8 Things This Indie Comic Learned at the American Association of School Librarians Conference

Legend of the Mantamaji at ALAThe first weekend in November found the Midwest Legend of the Mantamaji team in Columbus Ohio for the American Association of School Librarians Conference. It was a great opportunity to meet one-on-one with books’ best friends – librarians. Many times independent comics creators focus on consumer sales – the cons, through comic book shops and web sales. One often overlooked market for indies are school libraries.

Making inroads into schools can take time and resources that indie comics creators and small publishers may not have immediately available. Here are a few tips to make it easier:

1. Go with an outreach goal in mind as well as sales goals.

The difference between comic cons and conferences like AASL is with comic cons you go into the event with a certain expectation of immediate sales. AASL should be considered as an outreach opportunity. Many libraries who appear aren’t buying books in bulk right at that moment. Others must purchase through their various channels which can take time (more on that later).  Some will pick up a single copy of the book to take back and pass around to see if interest from their school, students and district is there. So while there are thousands of schools represented you likely won’t sell thousands of books — right then.

What you will have is the invaluable opportunity to meet with the decision makers and biggest advocates for books you’ll find. You are an in person, walking, talking advertisement for your books which is way better than any flat ad in a magazine.

2. Know your audience – school wise.

Is your book or series perfect for reluctant readers? What age groups is it appropriate for? What about nudity, diverse characters or instructional tie-ins?

What’s a reluctant reader? How do you know for sure the age group your book fits into? Research. Read what your buying audience reads to know what language to use to reach your buyers.

When we talked about Mantamaji that weekend we of course shared what the book was about and gave background on its creator Eric Dean Seaton who has extensive experience as a TV director for Nickelodeon and Disney which adds to the validity of the author and product.

Then we talked about the diversity of characters which is not just a big deal to us, but it has been covered by every major library publication for the last two years at least. The School Library Journal dedicated an entire issue to diversity in children’s books. And as an all-aged graphic novel, we wanted to make sure the librarians were aware the types of diversity in the series, not just racial, but gender diversity.

And the deal sealer? Letting them know that not only did the female characters have true agency in the story, they were also fully dressed.

We’re proud there are no sexy lamps in our books and the librarians realized the books work for a larger swath of their students.

3. Take advantage of the event app.

If the conference has an event app, download it and get active on it. Post info about your booth, contests, like and comment on what’s going on and spotlight cool things you see. Become a part of the event conversation instead of being just an exhibitor. If you don’t have time to get social (which is another post) then at least educate yourself on what conference attendees are passionate about and what they want to get out of the event. That way you can align your goals and message with the overarching messages of the event.

4. Conduct a contest.

Librarians love contests and giveaways — and for good reason. Even the biggest, most well-funded districts have to maximize their budget. Those freebies can easily become part of a prize pack for a reading contest back home,  or act as a small token of appreciation for all the work librarians do for their students.

Social media contests are fun and help you to be a part of the conversation happening online not only with everyone attending, but those watching from all over the world. “Take a Selfie & Win Books for your School” is an easy to run contest: participants take a selfie with your book, use the event and your hashtag and you track the hashtag and randomly select a winner.

Another option is the drop your business card or sign up for our email list and win books for your school. This contest allows you to continue to grow your email list while giving the attendees incentive to take a longer look at your book(s).

5. Decide whether you’re going to give away samples.

As mentioned before, some librarians will want to take a sample back to review with their team before they purchase. Know whether you can give away books beforehand and know how many you can give away. If giving away books isn’t an option have information ready for them to take back and make it better than a slip of paper. A brochure or heavy cardstock flyer is less likely to get crumbled and dumped post conference.

Our two-sided flyer is the size of a half sheet of paper and heavy gloss cardstock. On one side we have a great picture of the series and a few fantastic review blurbs, on the other side we have book descriptions, the ISBN-13 numbers and logos indicating where they books are available for purchase.

6. Reviews matter.

It’s not enough for the librarian to like your book, someone else has to like it too and in many cases certain professional review bodies. School libraries often have certain protocols in place for how, when and what books may be purchased. Several districts we talked with needed books that had been reviewed by at least two entities on their list.

We did some digging and found out who those reviewers were and if we had the ‘street cred’ those districts needed and they include:

Publisher’s Weekly
School Library Journal
Midwest Book Review
Horn Book
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Voice of Youth Advocates

7. Wholesalers matter.

Amazon, Baker and Taylor, Diamond Distributors and Ingram aren’t the only wholesalers schools buy from, make sure your books are in Follet and Makin as well. It may take some phone calls and working with your distributor, but it is worth it to make ordering your books as easy as possible.

8. Hardbacks matter.

Buying books for a school is an investment that needs to make it beyond a single school year so consider offering a hardback version of your graphic novel or trade for schools that will hold up to being popular.

With a little time and research your graphic novel can be read by school children all across the U.S. and beyond. Take the time to learn your market, and make those connections with libraries!