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B&N Week 46: Self-Publishing, Pt 4

| November 8, 2011 | 0 Comments

 

I feel like dancing. You ever feel that way? Just getting up and moving? Maybe it’s because I’m listening to Feels So Good. It’s not really a song to dance to, but it gets me fired up, but in a mellow way, if that makes sense. Maybe the song should be changed to Tuesdays Feel So Good. Thoughts? Ferget it. It’s Tuesday, I feel good [and I knew that I would], so it must be time for some Bolts & Nuts!

Let’s jump right in.

We’ve been talking about self-publishing the past few weeks, and we’re still there. Last week I spoke about actually publishing, and said I’d go over promotion this week. Well, the time is now, we’re all here, so let’s get started.

The first thing I want you to know is that if you’re trying to promote your book when it’s already on the stands, it’s already WAAAAY too late. Too late by months. You need to start promoting the book as soon as possible.

You’re Asshat Comics, you’ve got the donkey with the baseball cap logo, and you’ve got the [hopefully] smash horror book You’ve Got CRABS on your hands. What are you going to do to get the word out?

Short answer: everything you can. The long answer: everything else I talk about during the rest of this article, as well as things you come up with on your own.

You don’t need a degree in marketing to get things done yourself. Some of this stuff I’m going to suggest is going to be free, and others will be things you pay for. This is also going to focus on print comics for a while, so bear with me.

While your artist is working up characters and such, you can have them start working up some short promotional pieces. How about a large crab or two, fighting or doing something, with the words You’ve Got on top of them? Show that around a few places, put it up on a website, add it as part of your signature for the message boards you frequent. [Just do yourself a favor, though, and don’t make it huge when you do that, okay? Being huge is being obnoxious, and you don’t want to be obnoxious. You just want people to know about your book.]

What you want to do is to be as cheap as possible when you start making people aware that you have a comic coming out. I don’t want you going out to buy ad space just yet. There’s time for that, and you have to be judicious when you do.

The first thing to understand is that traditional advertising doesn’t work, and you cannot accurately gauge if it’s working or not when you do do it. When I say traditional, I’m talking print advertising. I don’t really mean Diamond, but that’s a part of it. Diamond isn’t there to promote your book. They’re there to tell people your book is for sale, and to do some enticing to get them to do so. Being in Diamond is not the end all, be all of what you have to do to raise awareness of your comic. It’s not even the first step. It’s one step of many.

Being cheap means you talk about your product, you get people’s interest in it. You can start a production blog, and you let people know what they’re in for. When you start that production blog, you tell everyone far and wide that it’s there. And for the love of Mike, be interesting!!! If you’re not interesting in your production blog, where you’re writing, what’s going to make people think you’re going to be interesting when your comic is finished? Be interesting. If you’re interesting, people will talk about you, and you’ll have buzz. (I hate that word.) [So do I. We do what we must.]

What else can you do besides have a production blog? Flyers at comic shops are a good, cheap way to do it. It’s not free, but it’s cheap. So are postcards. Take the postcards to your local shop, and see if the owner will agree to put them on the counter, in a prominent place. You want to be near the register. Everyone goes to the register in order to pay for their stuff. While being rung up, people’s eyes wander. You want them to wander to your postcard. Just make sure that you have a date when the comic should be coming out, as well as a website that people can go to. Send them to the production blog or whatever.

Run a contest or an internet scavenger hunt. Be creative. But more than being creative, be cheap.

Let’s skip ahead a little bit. You’ve Got CRABS is up and being sold. You didn’t get into Diamond, but Liber Distro agreed to distribute it. You’re also selling books at conventions. Want to stand out from the crowd a little? Sell t-shirts. (Everyone’s selling t-shirts!) And you want to be left out of the free advertising? (It’s not free! Those t-shirts cost money to make, don’t they?) Maybe. Maybe not. You may be able to hook up with a t-shirt vendor and work up a deal that’s either free or close to it. Sell the shirts, and if people wear them at the convention, do you know what they’ve just done? They’ve just paid for the privilege of advertising for you. They’re walking billboards! [This is also the reason why I’m very conscientious of what I wear. I don’t wear things that are designer or that have obvious logo’s on them. It’s rare that I’m someone’s billboard.]

I suggest having a few different t-shirts made up. All of them should be pretty nice, so that everyone wants one. However, two of them should be exclusive. One will be what you and the creative team wears. Another is the one you sell to the public. [This is the one you’ll have the most of.] And the last is the one you’ll give to retailers and press people. (Give?) Give. You want all of these t-shirts to be nice, and you want them to speak to the title and Asshat Comics. By having some exclusivity, you’re creating interest and a thought of “I want one of those!” Dirty? Maybe. Workable? Definitely.

If the t-shirts are catchy, flashy, and they spark interest, what you’ll be doing is enticing people to come check you out. (Kinda hard if the title of the comic is You’ve Got CRABS!, Steven.) You never know how these things hit. If you believe in it enough to produce it, then others may believe in it enough to buy the merchandise. But they will come, and they’ll want one t-shirt or another. By being judicious with the exclusivity, you’ll create more interest.

Understand that advertising is a mind game. Those who win are those who get into the heads of the readers. That’s all you’re doing with advertising. Getting into the heads of the readers, making [or keeping] them aware of your existence, and thus, keeping you in business. If they don’t know you’re there, you’re losing. If they do, then you’re winning. You can never completely “win,” but you can get to a point where there are enough people who know and trust your brand that it doesn’t have to be so difficult all the time. And that’s how that works.

Press releases. You know what? I hate press releases. (Hate’s a pretty strong word…) Yup. And you know what? I HATE press releases. I don’t think I’m alone. Know what press releases do? They say a whole lotta nuthin’ while purporting to be a news item. I don’t even read them anymore. I used to, when I thought they were doing something. I’ve even written a few. And then I noticed that it’s a lot of fluff. They all say the same thing, and they’re all trying to give the impression of excitement and movement. It’s a lie. Even if it’s true and there are exciting things going on in the background, it’s still a lie. A damned dirty lie, and I don’t want you to fall for it. Go out and read a few of them, and then break down exactly what they really said. After a while, you can probably predict what one’s going to say. (So why even do one?) Exactly! They all say the same thing, and everyone does one, and few people read them. So why do it? There are other things to be done that will utilize your time better. Hell, you could be sleeping, and still get more benefit than you can from a press release.

However, if you want to advertise [for free!] on comic news sites, then you have to bite the bullet and do them. It’s a system, and like any system, you have to know when to work within it.
There are some other things that you have to realize while I’ve got your attention. Call them hard truths. (Do you know any other kind, Steven?) [Well, no, not really. But I’m not going to sugar coat them for you, either. That’s not helpful.]

The first thing to realize is that no one cares that you’ve made a comic. Not a single person, outside of your creative team. So what you need to do is make them care. That’s what all of this is about. Making them care. (What do you mean by no one?) Exactly that. Think about everyone you can, every different avenue you can, and ask yourself how they feel about the fact you created a comic. Your parents don’t care. Sure, they may be proud of you for creating something, but they probably don’t “get” it. Your family cares only because it’s what’s been keeping you from them all these months. You can be damned sure that the press and public don’t care. So you have to make them care. Tell them they have CRABS, and you have the blue ointment…

Don’t want to believe me? Believe the guys from Super Human Resources. Don’t do your interviews and such the month your comic comes out. (Didn’t you say that earlier?) Yup. And it bears repeating. Doing it then is TOO LATE! Do all of that when your book is being solicited, not when it’s being sold. You want orders. Get their interest during solicitations, and keep it until the book hits the shelves.

Conventional wisdom states that when you open a restaurant, you’ll be in the red for the first five years. That’s five years of worrying if you’re going to have a roof over your head and trying to keep a business. Five years is a long time, right? Then think about this: you may never get the money back that you put into this. TJ May, a good friend of mine who can consider himself to be a successful self-publisher, still hasn’t made his money back on one of the titles he’s published, and he’s been doing this for years. So, take it as a general loss, and continue to march.

(But I’m in this to make some money!) … … Wait. I’m trying to keep a straight face here. … Okay. I- heh… … Okay. Got it. (You sure?) Yup. Now, if you’re saying you’re in this to make money, I haven’t been doing my job. Yes, there are ways to make a decent living doing comics, but the bulk of us aren’t going to be able to do that. (ICV2?) You’ve been paying attention! Remember, you’re more than likely going to be in the middle of the road, which means you’re going to be selling pretty low numbers. You’re going to be hard pressed to recoup your losses. So, no, you’re not in this to make money. You’re in this to tell stories and for love of the medium. Making money at it is great, but more than likely, it’s not going to happen overnight. Even the overnight sensations of Kirkman and Bendis were years in the making.

Keep your costs down by publishing on the web. (There it is again.) Everything goes in circles. So you do everything on the web, and you do everything in your power to get people to know you exist. Go back to the top of this article to get ideas on how to do that. Remember, forums are GREAT for free advertising (Without being obnoxious) [Exactly], and you want to join as many communities as you can. CBR, Newsarama, Digital Webbing, Project Fanboy, and anyplace else you frequent. Engage the other forum members, be polite, and make sure your company name or title you’re publishing is somewhere in your signature.

Doing ad-swaps is another thing you can do once you have a created book in your hands. This is simply you agreeing to swap an ad with another publisher for exposure. You both may get some readers, and it doesn’t cost either one of you any money. Ad swaps are cool, as long as your ad is something that piques the reader’s interest. (Well, duh…) You have no idea how many bad ads I’ve seen. It should be against the law. Anyway, those are ad-swaps.

Buying ad space. The ultimate ad-space to buy is Diamond, if you can get in. We’ve gone into this again and again, and you’re probably tired of it. You’re tired of hearing it, I’m tired of talking about it. Diamond is king of the hill, and they’ve gotten more discrete with what they’ll carry and what they won’t. There are conspiracy theories about it. Believe what you wish. There are other avenues. Haven was one of them, but they recently shut their doors. Liber Distro has entered the fray, but they’re doing graphic novels for now. Ka-Blam has gotten into the act of acting as a distributor, with their Comicsmonkey sister company. There’s also Indyplanet. Research all of these. But that’s just distribution.

There used to be a time when Wizard magazine was king. I’m talking from about a year into their inception until about ten years in. They had a good run. Now, they’re done, gone out in a blaze of shame. But if you could afford to put even a small ad in Wizard, that was saying something. Many tried to get a preview of ther book in there, but when and what indies they covered was something that was mercurial at best. And there’s no guarantee your ad would be seen, or that would have been a wise investment. I don’t recommend buying print ad space. Get it for free when you can.

Banner ads. These I recommend. Get them in a few strategic places, and you’re good to go with being in the mind of the public. You’ll give the illusion of being “everywhere,” and that’s always a good thing. Get quotes for a few places, and budget for more than you need. Always have a buffer when it comes to spending money. (Easy for you to say.) Having the buffer is crucial, because if you don’t need it now, you’ll need it later. Buy the banner ads. Go as big as your budget will allow. (Why?) Because the bigger the ad, the more strategically it has to be placed. When you inquire about the options for the ads, the site should also give some sort of indication about placement. The more expensive the ad, the better the placement should be. Keep it in mind.

(Project Wonderful?) Project Wonderful is a very nice resource. I suggest you do the research to see how they work and if it’s right for you.

Link swaps are the same thing as ad swaps, except on the ‘net. I also recommend them. Free is always good. You just want to try to be in places that have high traffic. High traffic means more opportunities for you to be seen. Simple, I know, but it has to be said.

Interviews are another good way to go, especially podcast interviews. (Why podcasts?) Good question. I don’t have an official answer, but I can give you what I think.

In print interviews, you have the dry words. That’s all. Sure, they can be spiced up a little bit by dropping some f-bombs or what have you, but it’s still dry text. You’re losing a lot of the essence when reading an interview.

How many of you watch the late night talk shows? I mean shows like Letterman and Conan and so on. You’re watching them for the stars, because you love them, right? You want to hear what’s going on in their lives, or know what they have that’s coming up. They’re usually there to talk about [promote] their new movie and whatever else is on their slate. “Well, Dave, in Freaky Deaky, I play a vampire mummy who’s in love with a werewolf leper midget. The scene we’re about to watch is us trying to get it on, but then the moon comes out from behind the clouds and…you’ll see. And the soundtrack? It’s all original. I sang every note. It’ll be out on Columbia music…”

This, I feel, are what podcasts are able to do. You get to hear the creator’s voice, and possibly put it to a face you’ve seen time and again. You then get to make judgments of the creators, based on how they carry themselves during the interview [Just like you made judgments on Joaquin Phoenix on his strange Letterman appearance]. Podcasts are listened to by more people than you know, and I think it’s for this fact alone. You get to hear the voice and feel closer to the creator.

How many people thought that Greg Rucka would sound like he perpetually needs to clear his throat? [Sorry, Greg. Love your work, though.] How many really know that Mark Millar is hard to understand when he gets excited? [And he’s almost always excited.] Podcast interviews. Interviews in and of themselves are always a great thing, and should be embraced, but podcasts are where it’s at. And when you’re doing the podcast, be interesting! Be engaging! You’re there, ostensibly, to talk about yourself and your company/book. If you have a sense of excitement, if you have a lot of things going on, then that should be easily heard by everyone. If you’re witty and engaging, you should have no trouble in being asked back for a follow up to see where you’re at, what’s been going on, and so forth.

That’s really all I have for this week. We’re still going to be here next week, where we’ll talk about a budget. Homework for this week, though, is to create a plan of attack. Think of the places you want to be seen, and do some investigating of them. Websites, magazines, interviews, podcasts, what have you. Come up with your plan of attack, and add a timeline to it.

There’s the bell. See you next week!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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