Moderator Russell Nohelty (founder, Wannabe Press) posed the question: How do you build an audience when you don’t have a product to sell? To answer that question, Nohelty assembled a handful of creators that included Bryant Dillon (Fanbase Press President and Co-Founder), Lynly Forrest (HexComix Producer), Neo Edmund (author of A Tale of Red Riding: Rise of the Alpha Huntress), Joie Brown (writer/artist of Heavenly Kibble Guardian Corgi), and Mom (organizer of the Los Angeles Women’s Comic Creator Group – a.k.a. The Ladybugs).
Dillon started off the discussion by explaining that he had written a graphic novel in which the artwork was about a year out from being completed. While waiting, he and his co-founders focused on what they loved: writing reviews, conducting interviews, creating podcasts, and writing newsletters and blogs in support of other creators. This method allowed Dillon and his colleagues to build empathy as well as an audience that was ready and receptive when they launched their first book a year later.
Forrest advised the importance of building your infrastructure, which includes economic and customer service, first before the product. This brings value add to the product. Essentially, she stated that, “You need to have your shit together,” because when you put all that effort into creating your product, you don’t want it to fail. Hence, she cautioned to deliver your product when you are ready, because it will pay you back well.
Edmund had been a development executive in the comics industry, so he was able to build contacts and establish a network. He joked that he became a “network junkie” and called in favors for support of his book when he was ready to release it. He worked at it from 8 to 10 hours a days. Because he invested so much time to networking and pre-planning, he created a strong release for his book. Nohelty added it is like putting “deposits in the goodwill bank.”
Brown advocated the use of Twitter to find people with similar interests that match with the target audience of your project. This builds a potential audience base as well as buyers for your product. Edmund added that he looks for what is trending and then will use the hash tags to promote his project, if appropriate.
Mom created a community of creators and, together, they were able to put more work out there as well as have an instantaneous network of support from each other. Basically, this approach promotes a community of individuals that support and spread the word for each other projects. In addition, Mom claimed it was also an opportunity to gain experience, hone one’s skills, and create an environment in which ideas could develop and flourish.
How did the panelists handle advice that was critical, rather than constructive? Per Nohelty, creators need to develop thick skin, while Mom said to turn around the negative energy and, instead, respond by creating “waves of success.” Edmund stated that he doesn’t acknowledge it; he ignores it. Forrest agreed; however, she was open to hear and assess constructive feedback. Nohelty asked Dillon about Fanbase Press’ goal with reviews. Dillon explained that Fanbase Press reviews focus on the positive aspects and provide constructive feedback that helps create a stronger product. If one of the reviewers does write a review that skews into the more critical range, Fanbase Press will contact the creator regarding the review and offer to not post it. Some creators have asked that the review run anyway, because any review, even more critical ones, are welcomed than no review at all.
You have your product and you are ready to launch it – what’s the next step? Dillon advised that the approach matters the most and to always be respectful of others’ time. He said to have a press packet ready and make it as easy as possible for the recipient to take action with the materials provided. Have any photographs and other assets in an acceptable format. Dillon segued and explained that Fanbase Press no longer runs press releases; instead, they offer to conduct interviews and write reviews. This is something to keep in mind when reaching out to press groups.
The launch steps are in place, but what’s the big picture? Forrest said it was crucial to get your social media structure into place and to coincide your releases with your con schedule. Also, don’t forget to provide incentives with your pre-orders. And, she advised to not plan too far in the advance, because it was important to remain flexible and reactive when changes to the schedule were needed.
Edmund shared that even though he is working with a publisher, he does not completely rely on their marketing strategy, because he firmly believes that he is still the central spokesman for his book. He stated that timing is key; start too early and people will think the project has already released by the time the actual release date arrives; or by starting too late, the launch will also suffer by lack of planning. Edmund figured about three months is the average.
Brown discussed not forgetting to have engaging content. She suggested, for example, “behind-the-scenes” content because it helps build the audience’s interest and anticipation for the product.
Mom explained the launch will also hinge on the printer’s delivery date. Once that is known, then you can schedule your release date and work backward to determine when to send out the press releases, schedule interviews, etc. For the cons, she suggested waiting to announce details until within a week of the event. This keeps the product fresh in the audience’s mind as they walk into the exhibition hall.
Nohelty promoted setting up a Facebook page. If you are a writer, ask your artist to post a page a week to the Facebook page to provide sneak peeks to the project in order to generate interest and curiosity. He also said that weekly tweets and even little bits of content on a daily basis also helps.
How do you define your audience? Mom mentioned that when you are exhibiting at the cons, assess who is visiting your booth. Brown was a bit more introspective and advised that your interest will define the audience. Edmund researches who liked his posts and if they are new, he will check out their home page to see if they are part of his target audience. Forrest also advocated the con circuit: individuals that stop at the booth are opportunities to make connections. Dillon added to not forget to network with fellow creators. And Nohelty finished up the hour by adding connections made face to face are crucial to building your audience.
Panel photography by Michele Brittany.