PIMPING TO THE PIMP
For years some comic fans, journalists and creators have been proclaiming the downfall of the direct market and predicting the end of the road for direct market comic book stores. Personally, I believe that these doomsayers are prematurely pissing on the direct market's parade and they lack the vision to see the potential of the classic comic book store to evolve. Comics are a creative medium with a fan base populated with out-of-the-box mad thinkers and it is from within our own ranks that the wellspring of innovation any industry would be thankful for lies… and those same fans are exactly where the comic retailers of tomorrow are coming from. We've only begun to scratch the surface of what comic stores are and can be as a retail environment, as a promotional tool for the artform, and as a cultural oasis.
But that's a column for another day.
Until the day that the ground opens up and swallows the direct market whole in a fiery cloud of smoke and brimstone, the comic stores are going to remain one of the most vital places for creators and publishers to get their books into people's hands. So if you are one of those creators or one of those publishers you're going to need to know how to talk to those retailers.
You're going to have to pimp to the comic pimps.
Now before you start shooting off masses of emails and cold calling comic retailers it's important to understand them. In order to sell anything effectively you have to first understand your potential customer and learn to communicate with them. Understanding people is the key to communicating with them.
Despite my Giovanno jackets and my Brutini shoes, when it comes to the fundamentals of owning a comic store I suppose I'm not all that different from the other retailers out there. I dig the funnybooks and I want to make my store as great of a venue for selling them as possible. Dirty word in our industry or not, I'm the penultimate speculator, because fuck if I'm not laying out fat checks every week to keep the four-color fixes coming in and ordering books sight unseen every month in the hopes that my clientele will agree with my taste in sequential entertainment. Sure I might be a fun loving, easy going, manic ball of energy who revels in breaking tradition…but, baby, that doesn't mean I'm fucking around. Because I'm most assuredly not fucking around.
For us comic retailers, we're in this comic game on the deep end without a fucking life preserver. We got tall dollars and long hours and serious labor invested in our stores, and we aren't about to give up living the American dream (with comics, baby!) to go get some mind-numbing square job working for the man unless we absolutely have to. And that means we're willing to fight like rabid dogs to keep our stores open and to keep the customers coming in the front door.
Now that you have a little perspective on where retailers like myself are coming from, now we can move on to getting them interested in selling your books.
One of the most common ways that creators communicate with retailers is through email. This can be a great tool, but like Stan "the Man" is fond of saying, with great power comes great responsibility. Emails can be one of the most annoying things in the entire world, especially when mailed out without any thought as to the receiver. Nobody likes to get mailbombed and even though hundreds of motherfuckers might think that sending out random emails promoting weight loss pills or penis enlargement might be an effective marketing tool, the reality is that shit just doesn't fly in the comic industry.
So be careful who you send promotional emails to. And do your research.
Me, I'm thankful for any extra information that will make my ordering easier, but not all retailers like to be contacted this way, especially if they don't know you and have never heard of you. So for God's sake if you find that a retailer is irritated or offended, be sure to apologize profusely and remove him from your list immediately. You don't want him remembering you as that email Spam person when ordering time comes around.
Less is more!
I completely understand being excited about the book you're working on, but you should be very, very careful about sending retailers emails with embedded HTML or images. Some email clients are set to not receive HTML and many retailers don't have the DSL luxury that I do and huge emails are often not appreciated. I always suggest going for the most universal and easiest formatting that you possibly can, and include any images as links to where the images are hosted on-line.
Also, given the nature of how many people contact me in this manner, I can tell you for an absolute fact that it is ineffective to send out emails that require a lot of reading. I'm a busy guy and if you're thinking I'm going to read some 900 word essay you sent me on your book you're wrong. I'll skim for pertinent information and then delete it. Less truly is more.
I can't stress this enough, always try to think about those guys and gals on the other end of that email... they're the ones who will be ordering (or not ordering) your books.
Now here's my idea of the perfect promo email:
Hello, my name is Bosch Fawstin and I've been enjoying your column on CBR. Your passion for comics comes through loud and clear and I appreciate it.
Now on to business....
I have an original graphic novel, Table for ONE, that'll be in stores 2/25/04. I'm solicited in the current Previews (Dec. 03, pg. 309) and I have a full-page ad on page 236 & the back inside cover of the retailer order form. Alex Toth, Denis Kitchen and Joe Zabel all enjoyed my book and I have their quotes on my ad & on my website: http://www.boschfawstin.com/. There's also a preview and other info on my site.
So I hope I've interested you enough to hear from you and I also hope I can help you in getting my book into the hands of readers who are hungry for something original.
Fuck if I didn't click that link Bosch sent me immediately!
Now normally I'd like to get a one or two sentence pitch on the book itself, but here Mister Fawstin takes a different route by listing off his comic pimping credentials. One look at the people he's gotten quotes from and the financial investment he's putting into getting retailers to take a look at his book and you know that he's not fucking around.
I like that.
Bosch's website is everything I look for in a comic creator's site and his book sounds and looks absolutely terrific. I'm looking forward to placing my orders and having "Table for One" in my store, and you can bet that I'm going to make sure my customers look at it when it comes out. If you want to know what impressed me so much, go take a look at Bosch Fawstin's website. It speaks for itself.
Some creators call me or come into my store to talk to me about their book. I think this is also very effective way to promote your book.
Once you've established a relationship with a retailer, it's important to maintain your good communication. Keeping up the good impression you've established is as important as achieving it in the first place. Now, I'm not saying that you need to flatter your retailer, kiss his feet, or buy him cookies. I'm just talking about common courtesy. Casually mentioning that you are disappointed in the orders or sales on your book can really be a slap in the face to your retailer.
You might think that this is common sense advice that I'm giving, but it's important to follow common sense advice. Even the smartest people can fall victim to easily avoided mistakes. For example, I once congratulated the creator of a black and white independent book for moving 100 copies of their book through my store. The creator's response was to simply point out that I sell more copies of the "Teenagers From Mars" comic. While I'm sure that this was somehow meant as a self-deprecating remark, it really came off as a comment on my pimping prowess in relation to their book. At the time, "Teenagers From Mars" was my best-selling book and even Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's "Batman" had trouble keeping pace. By all means, set your goals high, but also celebrate your successes on the way to achieving that goal. This backhanded comment certainly dampened my enthusiasm for selling that book, whether I wanted it to or not, which really hurt sales, and, consequently, reorders. And that's definitely not what anyone wants!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that you are an interesting and creative person, as evidenced by your comic work. Your promotion of your book should reflect your personality. Keep it fun, keep it interesting and your book will garner a lot more attention
And speaking of creators promoting their work, you've got to give it up for a creator like Ed Brubaker! Ed and I talked for several months about him coming in and doing an in-store event at the Isotope. I make no bones about my appreciation for his work and for his willingness to go that extra mile to give readers every excuse in the world to pick up his books. Ed's known for offering money back guarantees, advertising jumping-on points, handing out promotional copies and original art pages at conventions, and even for giving up a kidney to entice a potential reader (okay that last one I made up, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did!) This is how a recent phone conversation I had with Ed went:
"Hey, it's Ed Brubaker. I want to do something really special to promote the launch of the 'Sleeper' trade paperback. I already have an idea and it involves the Isotope."
"Kick ass, you know how much I love that book!" I said, "So what are we gonna do?"
"I'll come in, and we'll do one of those 12 hour marathons like you just did with Joe Casey. And we're going to give away free, autographed, Ed Brubaker comics!"
"That's great, but it'll never work. There's no way we'll ever have enough comics, I mean, we are talking about Ed Brubaker at the Isotope here! Do you know how many people are going to turn out for this thing?"
"But there's a catch."
"Oh yeah?" I said, smiling, "A catch, huh? What's that?"
"They're gonna have to beat me at arm wrestling."
Now that's how you launch a trade paperback!
But Ed Brubaker's not the only one who gets to have me launch their book and throw a big party in their honor. In fact, I'll even have an in-store event with you as the guest of honor. No seriously, I will.
But there's a catch. You've got to have five copies of your mini comic submitted to the Isotope by the end of the year in order to win the Isotope Award for excellence in mini comics. And, baby, time's running out. I've set up a website with all the information you need to know, a picture of the sexy trophy we hand out each year, and even a countdown clock so that you know exactly how many days, hours and even second you've got to get those mini comics submitted.
And in the meantime…go forth and start pimping to your local comic pimp.