THE CARE AND FEEDING OF IN-STORE EVENTS
Last week I wrote an entire column about in-store events at comic stores, profiled a recent event I threw, and talked about one way for creators to make in-store events more effective marketing tools for them.
But we aren't done with in-stores yet.
I've got these things on the brain because we've got one coming up at the end of the week. This Saturday we're throwing the Bombaby Bollywood Bash at the Isotope and I've been busy getting the event preparations done. This is an event I've been looking forward to since last summer and I think it's going to be an absolute blast. If you've been living under a rock you may not have heard of Slave Labor Graphics upcoming "Bombaby" or of its creator Antony Mazzotta yet. Keep your eyes open for it; I'm confident that when people get a look at this book they'll be as just excited about it as I am. "Bombaby" is awesome stuff.
The birth of the Bombaby Bollywood Bash was at last summer's San Diego Comic Con. I had just finished high-fiving AdHouse Books publisher Chris Pitzer and meeting "Beware The Creeper" artist Cliff Chiang (I love that guy's art) and was working my way through a huge crowd of excitable comic fans surrounding the Slave Labor Graphics table when Slave Labor's Director of Sales Deb Moskyok handed me a packet of full-color Bombaby xeroxes.
Deb had barely gotten a hello out of her mouth when I exclaimed, "Fuck, we have to do the launch for this book at the Isotope!" because one look at those xeroxed pages and I knew that "Bombaby" was going to be cool. And because, yes, sometimes I swear in real life, too.
Every in-store event begins with an idea. Usually what inspires these event ideas is when I get to take a sneak peek, like I did with "Bombaby." Generally, I prefer to launch new books because I feel that the promotion surrounding an Isotope event will help out a new book more than an established one, but I don't make a specific policy out of it. Sometimes creators or publishers contact us and ask if we'd like to do something. But more often than not I'll drop a creator whose work I like an email and find out what they've got on tap or just invite them to in because I'm always down with throwing a party for creators I like.
I get asked all the time what my secret is to getting all the big name creators who come into my store for events. Well here it is… I ask them. Or they ask me. Pretty damn simple. Ask and ye shall receive, don't ask and ye get nothing!
I like all my events to be different from each other and I always tailor the event around the given book or creator, that makes it more fun for everyone. My staff and I are all creative folks and we really like coming up with cool events to blow our guests' minds with. I don't place any conceptual restrictions on what kind of in-store events we do.
For the Bombaby Bollywood Bash I've booked the superhot DJ Chai-Walla to come in and spin some sexy global grooves to set the mood, the Isotope staff and I are doing some decorating to transform the store into a palatial Indian palace, my bartender is working in her laboratory right now mixing up some traditional drinks with a kick, and I've got a great crowd that's really looking forward to the event. Also I get to premiere "Bombaby" to the world and sell the first hundred copies almost a whole month before it hits the streets, so you know the retailer in me loves that!
As I said before, I love throwing these events, but that doesn't make them easy. There is always much chaos and you need to keep on your toes to pull off great in-store events. With a little experience you can know what to expect and prepare for and keep that chaos from turning into a complete disaster. So here's the part where I take my experience and let creators and publishers use it to help retailers like me set up beautiful in-store events and give you an idea what kind of work goes into getting these things rock and rolling.
Man, in-stores that no one comes to are just depressing as hell! So no matter whom you are or where your in-store is at… your first concern is getting people to come in for the event. Let someone else have the depressing event, you want yours to be glorious! That means you've got to do a little bit of promotion for your promotion.
Particularly for independent or first-time creators you need to show the retailer who's hosting you that people want your book and that they especially want to get it from you. The better you can do at promoting the event yourself the better that retailer's going to order your books in the future because, frankly, your books sell. Also the more people who come in to see you and get your book the more likely it's going to be that the retailer asks you to come in and do another in-store event. Milk those retailers for all you can get! Get those people in the door and the cash register ringing and even the surliest comic retailer is going to be putty in your hands.
So get pimpin'!
I'm a guy who likes talking about what is going on at my store, so you can bet I'm going to get the word out as righteously as I can. But even so I'm also a busy guy so the more promotion that creators and publishers can generate around an in-store event the better the event is going to be. Also when someone other than myself is handling a portion of the promotion it always brings in different groups of people who I wouldn't have brought in myself. And all retailers love to see new faces. Especially me.
Most comic readers are like me and love to see their favorite creators excited about doing in-stores no matter where those events are going to be, and that's another reason you should do what you can to get the word out. When a creator is excited to do an in-store you just know it's going to be a great event.
Rather than take out an ad in the paper, I rely heavily on word of mouth. It's cheaper and I think it is a very effective method to promote your events. But if you're going to rely on "buzz" you're going to have to plan in advance to give people time to get buzzing. And the farther in advance you can plan these things the more time you have to promote them and get people excited to come in. Personally I like a good two or three month head start on an event to get the word out.
You should remember, however, that despite the amount of advertising you do, the majority of the people who come to in-store events are the store's existing customer base so your first job is to make sure that all the regulars show up. Chances are your retailer has already been letting his people know about the event, but it's simplicity itself for you to help him do that more effectively. Use that god-given creative talent to ensure your retailer has a flyer to get into those customers' hands, bags, and on their refrigerators.
You, as a publisher or creator, have access to all of the comic's art, and there's a decent chance that you have some design skills as well, or at least know the person who did the book's art. Make a kick-ass flyer that will let your retailer's customers know that your in-store will be the comic event of their lifetime! Even if your retailer prefers to make the flyer on his own, you can provide him with the perfect image to set the tone for your event.
Common sense, right? Well you would not believe how few creators assist the retailer in this area. Retailers are perpetually busy and most of them don't have great graphic design skills. Give the poor guy (or gal) a hand! I actually like making flyers for my events, but even so I'm crazy busy running my store, setting up the event, and writing this weekly column for your entertainment and amusement. When someone makes a sexy event flyer for me I always remember and appreciate it.
Another way to get your retailer's customers excited about your book is to provide the retailer with a sneak peek copy that he can share with his customers. I don't care if these are print outs from your Epson or gold-embossed hardcovers, if I'm launching a new book the best way to get my customers excited about it and take time out of their busy lives to come see the creator is to show them a preview. This is how I got interested in "Bombaby" and became interested in throwing my event in the first place. Chances are good that a preview will get the customers equally hyped.
Added value! The promise of added value to your comic is what makes in-store events so alluring. The more you can slather added value upon added value onto your in-store event, the more people are going to want to go.
So when you're doing your promotions make sure that you let the people know what added value you will be providing at the event.
Some very simple methods to make the comics you will be signing at the event even more unique and boiling over with added value don't cost more than just paper. I think a signed and numbered commemorative slip-in bookplate with some exclusive art is amazingly cool. Especially when it sports the Isotope logo and the date of the event! You don't get much more added value than that…
Or maybe you do.
At the Isotope's launch of AIT-PlanetLar's "Last of the Independents," Kieron Dwyer and Matt Fraction were signing and selling original art pages from the book. This was a brilliant no-cost way to make the event a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the people who attended. People not only got to get the book and hang out with the boys, but they also got a little piece of the book that only they own. Some comic fans that had never dreamed of owning original art walked out the door with a glorious Kieron Dwyer original and a great big smile. And Kieron made big fistfuls of cash too. Now that's how you add value!
Ask your retailer if he's willing to sell your art on consignment at the event, he's sure to make some room for you display it. But if you're going to be selling anything to customers on consignment remember these two truths that the pros like Kieron Dwyer already know:
#1. You're taking potential money away from the retailer with every sale you make, because maybe Joe Fanboy would have decided to buy all the "Preacher" books and the retailer would have made a bunch of cash if Joe hadn't bought that pricey original art from you. Also you are using the store's credit card machine and that thing costs the retailer money every time a card is run! You'd be wise to cut the retailer in on a nice chunk of the Ben Franklins… or maybe he'll decide to throw you out on your ass and never order your book again.
#2. It may take up to two weeks for you to get paid. Just because you sold nine hundred bucks worth of original artwork doesn't mean the retailer's going to be able to hand you a fat wad of money. It usually takes a couple days before the credit card company does a deposit into the retailer's account. And sometimes when it's a particularly busy day or there is a particularly large purchase the credit card company freaks out and puts a freeze on the payments until it can make sure nobody's pulling a fast one. Yes it can be a pain in the ass but that's just the way it is. Get used to it.
Okay now that we're done talking about the realities of business let's get back to the fun part… making your event an available-nowhere-else spectacle!
You can spend heavy dollars doing the spectacle up and making lithographs, t-shirts, commemorative shot glasses, pins, zippo lighters, collector's plates and god knows what else to celebrate the book and event if you want. Knowing me, I'd probably get Bell's Beers in Kalamazoo Michigan to make me up a limited bottling of their Two Hearted Ale. But you know, that's just me.
My rule of thumb for event promotions is that I want people coming in to San Francisco from London and Tokyo to attend the event. I always go global with my event promotions because sometimes my customers go global to attend. It doesn't happen very often, but they did just that for our Warren Ellis Scotch Tasting. And I hear that some people are planning on coming in from Australia to attend January's Brian Wood Month. So if you're promoting an event to launch your book you might as well get as many people on the planet talking about it as possible!
Of course, not all events turn out as planned. That is just part of the general chaos you get from doing in-store events so it never hurts to have a backup plan. One of the worst things that can happen is that your book's shipment date slips past the date of the in-store event. This actually happens all the time due to a million different reasons, be they printer, distributor, creator or publisher. If you're smart you can even turn this bad situation to your advantage!
Some creators or publishers think ahead and get extra copies of their books shipped to them directly from the printer in advance. That way even if something happens at the distribution level, they've still got copies available at the event. You don't have to say a word about it to the end consumer, but if you wanted to you could choose to use that as an additional incentive. For example, Slave Labor Graphics' "Bombaby" had this very problem, with the official release date slipping to nearly a month past the date of our Bombaby Bollywood Bash. But the smart folks at Slave Labor had a back up plan and got advanced copies shipped to them directly so while this book won't be available anywhere in the world until December… attendees of the Isotope's Bombaby Bollywood Bash will be able to get themselves a copy of this amazingly beautiful book as early as this Saturday night!
Yeah, baby. Talk about your added value!
Before I let you go off to have your fantastic in-store events and sell thousands of copies of your books to happy comic readers I have one more piece of advice. Always, always, always keep your retailer informed. In all likelihood that retailer is doing some serious work to get the event set up too, so if you know of anything unexpected that's going to make the event run either more or less smoothly he needs to know. Seriously.
Not every event idea turns out, but in my experience most work out even better than expected. In-store events can be frustrating and unpredictable but that's no reason not to do them! If mankind had been too afraid to do things that were frustrating and unpredictable we would never have climbed out of the fucking trees and learned how to stand up straight… and there would be no comics!
Sometimes you just have to keep banging your head against the wall until the fucking wall breaks down. To hell with what the neighbors think.