So far, we’ve looked at the five basic steps to developing a simple marketing plan and how they specifically relate to marketing comics. Last week, I put forth five specific marketing efforts, no-brainers that every aspiring publisher should be ready (and able) to implement in order to separate themselves from the hobbyists with a Previews solicitation, a blog, and idiotic message board posts** whining about the state of the industry and how stupid superhero comics fans are. (Oh, look! Another one. Sigh…) This week, we’ll take a closer look at a couple of them.
1) Professionally designed logos and trade dress.
2) A non-Flash Web site, with a regularly updated blog; separate landing pages for each title and creator, with links to reviews and interviews; PDF and JPG samples of all titles, current, upcoming and backlist; publisher and creator contact information; release schedules and retailers list; viral downloadables, ie: wallpaper, screensavers, AIM icons, signature banners, podcasts, etc.
3) A PowerPoint presentation promoting the publisher’s niche in the marketplace (actual and/or hoped for); titles — current, upcoming and backlist; creators, awards, reviews, press, etc.
4) Basic marketing materials, ie: business cards, booth signage, brochures, postcards, pins, pens, etc.
5) Well-written, informational press releases with a specific call-to-action.
The latter two are pretty obvious, if not always properly implemented, and I’m not going to spend any time on them right now. There are tons of non-comics-specific resources available that address both of them, and other than booth signage and promotional giveaways, they’re all free or relatively inexpensive. The first three items, though, are extremely important and can be the difference between distributors and retailers ordering none, a couple or several copies of your comic book or graphic novel.
Simple Marketing Fact #3: Vestis virum reddit.
“Vestis virum reddit” is the only Latin phrase I remember from my one-and-a-half years of high school Latin — it means “the clothes make the man” — and I had to Google it to get the spelling right. Nevertheless, it is a marketing truism, the publishing equivalent of the most common advice to new salespeople to “look the part” and “act like you know”.
The next time you’re in your favorite LCBS, take a step back and scan the shelves in front of you. Which front-facing titles stand out from the crowd? Which spines are immediately identifiable, no matter the thickness? Which logos properly communicate the tone of the story underneath the covers?
Focusing on the spines of TPBs and OGNs for a second, one thing that stands out to me is how Marvel and Image prioritize their own branding, placing their logos at the top of the spine, while DC, Scholastic and First Second, among others, all give the title of the individual publication that primary position, placing their logos at the bottom of the spine. Neither approach is right or wrong, but both are very specific and notable long-term marketing decisions that are important to consider at the beginning.
Now, visit your local bookstore and do the same thing. What’s similar, and what’s different? How does a Stephen King novel differ from a Charlie Huston novel, and how do they both differ from the latest Star Wars or Forgotten Realms novels? Can you tell a Harper Perennial from a Beacon from a Soft Skull? Do you need to?
When developing the logos and trade dress for your own comic books, don’t assume that just because you have a great artist that they’re also a great designer, too; logos are to art as poetry is to fiction, and rarely does the talent for both reside in one person. You also have to look way beyond the comics industry for good examples, especially those publishers whose attention is focused primarily on the direct market. One of the most important marketing investments you’ll make in the beginning will be in your logos and trade dress, and there are many resources available that focus on these things, either offering advice on how to do it yourself, or companies who specialize in designing them for you. Use them.
Simple Marketing Fact #4: Fail to plan, plan to fail.
Your Previews solicitation cannot be the first time someone hears of your book. When developing a marketing plan for a new comic book — whether an ongoing or mini-series, trade paperback or original graphic novel — the implementation needs to begin 6-12 months before its expected publication date. The process will be somewhat different for a periodical publication targeting the direct market vs. a TPB or OGN targeting the direct and mass markets, particularly the timeline, but the ultimate goal for both is the same: maximizing your publication’s visibility and convincing distributors and retailers of its saleability.
Having a fully functional, informational, search engine optimized Web site is an essential second step. Once your logos and trade dress are designed and approved, before the first press release goes out to announce your existence, you MUST have a viable Web site established. It can be via a free service like Blogger or WordPress, or it can be something fancier, if your budget allows, but it’s an absolute must-have and you’ll need adequate storage space and bandwidth available to avoid any unwanted surprises.
Registering at least a primary .com domain is not prohibitively expensive, and there are hosting plans as cheap as $4.95/month, so there’s simply no excuse not to have a Web site.
As I said last week and repeated above, this Web site should NOT be Flash-based, because not everyone can, or wants to, view Flash sites. They’re also not search engine friendly and are more difficult to update than a traditional HTML-based site. Flash sites look cool, but letting your ego make your marketing decisions for you is a recipe for disaster.
Your Web site should, at a minimum, include:
1) Definitive URLs (“.com” and “.net”) for the publisher and individual titles
2) A regularly updated blog
3) Individual landing pages for every publication and creator
4) PDF and JPG samples of all publications, current, upcoming and backlist
5) Mailing list
6) Publisher and creator contact information
7) Release schedules and distributor/retailers list
8) Online store, via CafePress or similar POD provider, for brand-extension merchandising
Additionally, any feasible viral downloadables should be made available, including wallpapers, AIM icons, signature banners, podcasts, screensavers, etc. These are the things that can encourage virtual street teams to organically develop, spreading your marketing message far and wide, acting as brand advocates and demonstrating your publication’s ability to attract an audience.
I’ve purposefully left message boards off of this list because they are a tricky proposition and can lead to various levels of frustration and/or embarrassment. Poke around the various forums on Image’s site and in most of them you’ll find a dozen or so people hanging around, an awkward combination of fans and sycophants, most aspiring creators themselves, cheerleading the efforts of their fellow creators or talking smack amongst themselves as if they were hanging out in each others’ living rooms. Several other publishers host almost barren forums that are little more than repositories for unread press releases and updates on shipping delays.
An abrupt To Be Continued… this week as this one’s getting too long and we still have to cover The Presentation and its importance in reaching distributors and retailers you may never have the opportunity to meet with face-to-face.
Johns should know better.
** SIDE NOTE: Snarking on the internet is not a smart idea for fledgling publishers (or creators). It’s an insular, thin-skinned industry and as easy a target as some people may be, snark is best left to pundits with nothing to lose, or established, influential creators who can [theoretically] afford to piss in other people’s Cheerios. Remember, marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them.