Overall, my self-publication of my first graphic novel Tonoharu: Part One went pretty well. But there is one area where I dropped the ball, and it’s an important one: marketing/promotion.
I left for Japan to study East Asian calligraphy the same month my book came out, and between that and a broken ankle that I was nursing back to health, I did next to nothing to market my book once it was released. Books live or die based on how well the authors promote them, so this failure on my part is no small matter. So now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m trying to get back into the marketing that I’ve neglected for the past two years.
It was in this spirit that I attended SpringCon 2010 last weekend. It was my first time at SpringCon, and the first comic convention I’ve ever attended as a “guest cartoonist”. Here are a few thoughts on the experience:
You Have to be In It to Win It
For my first couple hours at SpringCon, I sat hunched behind my little table, and doodled while I waited for someone to come along. When someone came over and looked at my stuff, I adhered to the “don’t speak unless spoken to” rule, and waited hopefully for them to ask me a question or make a comment. No one did, and I didn’t make any sales.
Then indy comics darling Tim Sievert (author of That Salty Air) came along and set up his table. I noticed his sales seemed to be better than they were in my neck of the woods (I guess it’s hard to have sales that are less than none, but you get the idea).
I asked him about his sales technique, and he told me he had learned through trial and error that it’s best to be proactive. He stood rather than sat, and didn’t doodle or read during lulls. He said if you’re just sitting there drawing, potential customers are hesitant to come over and “bother” you (even though you want nothing more than for them to do so). So Tim figured it was best to stand, and to make it clear that you’re ready and waiting to talk to anyone who stops by.
He also said that when someone starts looking at your stuff, you should say something–anything–to them. When Tim first started doing conventions, he originally felt (as did I earlier in the day) that trying to start up a conversation would seem pushy, or might chase people away. But experience had taught him that taking the initiative and starting conversations with people helped his sales, and made the time go by quicker to boot.
So I tried Tim’s techniques, and they did indeed improve my sales, if only marginally. But it could’ve been worse; there were a couple cartoonists across from me that sat hunched over and doodled the whole time, and I swear I didn’t see anyone stop by their tables the whole weekend…
Cheap is Good
The vibe of the convention was very much that of a garage sale. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way; garage sales are fun! But they’re not the best venue to sell fancy $20 hardcover books. Most of my sales came from my $4 comic book Young Men of a Certain Mind; over the whole weekend I only sold three copies of Tonoharu: Part One, and one of those was to a friend who would’ve bought it anyway.
Other cartoonists I talked to agreed that it’s important to have cheap options; people might plop down a couple bucks on a cartoonist they’ve never heard of before, but they’ll rarely risk much more than that. Cheaper comics can act as “gateway drugs”; if the people buy & like a cheap comic from you, they sometimes come back later and buy more expensive ones. I’m thinking I might create a $2 mini-comic to offer at the next convention I attend and see how it sells.
Before going to SpringCon, I had somewhat unrealistic expectations. I wasn’t expecting people to be lining up to see me or anything, but I figured I’d get a few fans of Tonoharu: Part One stopping by and asking when Part Two will be out and stuff like that.
But really, there was almost none of that. A couple of my fellow guest cartoonists said they were looking forward to Part Two (thanks guys!) but no convention attendees gave any indication that they had ever heard of me before.
Granted, I think SpringCon probably brings in more of a superhero comics crowd, but either way, it was a good reality check. I put out one graphic novel two years ago, and haven’t done anything in the public realm since (other than this blog). It’s only natural that I would still be essentially unknown. So it was a good reminder about the importance of marketing and promotion. I plan on promoting my work more aggressively in the coming months.
Overall, the convention was exhausting, but fun. I met a lot of local cartoonists and reconnected with old friends, and made just enough off book sales to pay myself minimum wage for the fourteen hours I spent behind my table.
I’ll be making a couple more public appearances later this year, so check back for details!