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Devourer of Words 005: The Big Sell

Marc Bernardin

You’ve convinced a publisher to take on your book. You’ve found a team of collaborators who are all bringing their A game. You’ve figured out a way to write it that won’t embarrass anyone. (You still haven’t conquered the idea that they’ll all find out you’re a fraud, a guy who’s barely pretending to be a writer—but that’s simply because you are a writer. We all feel that way. Don’t worry.)

Now comes the most crucial part: figuring out how to spread the word. After all, if people don’t know about your book, they won’t buy your book, and no one likes shouting into the wind. There are lots of reasons to make entertainment, but chief among them is to entertain . . . and for that you need an audience.

So, as you begin wrestling for ways to get some press for your title, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. No One Will Sell Your Book Harder Than You Will.

If you’re just starting out, and you’re lucky enough to be published by a company that has a dedicated public relations department—and we’re pretty much just talking about Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, and IDW—the thing you’ve gotta keep in mind is that they publish a lot of books every month. Yours is just one of 15 or 30 or 52. And, since you’re not Matt Fraction or Scott Snyder or a member of the Joss Whedon phalanx, their PR efforts are not going to head in your direction. So you have to get out there and do it.

You have to email every website editor, tweet at every freelance writer, ping anyone and everyone you can find who writes about comics and tell them you’d love to send them a review copy and schedule a quick Q&A. Be as enthusiastic as you possibly can, but try and be as refreshing as you can. It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying things like “I could not be happier with my penciler . . . she’s bringing the words on the page to life in a way I never could’ve imagined.” All of which may be true, but that will make you just recede into the background, along with the other dozen similar interviews that hit the web that day. Find ways to stand out.

2. Learn When Final Order Cut-Off Is.

This is the single most important date when it comes to releasing a book into the wild, as it is the day when retailers order your book. You could do all the press in the world when your comic’s released; you could take out billboards and skywriters and 30-second spots during The Walking Dead—if the stores don’t order the book, they can’t it.

So start building your buzz before FOC. Do a first wave of press a few weeks before that. Call as many retailers as you can—you’ll find they’re really receptive to talking to creators, to hearing what the book’s about. Offer to send them a PDF so they can take a look. If you’re lucky enough to have a few local stores, pay some visits; tell them you’d love to do a signing when the book drops.


Of course, you should try to schedule a second wave of press timed to the actual book release—you still need to motivate the consumers—but never forget that your first buyer is buying your book months before everyone else.

3. Hit Them Where They Ain’t.

When it comes to doing press, there are some usual suspects. You know who they are. You know the websites, the blogs, the tumblrs you should hit, because that’s where everyone hits. But try to find some new outlets. If there’s a theme in your work that speaks to a niche publication, hit them up. One thing I regret not doing when my first DC book, The Highwaymen, came out, was not hitting up the AARP magazine. Yeah, I know. But it was a non-superhero story about a pair of gray-haired retirees who came out of retirement to kick a lot of ass. How is that not a story that the AARP’s publication might want to bring to their millions of readers? Missed opportunity on my part. Don’t miss any of yours. Think the hard think.

Doing a lot of press can be something of a grind. Yes, it’s a meaningless complaint, but it’s true. You will be answering a lot of the same questions, over and over again. The trick is to find a way to make it fun for yourself. And remember: You can always reframe any question so that you’re answering the question you want to answer, not necessarily the one you were asked. And email—the method for doing most of these interviews—makes that incredibly easy.

4. The Big Caveat.

A while back, Warren Ellis conducted a wee experiment. He had two comics coming out during the same month. One was through one of the Big Two, I believe, and the other was independently published. He did a boatload of comics press focusing on one title—hitting almost every web outlet that travels in comics—and virtually no comics press to push the other. And, when all was said and done, they sold about the same. Now, this is Warren Ellis. He has an audience and a passionate one at that. Retailers know this and they will order what they think they can sell. And, lo, they did. And Uncle Warren knows how to work the media.

Of course, that is just one isolated case, but it’s worth considering: It is entirely possible to do all the press you possibly can, and it won’t make a darn bit of difference. Sometimes, the market simply wants what it wants and you can’t convince it otherwise. Trust me: I’m the last guy to write Static Shock. I know this.

But you’d hate yourself if you didn’t try your hardest.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of every month on Toucan!