By John Shableski
To me, the answer to that question is definitely: yes! But that also depends on a lot of moving parts and with encouragement from The Beat, I’m going to post a few columns here about the elements needed to create real marketing programs that can help better define what a bestseller is and where the real opportunities lie.
While it has been really fascinating to watch the development of the graphic novel category over the past decade, it has also been frustrating. In the world of the comics publishers, small ‘indie’ presses create beautiful books that garner critical reviews and the ‘Big Two’ create interesting projects that should be smash hits and yet none of these projects tend to do much in the way of sales numbers that one would expect to see in the ‘real book’ world. Now, with all the major publishing houses quietly joining in, the graphic novel category has hundreds more titles being published for the category today than we did even a few years ago. From science to memoir and from adaptations of classic literature to business theory, we now have graphic novels for every genre and appealing to every age range. But why are there so few titles selling into the tens or hundreds of thousands of copies?
This is mainly because the stories are not being properly marketed. Why? It’s because so much of the comics publishing world is focused on the traditional comic shop market that they completely overlook the areas of real opportunity: schools, libraries and traditional retailers. The real challenge though is with the mindset and experience of the publishers themselves. Just about everyone is a great story teller but not many of them actually have real-world experience in the business of running a business. Yes, that is a generalization but there is a science and art to the business of marketing, promoting and selling books-or any product for that matter.
This series of postings for The Beat are my attempt at helping to create a real focus on what the opportunities are and how best to exploit them. In this case using the word ‘exploit’ is a positive thing. No one really wants to create the artistic master piece that only a few folks buy and publishers certainly can’t survive on publishing great stories that only sell a few hundred copies. So, this is where exploiting market opportunities can be a very, very good thing.
If you take a much broader view of the market opportunity you may actually discover that it’s worth a LOT more than you anticipated. Beyond the comics shops lies a multi-billion dollar market that includes schools, libraries and traditional retail. What’s quite interesting about this broader market is that the comics guys and traditional publishers are equally confused as to how best to sell their books into the real world.
This takes me back to the critical role that marketing and promotion plays in publishing. If you have a great story to publish, make sure it’s a great story and then make sure you provide it the support it needs to be successful. This means investing in things like publicity, cover design, proper editing, defining the ideal reader, figuring out the best publication date and then, scheduling delivery in time for seasonal elements, film releases etc.
The point is you can’t just simply drop a book on the market and expect the world to find it. 99% of the stuff you buy was scheduled for you and that’s the plain truth. True there are those anomalies like Beanie Babies or 50 Shades of Grey but the rest of the stuff that finds its way into your life has had a ton of marketing effort to support it. I guess the next question is: How do you support every book with promotion and marketing? You can’t, because they’re not all great books but you can be smarter about the books you do choose to publish. The publisher and the talent, need to invest as much energy in promoting the book as what it took to create.
But….what about Digital? Every great book, no matter the format, needs editing and promoting. I see digital as a great and very cost effective way to market a story. As American consumers, when we really like something, we want to own it. But again, we need to have heard or read about it somewhere which means someone had to spend money on promotion.
This is the first entry for this series and over the next few postings we will talk about some critical elements of marketing and promotion to include understanding the real audience for the story, MARC records and why you need them, what a real editor can do for your book, proper book design, why “ALL AGES” is a bad way to sell your book, and, why the future of the category depends on great comics for kids.
Yes, comics can be legitimate bestsellers generating print initial print runs that rival traditional prose and multiple reprints as well. Comics have already landed on the New York Times Bestseller list as legitimate bestsellers-Fun Home, Smile: A Dental Drama, and Stitches are a but a few that come to mind. Almost all of them gained their success because there was a considerable investment in marketing and promotion.
As we head into a week crammed with news from New York Comic Con and the Frankfurt International Book Fair, there’s going to be more great stories for the market. I hope we can help them find their way to the bestseller lists.