the table made by myself or perhaps someone I’m sharing the table with I’ll then direct their attention to these other works.
Now, if they say they are into horror stuff, I then give them the following quick pitch that summarizes NIGHTMARE WORLD: “It’s Paradise Lost meets Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos via the short story format of The Twilight Zone.”
Of course I wouldn’t use this particular pitch/approach to someone who’s not into horror because, quite frankly, I’m not sure if they would necessarily be able process all of the references and get a clear picture in their minds of what the series was about… but I’ve found that this particular description usually gives people who like horror movies and stories, at least, a pretty solid idea of what NIGHTMARE WORLD has to offer.
Considering this, if you can’t summarize your comic in a one sentence quick and catchy pitch, work on it or ask friends who’ve read your work to help you come up with a one until you have one you can rattle-off at a moment’s notice. This is an imperative tool to have in your arsenal, especially at conventions since most people will have only limited time to spend deciding if they want to invest in what you have to offer.
Additionally, for the sake of getting people to stop by, make sure to have racks that will allow you to prop-up your books on your table rather than having everything laying flat. In this regard, if you can’t find (or afford) nice “official” magazine holders, go to a local hardware store and use small sections of the white wire closet shelving they sell and then prop it up at a roughly 45 degree angle using a simple plastic hook (the same kind they sell with the shelves works quite nicely).
(In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I saw my pal Barry Gregory of of Ka-Blam doing this at Wizard World Chi… errr… Chicago Comicon and I thought it was both a brilliant and incredibly economical way for him to display his work.)
Finally, go out of your way if you must to make sure you have something new to offer each time you hit the same convention from year to year. Nothing looks more amateurish than hitting the same convention year after year and having nothing new to show for it, you know?
If you’re considering doing an in-store signing and you’re an up-and-coming creator, please remember that most of the people who will be attending the store are there to pick-up their regular comics – not yours that they may very well have never heard of before.
Considering this, along with the basic “courtesy” and “quick pitch” rules outlined above, I also recommend offering some sort of inexpensive or discounted form of your comic for mildly interested consumers to pick-up – even if it’s just a teaser of a five or so pages that will in turn lead them to your website where they can read more of the story and perhaps order the full version in print via a Print-On-Demand publisher.
Remember, unlike at a comic convention where many attendees usually allocate a certain amount of money towards “something new,” with the prices of comics going up across the board many people are trying to trim their buying habits at their local comic shops. That being said, though, a good inexpensive comic speaks for itself. (See: Vertigo’s $1 #1 issue incentive and their $9.99 first-volume TPB formula).
If nothing else, you can also play-up the “local author” card – if it’s applicable – as there are some people out there who will give your Work a shot just for that reason alone.
Finally, if you work with an artist that’s not from your area, consider trying to do a signing at his or her local store at some point. Not only will it give the two of you some nice face-time together, but having the primary artist and the author of the same comic together for a signing may help you move more books together than you both could independently.
In closing, while I know I say this a lot in this column, I want to again stress that there are of course only my own ideas and opinions and – as always – I encourage any of you reading this to share your own constructive ideas, tips, experiences or opinions in the comments below.
That being said, it’s nice to be back and I apologize that I was away for so long. I have various-stages of drafts of the next several editions of this column “in the can,” so you can expect to see Write or Wrong returning to a more regular posting schedule from here on out… and as always there are links to all of the previous editions of Write or Wrong below that you can check out until I collect this whole series of columns in print.
Finally, again, if you like NIGHTMARE WORLD and/or have found this column helpful over the years, please consider pre-ordering a copy of NIGHTMARE WORLD: “13 Tales of Terror” Volume 1 via your local comic shop (Diamond Order Code AUG09-0327), Amazon.com or through my pals at Discount Comic Book Service, the latter who are offering the 128 page full color graphic novel and an exclusive signed script from me as a 50% off cover price package deal of only $7.99.
Thanks, all! Expect to see the next column here at Newsarama in about two weeks at most.
Next Time: Are you “In the Game?”
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD, which can now be read daily as part of the Shadowline family of webcomics with new content added every day Monday through Thursday. He is also a longtime contributing writer for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and SoulGeek in that order.
Want to read Write or Wrong from the beginning? Here ya’ go!