Customer service is one of the most overlooked aspects of publishing and selling comic books. Even before everything went woke, there were a group of self-entitled, holier-than-thou artists I saw at the indie comic cons. These people were “too important” to engage with the fans, and they resented even having to go out in public to interact with them. Backstage, they would sometimes even make fun of their own fans— Not in a fun way, but in a mean, resentful way that would make me turn to them and say, “If you hate your fans, why are you doing this?!”
Providing customer service to fans is something you can do that the Big Two comic book publishers can’t do. I used to joke at my table, “I made an effort to come out here today, but Stan Lee didn’t!” (Stan was pretty excellent to the fans, it’s a joke.) Today’s “big-time” creators are too big for their britches, but you don’t have to act that way. Here are 20 Ways Creators Can Be Better at Customer Service Than the Big 2.
- Know Your Product
Your colleague at the corporate comic book company is specialized in their field: artist or writer, with the occasional editor and publisher thrown in. Most don’t know much beyond their particular specializations. And since Marvel seemed to push a hiring practice of recruiting non-fans who have never worked on a comic book before, you can use that to sound knowledgeable.
Know your book, your characters, the craft, the publishing, the prices— Everything. That kind of confidence, when you speak, makes the fan (your customer) feel like they’re dealing with someone that’s not wasting their time. If you’re invested in your work, so is your potential new fan. Be able to answer any question about your comic book.
- Have a Clear and Concise Presentation
I’ve talked about this in previous columns, but it bears repeating— Movie people have what’s called a “logline” for a screenplay. It would be best to have the same thing for your comic book. When fans are walking by your table at a comic-con, they often keep walking— They’re scanning the area, waiting for something that catches their eye. You might get them to stop if you have a clear, concise, one-sentence pitch that catches their attention. You might have less than 30 seconds to make your pitch, so make it short and precise.
My current pitch: The Pineys is about a family of hunters that hunts the Jersey Devil.
Now there’s way more to the stories than that, but if the potential new fan stops, I can always elaborate. But if the person doesn’t stop, it doesn’t matter. Look them in the eye, offer up some promotional handouts, and make your pitch. They’re likely interested if they move close to taking the promotional flyer, and you can keep talking. Follow the rest of my advice, and you might make a sale.
- Be Ready to Make Transactions
Have change for whatever your prices require. I used to round to the nearest nickel, but today I try to round to the nearest dollar. I keep plenty of singles on hand when I go to shows. You don’t want to be caught out with no change.
Have a credit card app to process credit card purchases. There are plenty now, and they are so easy. I prefer to type in the number manually, but you can get a scanner. Log in when you get to the show, and always have your phone handy.
Bags are also a good idea if you have enough merchandise to need them. At a comic book show (especially in New Jersey, where cheap plastic bags were outlawed by the idiot despot that rules us), many fans will bring their backpack or cart, but it’s nice to give the customer the option if you can get a hold of some bags. Better yet, if you’re pushing an entire line of comics, you might want to spring for custom-made, printed bags with your company logo on them— So it’s a convenience and advertising.
- Have a Look
As I’ve said in previous columns, it looks like you want to be there. You also need a “look.” Whether it’s “excited artist” or “friendly creator,” or if you’re cosplaying as one of the characters— Look like something. Don’t just roll out of bed and shuffle off to Comic-Con; dress like someone people want to meet and talk to.
- Be Positive, Friendly, and Excited
If you’re going to be negative, hostile, and low energy, why even go to the con? Bring your energy up and talk to people like you’re happy to see them. (Whether you are or not.) Positivity breeds more positivity; excitementment generates excitem, whichthat can translate into a sale.
Some creators have anxiety about interacting with people at all. Introducing yourself is expected if you’re at a signing, event, or comic book convention. Think of yourself as a fan. What’s more uncomfortable? Walking into a room with a guy at a table full of comics who avoids your glance and doesn’t talk or a creator that says, “Hi.” That’s all you really have to do. I usually say good morning or hello; fans either stop and chat or move on. Once you do it enough, you’ll get used to it, and it will be second nature.
- Price Your Comic Sensibly
You may not have too much control over this, especially if you’re a small publisher going through Diamond Distribution. (If you’re not, you probably could keep your comic a dollar under the current $4.99 cover price.)
The formula works like this: Whatever the comic book costs you per unit must be doubled or more. (If you go through Diamond, it’s doubled and then doubled again.) That’s why it’s essential to find a printer that can give you a reasonable rate and drive the per-unit cost down as low as you possibly can.
If you can’t offer a lower price, offer a higher value. If your comic is going to be $4.99, but adding 8 or 16 pages won’t cost much more, do it. Then make sure you advertise the page count. You probably have no ads as a small publisher, so advertise that. “48 pages, no ads!” This was a successful tactic used by retailers and by comic book publishers in the past. Use it.
- Have a Contact Point
There should be a central nexus point for fans to contact you. Ideally, it should be a website you have complete control of. If you don’t have one yet, the next best thing might be a Facebook Page, a Reddit room, YouTube Channel, or something in the alt social media like Minds, Saidit, or Rumble.
In the old days, I’d use a P.O. Box, but no one really uses mail anymore. It’s good to have business cards apart from the ones you give to fans. Business cards can have a direct phone line to reach you, which you may not want to give to every rando who reads your comic.
Whatever contact point you do create, please don’t make it issue-specific. Make it specific to you and your publishing now and into the future. So if you have a publishing name (I used South Jersey Rebellion Productions), use that. Your current comic book might end, and you’ll want to continue with the same contact point to build it. Please ensure the website address is easy to remember (Like ThePineys.com) and put it on all your flyers, promotions, comics, and handouts.
- Pursue Your Audience
Identify your audience and then go where they go. For me, it’s easy— Anywhere in South Jersey is Piney-country because people here grow up with the story of the Jersey Devil. But even so, I tend to target horror cons, comic cons, and Halloween events first and then everything else.
If you have a superhero comic, you should start with the comic book stores and comic-cons, but if you have an additional angle— Say sci-fi superhero, there’s a world of sci-fi cons and events you should also pursue. Understand these genres are a bit niche, so when you’re creating stuff, you might keep in mind the broadest audience possible.
If you have, for instance, a patriotic superhero that’s also a veteran— There are many events, holidays, and places to promote. Military bases sometimes have stores, and if you can get yourself through what I hear is an arduous bureaucratic process— You might be able to sell on base.
Even at the comic-con, keep your eyes open. If you see someone that looks like a person who would read your comic— For instance, you have a fantasy comic and a fan walks by with a dragon t-shirt— Reach out. He’s probably not just wearing that because he found it on the floor.
- Be Professional at All Times
It’s OK to joke around (as long as you’re positive and not picking on anyone), but you must always maintain an air of professionalism. That means you treat going to a con or an event like a job— As if you had a boss that would reprimand you if you did something wrong.
Show up on time, be prepared, be positive, work the entire time you’re expected, and be polite to the fans even if they are rude. You have to hold yourself to a higher bar than the fans. Don’t get into arguments or fights. If a serious confrontation develops, call convention security. Let them handle the unruly guest.
Be prepared to network with other professionals, but remember not all comic creators hold themselves to high standards. If another creator is goofing around, being unprofessional, or somehow taking things too far— Stay away. Stay far away. If they’re near you and you think you can help, you might politely suggest to steer them away from harmful behavior but don’t expect much. I’ve seen creators show up late, ignore the fans, use their table as a base to go to the con, take cosplay pictures, and eat lunch— There’s not much you can do about it. As long as they’re not bothering you, let it go. It’s their time to waste if they want to waste it.
- Don’t Lie
This is also a good rule for life, but it’s especially applicable to fans. You’re going to meet many fans, and they often spend a ton of time on the Internet. If you lie to one of them, you might get exposed, which would be uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you must expose yourself by blurting out all your family secrets but don’t cut corners by lying. It’s likely to worsen things if the fans find out.
Remember, too that you’re not obligated to share everything. If your book is late because you got into a fight with the artist or the inker dropped the ball— The fans don’t need to know. You can speak in generalities like, “Sometimes, the book just gets delayed.” or “Some of our crew got jammed up on a deadline.” You might even talk to your creative team and agree upon the language beforehand for something like that. If fans hear the same story from two sources, they’re more likely to believe it, and it makes it sound like you’re on top of the mistake to correct it. Fans get enough B.S. from corporate comic book companies. They don’t need it from you.
- Correct Mistakes
If you drop the ball, fix the issue. For instance, let’s say there is a misprint in the comic under the credits. Perhaps you’ll print stickers with the corrected credit and paste them seamlessly inside the comic book. Fans appreciate going the extra mile because it shows you care about your product despite making a mistake.
What does a retailer do if a customer has a bad experience? Try to make it right. Usually, that means giving them something. I have enough products that I can usually give away some comics. If you don’t, perhaps you can do a quick sketch or offer a discount, depending on the circumstances. Even if the customer turns you down, they might appreciate the effort.
And remember, a handful of a-holes in the world will not accept an apology or any kind of corrective mistakes. It’s best to agree with them, let them rant politely, and then they’ll be on their way that much quicker.
- The Customer is Always Right
This means, “Don’t argue with a customer.” If they have a complaint, listen and see if you can resolve their issue as best you can. If they want something you don’t have (like a completely different comic), you can politely suggest another creator if you know one that does something appropriate. If you’re doing your best and following my advice, it’s likely that the customer may be confused about your comic and need some clarification.
Now this doesn’t mean you must suffer verbal attacks from a bad-faith actor. That’s not a customer. These people are exceedingly rare, but they do exist. They usually don’t bother with honest, forthright professionals just trying to sell their books. But if someone has an axe to grind with you, try to take it off-site to discuss it.
- Never Denigrate Your Comic or Your Team
Self-deprecating humor is fun and easy. (Lord knows even a fat moron like me can do it.) It has no place in public in front of potential customers. Fans don’t always hear 100% of what you’re saying, so it’s easy to get construed incorrectly. Always be optimistic about your book and your creative team. Even if you’re having issues with your team, never bring it up in front of fans. You could make a potential customer uncomfortable, and no one wants to buy a comic from a group of people fighting with each other.
- Do Not Engage With Haters
You’re probably doing something right if you have a hater or several. Art can evoke emotion, but that emotion is hate for some people. Eric July has channeled his haters into promoting his comic on Twitter, and it’s usually quite amusing. Still, he doesn’t let it get him down. I think his most recent video sums it up best.
Haters mostly want attention because they are jealous of you. They are often individuals that tear down others to build themselves up. The trick is, don’t let them tear you down. If you engage on their level and get mad, that’s a small victory for them. Never let it bother you; that’s a huge loss. The idea is for them to get a reaction from you so you make a mistake or make yourself look foolish. If a hater approaches, be prepared to wait him out and maintain professionalism.
For instance, let’s say someone approaches your table. You are affable and put forth your best pitch to them. They loudly proclaim, “That’s stupid! What a dumb premise! And the art is awful! No thanks!” How do you respond?
The worst thing you can do is get mad and say, “No, it’s not! My comic is good!” You sound defensive, and now you’re stuck defending yourself. Let the hater sound off, and when he’s finished, calmly say something like, “That’s for stopping by. Have a nice day.”
At that point, you’ve put the ball in his court. Most likely, he’ll move on, but if he stays and continues to criticize you and your comic, who looks like a jerk? The longer he stands there and rants, the worse he looks if you don’t take the bait. Eventually, other fans around him might call him out. People don’t like jerks, and by maintaining your cool, they’ll feel some obligation to support you against the hater.
Just keep your cool and endure. Another way to look at it is this— Imagine a famous comic creator like Jim Lee at a comic show having a fan berate him like this. That fan would look ridiculous; the guy is obviously thriving and loved by his fan base. Lee would probably just chuckle at him because the hater is obviously insane. That’s precisely the attitude you need. Move on with your day; you have comics to sell to other fans.
- Kill People With Kindness
This is part of the process of “not engaging.” Not engaging doesn’t mean you can speak to people; it just means you have to be friendly and polite when you do. In fact, you can be so polite it infuriates haters and detractors alike. Ethan Van Sciver has done this on his Twitter feed to significant effect as his critics go off the deep end trying to get him to react.
In the comic book business and any business related to entertainment, you want a reputation for being the nicest person ever. By making a great effort to be kind and polite whenever you’re making a public appearance, the positivity makes you look good and your product. If people like you, they’ll support you, and how do they support you? Buy a book, friend!
Even the most ardent detractor, critic, or hater should be met with a smile and a friendly, “Having a nice day? It sure is sunny out today!” For the people that dislike you, this will drive them crazy. Be unflappable wherever you go.
- Be Prepared
We you get ready for a con or an event, have a checklist and check it twice. I like to look at my driving route on Google Maps the night before so I know exactly how long a drive I have ahead of me. I even look at the picture of the facility so I know the building’s front when I pull up. I don’t want to be late because I drove past the building. You want plenty of time to set up, relax, and prepare for your customers.
Little things like this will keep you calm, on time, and ready to go. Here’s a quick checklist for me:
- Got gas in the car and know where I’m going.
- Got books and comics in the trunk.
- Got my postcards with contact info to hand out.
- Got my backdrop, table covering, and table signs.
- Got plenty of pens and markers to sign books.
- Got my drink container and lunch.
- Got my hunter’s cap and vest.
- Got change for the tolls, the show, and a credit card app.
- Check the weather if it is an outside event.
- Got my table, chair, tent, and tent weights if I’m outside.
I’m ready to sell books!
- Be Disciplined
You’re at the comic book con to sell, not to have a good time and hang out with your friends. If you want this to be your job, you must treat it as your job. If your day job is working at a restaurant, you don’t just sit down and eat whenever you want. There’s an appropriate time and place for a break.
With comics, there’s no difference. Yes, you might need to go shopping if you’re a collector, and there’s no better place since you’re already at the comic-con, but that should be secondary. If you have time and if you made money.
Your focus is selling your comic, not taking pictures of hot cosplay girls, spending top dollar on convention hotdogs, shopping for collectibles, or hanging out with friends. That all can be done before the show begins and as it closes, if you have to do it at all. Prioritize your business by taking care of it first, and then, if you’ve done good, maybe you reward yourself.
It sounds like a small thing, but I’ve seen plenty of creators come to shows and barely even stay at their tables. They supposedly want to be in the comic book industry but are too busy having a good time at the comic-con to get anything done. How will you build a fan base if you spend precious time at a comic-con goofing off? And if you’re not doing it there, where will you do it?
It would be best to make time for your fans at a show. They expect you to be available at this one place! Sit there, be available for them even if they approach, and say, “I’ll be back in an hour to get your comic!” That’s not rude; that’s customers being customers. It’s their day, not yours.
- Be Your Best Motivator
I can’t be there to whisper in your ear, fellow creator. (Well, I could if you pay me, but that seems extravagant.) You have to psyche yourself up before every show and event. This is part of bringing your energy up.
When I did improv shows, I’d eat a Chocolate Junior Tastykake about twenty minutes before a show to get the sugar rush and a few bottles of Iced tea for the caffeine. Your mileage may vary. You might have your little pre-warm-up ritual, whatever it is. Maybe it’s to get up an extra hour early to make and eat a hearty breakfast; it’s perhaps to slug down a shot of bourbon, or maybe you look in the mirror and tell yourself something inspirational.
Part of being there for your fans is putting on a “performance” of sorts. It’s not just about selling them the comic. It’s about letting the fan get to know you and living up to some of their expectations. If you’re positive, energetic, and psyched, you’ve already covered most bases.
- Be Yourself
This is part of the not lying rule. Present yourself as you don’t try and be anything else. Yeah, you might show up in costume like I do, but that’s fine. I don’t present myself as an actual hunter unless I’m in character. I’m a writer here to meet fans and sell them on my books.
You’re not exactly yourself in the presentation. It’s more of your persona but it should be as truthful as possible. First, it’s just easier that way. If you’re presenting as someone you’re not, you’ll probably have to remember some phony back-story that you might forget. Second, you might get called out on your phoniness, which would be a disaster.
You don’t need to share your personal information or life with the fans. In fact, you probably shouldn’t beyond a polite, surface-version of where you live, who you are, and your home life. Ultimately, you want to be relaxed enough to sell comics to fans who feel like they got them from a real person. There are enough shysters out there who will rip off fans over a comic. If you come across as fake, that’s bad. You don’t want that association.
- Be Honest With Yourself
This is probably the most important rule. You don’t have the thousands of dollars Marvel and D.C. do for their booth. You don’t have many well-trained employees to sell your comics. Most likely, all you have is you.
Don’t try and be everything to everyone; you will fail— Not because you don’t have talent, you just don’t have the capacity. Think locally. Fans and customers are won over one at a time. It takes time, so lower your expectations. If you can go to a small show and make one dedicated fan, that’s a huge victory, even if your sales don’t reflect that immediately. And it’s better to talk to a handful of fans well than to try and get the attention of the entire convention and do it poorly.
And customer service is about treating people how you would want to be treated. If you’re nervous and have anxiety talking to people, you can train yourself to get over it. And if you stammer, the quickest recovery is to chuckle and say, “Sorry, I’m new at selling comics so directly. Normally, I’m at home at my drawing board.” That kind of humble admission will come off as genuine, and people appreciate that kind of honesty.
You can go too far the other way— Trying to please everyone in the room and talk to everyone. You don’t want to overextend, either. I’ve seen creators with megaphones burn themselves out in a matter of weeks because they can’t keep up a relentless pace.
Realistically, I can sell to 10% of the room at most medium to small comic-cons. Don’t try to conquer the con; make sure your table is as busy as possible. When you’re slow, kick up your effort. When you’re in the middle of a sale, don’t try and flack people out of the corner of your eye. Balance is the key.
You will make mistakes— That’s part of learning a skill. Providing customer service is part of any small business. These days, if you acknowledge that it is such, you’ll be ahead of the game and cruise past the self-entitled narcissists you sometime must compete with. Just remember, the customer is king, and the big two cannot provide the personalized customer service that only a creator can.
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