Low-cost marketing ideas for an off-beat graphic novel
February 29, 2008 2:37 AM   Subscribe

What will give me the best bang for my buck to advertise a graphic novel that's horror-genre-based, but totally violates genre conventions?

I wrote a six-issue comic book for a major-minor publisher a few years back (not Marvel/DC/Image, but a well-regarded smaller press), and they just released it in TPB format. Link's in my profile if you want more specifics.

Sales were dismal in the initial run, because it came out in the midst of a glut of similarly themed comics, books and movies; one of the hurdles the book faces is that it looks like it fits squarely in a horror sub-genre, but actually violates the basic premises of the genre and sprints off in a different direction entirely.

Were it a werewolf book (it's not), it would not be about handsome people that transform into savage Jungian wolf-people and have frenzied battles, but rather about werewolves that establish large sheep ranches in the American Midwest where they can be both themselves and productive members of society. The comic would focus on the challenges that modern sheep ranchers face, especially if those sheep ranchers are also werewolves. When PETA comes a'calling, do you get cut slack if you're also half-canine? Are sheep you consume in a lupine frenzy deductible as a legitimate attrition expense of business? How do you and your friends arrange for temporary labour the three days that you all have to be chained in the basement? That kind of stuff.

Actually, now I kinda wish that WAS the comic I wrote. Huh.

The point being: this is not a comic that your run-of-the-mill Howling fan wants to read, but most people into farming economics don't have much interest in werewolves. But folks who like really interesting new takes on tired old themes would probably enjoy it, and that's the audience I want.

I want to throw some advertising money behind it personally, because the company doesn't have a lot of ad-dollar cash and I don't want to go for the rest of my life thinking that my (pretty good, if flawed) comic never got a chance to find its audience. I've put a classified on Fark, and am trying a horror-themed campaign through Project Wonderful. I've got the first two chapters of the thing up online as a free downloadable PDF.

Complication: I'm not rich. The comic never made money to speak of, and I doubt I'll see a dividend from the TPB, either. I just don't want to let it wither on the vine a second time. The ad rates for sites like Metafilter or BoingBoing are way the heck beyond me.

Maybe I'm asking for the moon here, but I'm not that well-travelled on the Web, and I'd like some lateral thinking on low-cost advertising ideas that can reach the sort of people that would really like a political/economic/human-rights spin on a very weary horror genre.
posted by Shepherd to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Kinda obvious, but have you tried sending review copies to blogs that deal in comics/horror/your subject matter?
posted by Leon at 2:56 AM on February 29, 2008

Have you tried setting up a website for it, with a forum for people to post about the comic?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:01 AM on February 29, 2008

Response by poster: Leon: That's a great idea (and not really that obvious); I don't have a lot of copies of the book (as the author, I only get a certain number of comp copies), but maybe a PDF would do the trick.

Brandon: I do have a Web site for it, from back when it was first coming out; I opted not to add a forum because my feeling is I don't have the skills to create/maintain one that doesn't reek of ineptitude, and they require a lot of management to prevent spam creep from taking over.
posted by Shepherd at 3:16 AM on February 29, 2008

Have you/your publisher considered blog book tours? If you are a part of or familiar with a blogging community that concerns itself with your kind of book (not necessarily your genre-busting genre, but folks who are fans of the general medium), it would be easy enough to contact those bloggers, offer them a copy of the book, and ask them to post their thoughts on it. It helps if you have a pre-existing relationship with the bloggers you contact -- if they already know you and know your work, they may be more likely to consider your request. (I did this in 2005 with parenting bloggers when I had a few parenting-related books coming out one right after the other and a publisher with a limited pr budget -- got about 70 bloggers to blog about the books during a certain time period, which ended up having a positive effect on book sales.)

Also, in conjunction with asking bloggers to chime in with reviews, you might consider (if your publisher allows) offering the book as a free download on your site, and also making available signed copies for bloggers to use as give-aways.

Another thing I did, back in 2004, was to offer one of my books as a serialized email -- folks signed up to a mailing list and received a chapter a day for an entire month. I partnered with a genre-related online magazine to do this, and it worked out well.

Working with a small publisher, you really have to be your own best promoter. The ideal is to work with your existing publicist (if you have an in-house person) to brainstorm and make sure whatever you're doing pr-wise is complementary, and not overlapping, what they're already doing. For me, what really made a difference was homing in on some key facts about my particular audience -- which at that time were: they buy books online, they are more likely to read a blog than go to a bookstore reading/appearance, and community, especially online, is really important -- and bringing to books to where they were instead of relying on traditional avenues of pr and advertising to reach them somehow.
posted by mothershock at 5:30 AM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: I just downloaded the two PDF's on your site, and I'm hooked! You're writing, though really fast-paced as you mention on your site, is great, and I love the storyline. In fact, I think the 'frenzied' writing style is an excellent fit for the material.

Things to try:
Put out a press release (you can do this for free), saying parts of your book are now available for free on your site. Doesn't matter how long they've been there. It's good PR for you book!

Send it to the links in this issue of SF Gate. I know you are taking your story in a different direction, but I think they could be good places to start. People who like reading about zombies love all kinds.

Who did the artwork for your comic? Could you sell, on Ebay or Etsy, a custom write-up or sketch (or both) of someone as A Returner to the highest bidder?
posted by misha at 9:30 AM on February 29, 2008

Oh, and start up a Squidoo lens on your comics!

Also, go to Blog Catalog or a similar service and start a "Returner" neighborhood. You can Mefimail me if you use BC, I'm a member. Then just invite people with similar interests to join. You could probably do this on Flickr (not sure how that works) and other social networking sites.
posted by misha at 9:33 AM on February 29, 2008

Interesting, Joe Casey just addressed such an issue in an interview with Tom Spurgeon.
SPURGEON: Does part of how you hype a book depend on accessing non-comics sources or is most of what you do tied into the comics press and comics-interested press?

CASEY: I might be somewhat short-sighted, but I really have no interest in outreach promo anymore. That is, I abandoned chasing anything that stinks of the “mainstream media” long ago. The thing about the dedicated comic book press is simply this… those guys like comics. They like to talk comics and so do I. My aim for creating awareness for something like Defenders is to hook in those readers who want a cool Marvel superhero team book. I know they’re still out there, because I’m one of ‘em. I talk to the comics press because we speak the same language. And I like that language.
posted by lilnemo at 11:24 AM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: This is a different angle than the ones you've been looking at so far, but I talk a lot to people who ask "how can I sell my book/comic/thing to libraries" Libraries are a huge market and there's been a big graphic novel push in the last maybe five years or so with genre-busting stuff not really a problem. So, you need to figure out how to get librarians to read your books.

Generally speaking I tell people to make up small promo pieces [half sheet xeroxes with pertinent information and examples of your illustration and writing styles] and have them to hand out at library conferences. Send copies to friends of yours all over the place who have local conferences they attend, possibly. If you can splurge and get some full-color postcards made (I did maybe 1000 postcards via PSPrint and their prices were very reasonable) you can do a small mailing and have a stack to hand out at local comic conventions and the like. Don't be afraid to send review copies to people who do reviews of this stuff. For library organizations you might look at YALSA if your graphic novel could be geared towards children, or possibly root through some of the options here. Get people to request that their local library buy a copy, libraries are often happy to purchase something requested by their patrons.

I know this is just one angle and maybe not hte one you were thinking of, but if you get a big library like NYPL or SFPL or one in Canada to purchase multiple copies of your graphic novel, you not only have initial sales, but bigger readerships which wll help you further down the line as well. Google around for library/comics bloggers [Dave Carter is the one I think of off the top of my head, Sara Ryan is another] and see how they operate, drop them a polite email asking for advice, they've both been around comics and libraries much longer than I have.
posted by jessamyn at 12:29 PM on February 29, 2008

Response by poster: Holy crow! What a pile of excellent suggestions. Thanks ever so much -- I'm going to get on this today!
posted by Shepherd at 6:55 AM on March 1, 2008

Carrying on Jessamyn's idea. The Monster Librarian reviews horror books and graphic novels to help libraries build collections. Not sure if they accept unsolicited material for review, but drop them a line. They even have a Zombie section.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 2:18 PM on March 1, 2008

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