Sunday, September 1, 2013

Baltimore Comic-Con part 2C – Still more preparation or Will this never end?

Comic convention preparation.  In the first part I discussed prepping your display and table.  In the second part I went into some detail about prepping your own mini-comics (or chapbooks, as my pretentious self likes to call them).  This time out, we’re talking about selling.  I’m sure you all have seen a salesperson at work, whether you were the target or just an innocent bystander.  You all know about the hard sell.  Many of you have probably worked retail at one point in your life – and for that, I take pity on you. 

This isn’t that.  Though I do expect there will be some “obvious” stuff scattered in this segment (which, I’m certain, we all hope will be a bit shorter than the last two).  [I don't! -Matt]

So.  Here’s something that should be self-evident.  Have a package (in this case, your comic book) that is appealing visually.  There’s the subjectivity of taste to overcome with this one, obviously, but you can alleviate some of the issues with a little thought and preparation beforehand.  As stated in my previous segment, having a single, bold image as your cover is one thing that can help you stand out against the rest.  Whether you approach “bold” through the use of color, texture (as with some heavy cardstock, screen printed covers), or the imagery itself doesn’t matter.  Just keep this in mind when creating your cover.  The interiors should be equally compelling, because if you can hook passersby with your cover, the next step, for them, is to page through the book. 

If you want some great advice on comic art and how pages play off one another within a comic, go to the archive at Comics Comics and The Comics Journal and do a search on Frank Santoro, who was a regular contributor and editor at Comics Comics and is a current contributor to the Comics Journal site.  The man knows art, knows comics, and understands how the grid and the page work within the distinct visual lexicon of comics.  My only advice in this area, and this only applies to anyone including text with their comics, is to make sure that there are comic stories at the staple in your book, because your book will naturally fall open at that middle point, and when prospective customers seeking comics find a bunch of words filling up those pages, it doesn’t take long for them to move to the next table. 

This might be another obvious one, but don’t be pushy when you’re standing behind the table selling your book.  Acknowledge people as they pass by, ask them how their show’s going, offer them the chance to page through the book if they come over – in short, give them a chance to decide, for themselves, they want to read what you’ve helped create.  But don’t be the guy yelling across the aisles for people to check out his book, or take his card, or “come on over,” because you’ll be driving more people away than you’ll be dragging in.  And, you’ll be driving these people away from your neighbors’ tables as well.  Not cool.  I’m certain some people will tell you differently, but despite how much this goes against Selling 101, I just haven’t seen it work.

Now, perhaps the most important thing to consider, but something many people may not even give a second’s thought – myself and Dan having once fallen into that group.  Go where your audience is.  You may be thinking – duh, I’m setting up at a comic convention.  And that is true.  But which convention are you exhibiting at, and what kind of comic are you bringing to the show?  Dan and I first set up at Wizard World Chicago in 2005.  The shows we’d attended prior to that one, we both haunted artists alley in search of books that were quirky, distinct visions of their creators, not cookie cutter superheroes that couldn’t make the grade at Marvel or DC.  We expected we weren’t the only ones.  So we brought our black-and-white, comics/prose anthology – lacking any superhero stories – to a big convention highlighted by the presence of the large publishers that do color comics about superheroes, for the most part, and we tanked.  The following year, we went to the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, a show highlighted by self-publishers and smaller publishing houses that specialize in black-and-white comics almost completely devoid of superheroes.  We had found our audience.  And we did very well. 

Finally:  what is your comic about?  That first show in Chicago, Dan and I were never able to answer that question the entire four days there.  We hadn’t considered this basic point of our book and weren’t helped by the fact that it was an anthology.  With the next few issues we thought about what we were trying to say with the stories in each issue – and you can affix an overall theme after the fact as easily as crafting stories around a set theme.  Our second book was the “difficult relationships” issue, while the third was our “reflections on faith” issue, which had the first photo-cover by Shane Leonard, who has since created variant covers for Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key series.  And when we put together the collection, our pitch became a bit longer:  “an anthology with stories in multiple genres, from zombie westerns to UFO stories, by artists in multiple countries, from the Philippines to Tanzania, along with short prose and interviews with comic luminaries such as Chris Staros, Gary Groth, Bryan Talbot, and Joe Quesada.”  It’s not easy to condense the scores of hours, hundreds of words, and thousands of lines of ink into a ten-second pitch, but it might be the most important skill for you to master.  Because not only will it help you in selling your books, but it will also be a necessary skill for when you start pitching longer series and have to provide a synopsis to an editor.  Starting now can only help.

You can read much more from Chris at Warrior 27! (or click on On the Fly Publications over on My Blog List to the right of this page).

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