So you’ve done the hard work. You’ve labored for months, sweating and toiling over your graphic novel and now it’s the masterpiece you knew it would be. Excellent! Now it’s time to find your audience. There is no one single “best” method of getting the word out. Building an audience requires hitting the convention circuit, establishing a web presence, diving into social media, advertising, podcasting, and possibly even a few burnt offerings to the elder gods of chaos. But more often than not, the first place most creators turn to for promotion is the press. Or more specifically, the comics press.
In this installment of “How to promote your graphic novel” I’m going to supply you with the information and tools needed to maneuver the complex and often bizarre world of comics journalism. In addition to tips, samples, and a few basic strategies, I’ll also be sharing a list of news outlets I’ve had good experiences with, and mentioning a few places you might want to avoid. Also, just so we’re clear, I’m speaking strictly about press in terms of the written word. The wacky world of podcasting will come later. Oh, and one more thing…this entry ended up being a whole lot longer than I intended, so I’m go to be breaking it up into two segments. You’ll get the second half of this “How to…” next week. So before we jump into the fire and get down to business, it’s time you learn…
The Ugly Truth.
Of all the ways to promote your book the comics press is by far the most difficult nut to crack. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll absolutely want to send out press releases and pursue reviews, but unless you know how to target your efforts effectively, you’re going to find your book winding up in the hands of reviewers like this…
“You know, it’s been a while since we focused on boobs in comics. Let’s see what the cleavage factor is in this week’s haul, shall we?”
That’s an actual quote from Greg Burgas, writer for a review blog ironically called, Comics Should be Good, which is attached to the Comic Book Resources empire. Now, Burgas did claim that his rating of books based on cleavage was all in good fun, but it didn’t stop him from then literally plastering boob pics all over a week’s worth of reviews…or complaining that the women in my book Titanium Rain wore too much clothing. Don’t get me wrong, I like breasts. A lot. No. I mean, like really a lot. Just ask Kat. But unless a book is being reviewed by the staff at Hustler Magazine, a running tally of how many pairs of exposed mommy bombs appear in a comic is just piss-poor reviewing and has no business on a site that proclaims, “Comics Should be Good.” Unfortunately, “journalists” like Burgas are not in the minority. There’s a whole population of knuckle draggers out there who smear their shit on the walls daily and call it news.
Depressed yet? Don’t be. There are good news sources for comics. You just need to know where to find them and what it takes to get their attention.
Before you write that first press release, send out that first review copy, or even think of contacting a news outlet, you need to be absolutely aware of WHY you are doing it. In terms of your graphic novel, you’re contacting the press to:
1. Create reader awareness.
2. Generate “pull-quotes” to further sales and distribution.
3. Build that mysterious thing marketing people call “your brand.”
What you’re not after is the media’s approval. Never lose sight of that. Ever. You may like a journalist, you may hate a journalist, you may even become good friends with a journalist, but when promoting a book it’s all about the readers. Stay true to yourself and your work and even bad press can grow your audience.
The Almighty Press Release.
If all roads lead to Rome, then all paths to the media begin with a well written press release. This is your best and most powerful tool for generating media coverage about your book. What is a press release? In the past it was an easy to read document designed to catch the eyes of editors who needed stories to assign to their reporters. These were brief write-ups (no more than 500 words) that provided key details about why something was newsworthy and who to contact for more information. That’s it. While this still somewhat holds true, in recent years many news outlets have simply taken to re-printing press releases as actual articles. In terms of the comics press, nearly everyone does this.
Call it lazy journalism if you like, but what this ultimately means is YOU get to write your own article about your book. It also means the press release you write should NOT adhere to a traditional format (of which there are countless how-to guides already available online). No, what you’ll want is something that reads more like a feature article rather than a news pitch. Below I’ve included two of my own press releases as examples…
Notice how one of these is aimed at fans, the other is geared toward enticing journalists with a possible scoop. I’ll let you guess which was more successful. I suppose now would be the perfect time to make some embittered comment about how most editors won’t read past the first few lines of your beautifully crafted press release, but in truth even that works to your advantage. It means that as along as you can hook them with a good sentence or two, you’re in.
Constructing your press release.
Long ago, in the distant past, when people still used dial-up modems and Tom Hanks was still a comedian, there was a set standard for how press releases were supposed to be written. Today things are far more flexible. In a moment I’m going to walk you through the basic structure I use for my own press releases, and explain a few of my methods along the way. That said, I urge you to do outside research on this. It is good to see how others approach the art of crafting an effective press release. There is no one, best way to do this. Now on with the show…
All press releases begin with a headline. Make it good. Make it eye catching. This is the one part of your text everyone is guaranteed to read. If you fail here, all your efforts are for naught. A few examples of good headlines:
-UTOPIATES: THE ULTIMATE BET WITH THE MIND.
-TITANIUM RAIN, A SCI-FI WAR EPIC FOR THE POST MILLENNIAL AGE.
-BOOK TITLE, AND A REASON TO BE INTERESTED!
Headlines are always written in all-caps. Don’t ask why. It’s a long, tired story about “news in the old days” that ends in the phrase, “And so that’s how it’s done now.” All that matters is the headline is in all caps and that it hooks the reader into wanting to know more. As you can see, I like the book title + cool tagline formula. The reason for this is name recognition. Even if someone only reads this part of the press release and nothing more, they’ll still come away with my book’s title stuck in their brain. That said, though, one of my favorite headlines of all time was the one my friend Corissa Baker cooked up for her novel, The Shadow of Dracula. The headline was: ALL FANGS, NO SPARKLES. NEW HORROR NOVEL RETURNS VAMPIRES TO THEIR PREDATORY ROOTS. Hell yeah. I see a headline like that and I absolutely want to know more.
Originally this was something that only appeared in news articles, but has become a norm for modern press releases. The lead is one or two sentences that go under the headline. In theory, the lead is the most important part of the press release. Whereas the headline hooks the reader, the lead hits them with the most important information right away. For Utopiates the lead was:
“Cutting edge sci-fi graphic novel from 01 Publishing pulls readers into the dark underworld of bio-tech noir.”
Whereas for Corissa’s The Shadow of Dracula the lead was:
“Author Corissa Baker recaptures the horror of Bram Stoker’s classic by envisioning a continuation of the myth.”
Often after the lead, people will include the line: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE! This again goes back to tradition. I’ve put this in my own press releases, although I plan on abandoning it. Now days it just looks cheesy, and frankly, it reads like a big “duh!” I mean, of course you want the news released immediately. Why else mail it out?
Welcome to Freedom City
In a traditional press release comes next are three paragraphs –an introduction, a further explanation, and a short “about” section. This is an excellent format, don’t be afraid to use it. Just realize there is no reason to limit yourself, either. This is the part where you get to sell the reader (and journalists) on why your book matters. Typically, I like to open with a description of the story, usual this is the same text that appears on the back cover of the book, such as…
“In the near future, science is able to distill human personalities into a drug-form. Called utopiates –a merging of the words utopia and opiate— these drugs allow users to swap personalities with the “mental imprints” of other people. This is the common thread that links the stories in the Utopiates graphic novel. Over the course of 120 pages…”
And so on and so on. I follow this with some key points about the book. Mentioning films and novels similar to your own work is good because it triggers audience identification. For instance, I bring up the film Blade Runner in reference to Utopiates. I feel there is an audience crossover, so by mentioning Blade Runner, fans of the film will immediately know this book may appeal to their tastes.
Notice in the third paragraph of the Utopiates press release I have the bit about it being created by a husband & wife team? This functions on multiple levels. First, it’s a great lead-in to the books creation. Second, it’s perfect bait for journalists looking to write an article. And third, it allows Kat and me to “build” our brand, which is that mysterious thing I have yet to explain.
Brand is a bit of an esoteric concept. A lot of it comes down to pure, uncut marketing bullshit, but it is also something you need to take seriously. Essentially, it’s the idea that you aren’t just selling a book, but you yourself as a creator. Who are you? What is your story? Why should we all care? Brand is why everything John Carpenter does is titled, “John Carpenter’s <insert movie title here>”. Brand is Grant Morrison’s trademark bald head. Branding is why the name Michael Bay is an instant movie review. I’ll get deeper into the concept of brand later, but essentially it is turning you into a recognizable, known quantity. Yeah, I know our work should be able to speak for itself, but then again we also live in a world where people will buy an Alan Moore book by name alone, no matter how ramblingly pretentious and self aggrandizing it is.
Yeah, I said it. Bite me, Alan! Do us all a favor and get back to being a good writer, okay? The world doesn’t need yet another hairy new age wanna-be prophet humping the post-hippy dream.
Last, when describing your book, it’s important to name drop like crazy. Don’t make it sound like bragging, because that’s not what you’re doing. You’re piling on every reason possible for why people should care about your book. What do I mean by name drop? Take a look at this paragraph from the Titanium Rain audio drama press release…
“TITANIUM RAIN has been turned into a full-cast audio drama with cutting-edge effects and an original score by BBC composer Jonathan Sharp. The drama was scripted by the book’s author, Josh Finney, and includes scenes that were cut from the graphic novel because of space limitations. It is directed by William Dufris and features performances by Elizabeth Knowelden (Avengers Assembled), William Dufris (Lupin, Judge Dredd), Richard McGonagle (Star Wars: Clone Wars, Star Trek: Voyager), Lance Roger Axt (Honey West, Horrorscopes) and features guest appearances by Peter David (Fallen Angel, X-Factor) and Rich Johnston (Bleeding Cool).”
Why mention all these previous works beside every name involved? What I’m essentially saying is, “Look! This matters because so-and-so did such-and-such and now they’re part of my project!” Sure, I would’ve preferred if journalists had taken notice of the radio drama because it’s an amazing piece of audio fiction. And some did. Most didn’t. What was the big draw for the press? Richard McGonagle who played General Grievous in the Star Wars: Clones Wars cartoon.
Depressed now? Again, don’t be. Like I said, you are not after the media’s approval. It’s all about reaching your audience. If the voice of General Grievous gets my stuff in the news and exposed to new fans, so be it.
Always include a link to where a preview of the book can be seen online. This is vital. Often this will be the make or break moment for you. If someone has read to this point in the press release, now is the time for them to SEE/READ your work. If you impress them with the preview, you will probably have earned yourself a fan…maybe even an actual review. But trust me when I say you’d rather have the fan. This is why websites re-printing press releases as actual articles is so advantageous. It gives you a chance to reach out to the audience directly, rather than having your words filtered through a journalist who may or may not “get” your work.
Now some of you may be saying, “Sure, that’s all well and good, Josh, but shouldn’t a healthy literary community have journalists offering an informed opinion to readers about what’s on the shelves? Doesn’t this current situation pave the way to all sorts of unethical behavior and conflicts of interest?” You tell me…does the Tin Man have a sheet metal cock? True, the situation is not ideal. But we creators do need to get the word out somehow, so that means making do with the press we’ve got.
At the end of your press release you need to do three things. 1) Make sure readers know where they can purchase your book, include links if needed. 2) Include any and all web links to where more information can be found about you and your book. And 3) end with the following line:
“To schedule an interview and/or receive review copy of <your book>
please email: <your email here>.”
At the VERY end of the Utopiates press release I did include a bit about 01 Publishing. You only need to worry about this if you have a publisher, and if you want to help them build their brand, too. Depending on a publisher’s reputation (like Devil’s Due, for instance), sometimes it’s best if you don’t mention them.
The nice thing about a well written press release is that it is safe to send to everyone. Unlike other, more focused methods of contacting the media, you literally can just shotgun out a press release to everyone and their mutant grandma. Sure, a lot of places will just trash it or tag it as spam, but so what? It’s just a press release. The media expects to receive these. It’s just the nature of the game. Even better, a lot of news outlets have an email address specifically dedicated to press releases. Here are the ones I routinely send to:
What is important, though, is that when you email your press release you make sure to identify it as such. Nothing pisses off a journalist more than a press release masquerading as an innocent email. It’s important you title your press release emails in a format such as this:
SUBJECT: Utopiates: the ultimate bet with the mind (PRESS RELEASE)
SUBJECT: PR, Utopiates: the ultimate bet with the mind.
What you do not want is to send emails with titles like, “Awesome new graphic novel!” or “Dude, can you review this, please?” Or even worse, “I am new at this so please take pity on me blah blah I’m an emo indie comics creator & I suffer…” This may seem obvious to most of you, but you’d be surprised.
Okay. So I’ve taken you all the way up to the art of creating and wielding the mighty press release. That should be more than enough to keep you busy until next week, when I get into the finer points of dealing with the press, sending out review copies, and how to maximize your efforts. I will also finally share that list of good press contacts I’ve been promising.
Now how about you show me some love and check out Utopiates and/or the Titanium Rain audio drama? And never mind if Amazon says they’re out of stock. We’ve been sending fresh shipments to them weekly because Utopiates keeps selling out. If you order it, trust me, you’ll get a copy in about a week. Hell, just by simply clicking the LIKE button for Utopiates or Titanium Rain on Amazon.com is a huge help. Seriously, that does Kat and me more good than you could possibly imagine. And yes, I will explain why and how it can help your book in a later “How to…” entry.
Okay. More next week. Thanks.