Starting a comic is tough. Finishing one is even tougher. Letting people know it exists once it’s ready to go can be tougher still if you’re not sure how to get the word out.
“Marketing and Promotion” tends to carry a slightly slimy sheen in the modern vernacular. The words have an impression of vapid hype and artificial interest, but they really shouldn’t. In a world where new projects are being announced all the time and everyone wants your attention you need to make some noise and generate a bit of excitement about your hard work.
I know personal drum beating can come across as a bit crass and egotistical at times, but it is important. Publishers used to do a lot of outreach and hype-building but that’s not always the case nowadays. As a creator in 2013 you need to be active and involved in your own promotion. Here’s how I see it-
If you’re not excited about your new project, why should you expect anyone else to be?
I don’t have the time to cover every aspect of creator-owned marketing, but I can give you a run through of one of the most important weapons in my promotional arsenal: a press list.
A press list is a database of email addresses from reviewers and journalists who have taken an interest in my work. They’re my first and best chance at getting coverage from news sites, big or small.
Having a relevant and active press list gives me an outlet for previews, reviews and interviews (lotsa ‘views’ there) that might move outwards to a larger potential audience.
As nice as it would be to have a master list of active, vibrant and interested reviewers/journalists every comic creator could pass around and contact, that’s not how this stuff works. My personal press list has been slowly built from cold call emails I sent to websites, in-person meetings at conventions, tweets, fan emails and tracking down reviewers I discovered by keeping an eye out for positive reviews of my work through Google Alerts.
Building from a small base list I now have 60-70 ‘active’ reviewers I interact with. Some of them are working with larger sites like Comics Alliance, Newsarama, CBR, The Beat, Multiversity, MTV or USA Today, but there are many smaller news, review and blog sites I stay in touch with because they tend to give extra attention to a creator like me who isn’t a top name in the industry.
I also continue to look for non-comic press outlets that pertain to my work for extra outreach. With titles like Skullkickers and Pathfinder I’ve found fantasy and RPG news sites that have been just as receptive and valuable as comic sites. With Makeshift Miracle and Skullkickers both serializing online I’ve had success contacting webcomic-centric sites and Reddit. It’s important to think about the broader appeal of your story and where you might be able to get added press traction.
A personalized press list starts small, very small, and you have to put time and effort into cultivating it. Like any kind of networking or social interaction you can’t force things or put on airs about it. Be polite, be honest and be accessible. It’s taken a couple years of focused effort to build my contact list, but now I’m seeing the benefit of that work. My press list can work wonders at getting the word out about new comics and projects I have coming down the pipe.
As with everything, it starts with the work itself. Make sure you have a finished comic and that it’s as high quality as possible. Cold emailing press outlets is only going to work if your work makes a good first impression. Make sure the comic is professional and keep your first contact simple and on-point. Don’t waste their time or yours. A quick introduction and sample is enough to start the ball rolling.
Once you have a list of press people who want to receive updates from you, I recommend sending out advanced previews (images or PDFs) using a newsletter/bulk email service. I use MailChimp, (recommended to me by the ever-awesome Chris Butcher) but there are all sorts of options available and they each have advantages/disadvantages. Do a bit of research to make sure whichever one you use is reputable and that you won’t be spamming people.
Along with previews I recommend including additional information to make it as easy as possible for the press to promote your work:
• Cover image and/or logo
• Ordering info
• Key info about the art and story they may find useful/interesting
• Website, twitter, email
• Any upcoming appearances/conventions
I don’t attach large bulky files to the actual email message, as that can gum-up people’s inboxes or get caught by spam filters. It’s far better to upload zip files to a web directory and link it in your message so people can download it when they’re ready. Trust me, they’ll appreciate that. It also allows you to remove the file later on once the comic is released.
Beyond bulk emails, taking the time to personally contact select press outlets and offer exclusive images or an interview can be quite valuable. Everyone appreciates a bit more personal attention and a focused release of information and art can sometimes work better than a bland mass mail out. I try to offer these kinds of exclusives to different sites in a bit of a rotation so I’m covering a broader audience and giving each site something ‘special’ every so often.
Promotion tends to happen in cycles. Some possible promotion ‘milestones’ you may want to consider promoting around include:
• Teaser: “What is this? Looks intriguing…” (Iconic art, name and logo).
• Announcement/Ordering: “Hey, this thing is happening!” (Previews, interviews, more information).
• Almost There: “It’s about to be released!” (Longer previews, interviews, advanced review).
• Release: “Go get it! It’s great!” (Signing, launch party, interview).
• Reviews: “Check it out. People like it!” (Amalgamate positive reviews).
When you have a body of work and a good reputation people will come to you for interviews or information. Until that happens you need to push from your side to make the work stand out. Developing and maintaining a press list is a valuable way to show people what you’re up to, network with the larger industry and, ideally, build a loyal readership.