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Thursday, January 3, 2008

How To Get Shelf Space For Your Book

When I was a kid, I didn't really dream of becoming a graphic novelist. When I was in middle school, I sent fan art to Marvel, then strangely received a rejection letter in response. I was baffled--did they send rejection letters even to fans? Anyway, that was a long, long time ago during the era of rotary dial phones.

But now that my fate has taken an unexpected turn, I've devoted a good portion of my time to actually studying further how to create a story that's worth shelf space. In the past, I was working on simple instinct and logic, but the game has changed. I've invested in creative writing books from the bookstores and Amazon, and doing Web research just to crack the mystery open.

Why? Because for the medium to gain more ground, creators ought to do work a little harder to ensure that their works deserve the ground gained.

An interesting entry on Comics Worth Reading paints a picture that should serve as a wake-up call to a lot of independent creators. In the entry, Brian Hibbs of San Francisco shop Comix Experience defines one of two "dead weight" books, or those that waste precious shelf space.

"The first is independent books with no public awareness, no audience, no standout concept, no well-known creator. In short, books with no marketing and thus no sales, thrown out there on the “build it and they will come” theory."

There are comics shop owners who will, out of the goodness of their hearts, allow lesser known books on their shelves. But creators should realize that these owners are sacrificing a lot when they bring in an indie book. Shelf space is a retail establishment's source of income, and shops only have a limited amount of space. The prerogative of any shop owner is to move stock out of their shelves to earn money. The faster stocks move from the shelves to the hands of a customer, the more they earn.

So a creator should do their darndest to make sure their books fly. It's the most they can do to repay the graciousness of shop owners. (Come to think of it, comic shop owners should be more vigilant in screening indie books.)

What's the lesson here? When you have that big idea for your graphic novel, you should--MUST--think ahead about marketing. Writers send proposals to agents and publishing houses. Screenwriters send loglines and sequence treatments to producers. In these cases, writers and screenwriters would already know who the specific audience for their material would be, and how their stories would catch the audience's interest. They do this because they know there is only a limited number of books and films that can be produced within a calendar year, and competition is fierce.

As for comics and graphic novels, companies and creators are fighting over shelf space, and there's not a lot of that. Think about it, if you put together a solid program for marketing and present it to a comic shop owner, you'll have greater chances of earning the owner's favor. You may not sell a lot on the onset, but you're impressing upon a shop owner that you're looking after his welfare, too.

For more information about packaging your graphic novel for a specific market, you can look through my previous posts under product development.

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