So, you’ve have this comic for a couple years now, and have managed to put out a book or two or three. Maybe you’ve done a couple locals conventions, or maybe even a few big ones. Maybe you’ve taken the plunge (reverse-pun intended) and decided to even fly to a few. Maybe, while going through your earnings verses your expenses, you’ve muttered “Crap, those 2 conventions I flew to really wrecked the chance I had at making a profit”.. or “Man, if I didn’t have to stay at so many hotels!” Sound familiar?
When we’re starting out in the convention scenes, it’s a Catch-22. You earn more once you’ve got the experience and been in the circuit a while… but to get THERE, you have to take a hit financially. It sucks! And, most of us are not in an area that boasts a plethora of comic conventions within a stones throw. Actually, personally, I can’t complain… Philly is an ideal spot; being sandwiched between Baltimore & DC, and NYC… and within driving distance to Boston, Pittsburgh, VA, and more… my only concern is accommodations. But I realize I’m the exception, I am very lucky to live where I do. And even in stating that, I have started to look beyond comic conventions.
Psshhh, who outside of a comic con would BUY my comics?
The dirty little secret many “non-comic-con” people have is that they like comics, deep down. Even if it’s just the “funnies” in the paper, most people enjoy comics, have a nostalgic connection to them, and probably have a Far Side or Dilbert collection on their shelf, or have seen The Dark Knight countless times. However, these same people never even THINK of attending a comic convention. Whether it’s because they think of comic cons as being only for people who are hardcore-obsessed with comics, or because they had no idea there was one in their area, or because they didn’t think their friends would want to go… you won’t find these people at a comic con. It certainly doesn’t mean they wouldn’t buy your comic, merch, or read your comic online if they knew it was there!
So, what, just stand out on the street and shout my pitch to the masses?
Not unless you want to have someone haul you away in a straight jacket. Think about your pitch. Think about your characters, and the demographic you tend to draw in online. What’s a common theme? For instance, if you draw a family-friendly comic strip that could appeal to kids, think about where you find kids. If your comic book is a fantasy or renaissance-based story, where could you find people who like that sort of genre? Your comic is MORE than a comic… there are all sorts of themes and sub-themes that could interest people who aren’t the type to attend a comic con. It’s possible your comic could open their eyes to the variety of subjects that comics can cover! Many people still think comics are just about superheroes… it’s fun to pleasantly surprise those people and rekindle a lost love for the medium.
So, you’re talking about other big events that aren’t centered around comics?
You got it. And they may even be within a quick driving distance! That convention center you go to once a year for a comic con doesn’t JUST host that one comic con, you know. There’s plenty of other events that it hosts, along with other large event locations, and some great crowd-attractors may have snuck through over the years without you knowing! The first easy branch out from comic cons are book fairs.
I mean, you ARE selling books, they just happen to be comics. Some book fairs also center around indie comics, like Small Press Expo (SPX) in DC, and Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco. Many libraries in large cities will have yearly book festivals, so check your local ones. A quick google search with your closest large city should yield some results. Even smaller libraries or bookstores in hip little towns will have an outdoor summer book fair or kids event, where you could very cheaply (or even free) grab a table and sell your books. For a more intimate connection with readers, there may be a smaller library gathering where you could speak or host a workshop. Speak to the people in charge, you may be able to hawk your books after your presentation.
Yeah, yeah, okay. But what else?
Patience, my pet. Are you still digging deeper into your comic’s concept? There’s other niches you could fit into. Like I was saying earlier, determine what your typical demographic is (besides comic-lovers), and find where they hang out, what events they attend. There are other themed conventions for genres like horror, sci-fi, or fantasy/Renaissance or even Steampunk. Heck, there’s even a BronyCon! If there’s a following for a geeky sub-genre, there’s a convention or meet-up for it. A great resource for finding these events (along with regular comic cons) is Convention Scene.
Even if your comic isn’t pure sci-fi, but has some sci-fi elements to it, it may do just fine at a sci-fi themed event. For instance, I recently attended a Sci-Fi Saturday event at the York Emporium used bookstore. Going in, I had no idea what to expect, but had a number in mind. If I met that number in sales, it would be worth going again. That number was a bit less than I would typically make at a 1-day comic con. I ended up making double that number, despite the fact that there were FAR less attendees than at even the smaller cons I attend. That speaks volumes about the power of a more intimate setting, and the perks of being able to REALLY chat with potential customers, get to know them and make a connection. While my comic isn’t as sci-fi as Star Trek (whole lotta Star Trek stuff at this event), just the connection of having aliens involved was enough to bridge the gap. Another option for a comic about aliens-disguised-as-dogs: Pet-themed gatherings like “Dog Days of Summer“, which offers local crafters, or a animal shelter event that promote adopted/rescued pets, such as this. All it takes is an email or phone call, to see if a spot is available.
What about craft fairs?
A good question, and a good idea! There are TONS… and I mean TOOOONS of craft fairs out there, in all different kinds of venues, and some even have themes of their own! There’s great resources online for searching them out to: FestivalNet and CraftLister allows you to search by location and hone in on the fairs near you. You may be wondering however, “Aren’t craft fairs for those hippies that make jewelry and their own flavored teas and whatnot?” Sure, there may be a ton of those. But from my experience, seeing my display (which really stood out) was a refreshing change of pace for browsers, and it also entertained the kids who were waiting for their hippie parents to pick out a potpourri flavor. Some craft fairs are picky, and want to ensure that the items for sale were ACTUALLY made by the person selling them, and you still qualify in that scenario, whereas a publisher selling many different creators books would be turned away. Also, you may have to decide between a riskier smaller non-juried fair, and the larger pricier juried fairs… which require you to submit samples prior for approval. This article explains the 2, and breaks down the pros and cons.
Also, don’t forget the busy holiday season! Just as comic con season dies down in November, these pick up! You can grab a cheap table at local schools or farmers markets or other public venues, and provided you have kid-friendly material, you really can make a killing! The best part about holiday shoppers: besides enjoying supporting local talent, they love these events as they KNOW they won’t be giving a gift that the person already has! A plus for an indie creator. Seize that opportunity.
Gotcha, but should I approach attendees at events like this differently?
You probably will have to, yes. At a comic con, it is assumed that you make a comic, or at least can draw comic characters well, if you are in Artist’s Alley. So, explaining that you write/draw a comic is a bit redundant. At these other types of events, people may be taken aback- a cartoonist? Loose in public? What the-?!! So, you may have to alter your pitch a bit, or offer some other types of merchandise that more fitting for that crowd. I added an introductory line to my pitch a bit at these more intimate events. Instead of blurting out what my comic was about, I first introduced myself in a friendly manner:
“Hi, I’m Dawn, and I write and draw comics and kids books.”
Then, if the person seemed intrigued, I continued with whatever he/she seemed more drawn to. In the case of my comic, I would continue with:
“Zorphbert and Fred is my all-ages comic strip. It’s about 2 aliens, disguised as dogs, here to study human life.”
For some, that may be a tad too quirky when all they wanted to see was handmade jewelry, but for those who seemed amused, I would generally go right back into my usual extended-pitch… adding some references to TV shows or other comics that influenced me, to further make a connection. It worked FAR better than I would have imagined at craft fairs, book festivals, and bookstore events. If they weren’t buying for themselves, they were buying for a relative or friend whom they thought “will absolutely LOVE this!” Turns out, like I mentioned, there’s people everywhere who like comics- you just have to get it in front of them!
So, go think outside the comic-con-box, and find your sub-culture of potential readers! They’re waiting!
Dawn Griffin is a self-described “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her high school years either playing street ball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the sydication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and the illustrator of the Abby’s Adventures kids book series. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.