Comic-Con International isn’t just for comics. Publishers have long attended looking to show off their science fiction and fantasy authors. This year PW walked the floor, checking in with Random House, Penguin, Tor, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and the Hachette Book Group about how they use Comic-Con to market prose authors. From giving out advance reading copies and posters to hosting author signings and panels, prose publishers are more than happy to attend a convention crowded with more than 130,000 fans looking for books, as well as comics, games, movies, and TV shows.
Unlike BookExpo America or the American Library Association conventions, where the focus is on professionals, Comic-Con is primarily a consumer show, although it does have a lesser-known professional/trade component as well. But the show excels at offering fans access to the artists and writers they love. “It’s really one of the few places we get to interact directly with our readers, a huge cross section of them,” said Scott Shannon, publisher of Random House’s imprint Del Rey.
Random House had an expansive presence at Comic-Con, promoting books from a variety of its imprints that encompass science fiction, fantasy, comics, and gaming. At the convention, the publishing group launched Star Wars books author Drew Karpyshyn’s new original fantasy series by giving out 500 galleys of his first installment, Children of Fire. Random House also gave out 500 ARCs of Jason Hough’s new science fiction novel, The Darwin Elevator, set for release July 30.
While those might seem like large numbers for giveaways, they were nothing compared to Random House’s promotions for Pierce Brown’s upcoming science fiction novel, Red Rising, which will be published in February by the Del Rey imprint. RH gave away 5,000 galleys of Red Rising during Brown’s signing, through street team promotions, and at Del Rey’s booth. About the giveaways, Shannon said approximately 20% of Del Rey’s marketing budget is committed to conventions like Comic-Con.
HarperCollins was promoting the 2014 release of a film called Divergent, based on Veronica Roth’s novel of the same name, and Sandee Roston, Harper executive director of publicity, integrated marketing, said, “We were selling more books than ever before at our booth.” Staff from Random House’s Books for Young Adults were also working the crowd. The publishing group gave away 2,500 galleys while heavily promoting three books in the science fiction category: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Eyes of Minds by James Dashner, and Teardrop by Lauren Kate. Part of the publishers’ MegaVault series, all three authors were involved in signings and author panels.
For Sanderson, in particular, conventions and promotions like this re-energize his confidence in the book market. “It always surprises me when people costume my characters,” he said, noting the popularity of cosplay at Comic-Con. “The fact that I will do a signing at a place like this and draw long lines is crazy to me,” he said, before heading to a book-trailer reveal for his new book. “There always seems to be this doom and gloom about the book industry, but you talk to the fans, and they’re enthusiastic. Yes, they’re also playing video games; yes, they’re also watching movies—and there’s a lot more competing for their attention. But they appreciate the book still.”
Sanderson was also involved with Tor, a longtime exhibitor at Comic-Con. Tor didn’t launch any books at the convention, but it gave away 50 copies of first books from established authors like Sanderson and David Weber, and it did the same for new authors, including S.M. Wheeler, author of Sea Change—all to encourage readers to purchase the next books. Its biggest promotion by far, however, was Orson Scott Card’s book Ender’s Game, which has a film release in November via Summit Entertainment. In tandem with Summit’s panels and a mammoth promotional tent right outside the convention center, Tor gave away signed copies of Card’s book. Tor’s director of publicity, Patty Garcia, said book giveaways are key, especially when the books are the first of a series. “I tell everybody, it’s like crack, so you get hooked and want to buy the rest of the books. That’s been so successful that we’ve been branching out to authors we’ve launched in the last five years.”
Tor and other publishers emphasized the value of interacting with consumers at Comic-Con. Simon & Schuster, in a similar line of thinking, brought more than 500 ARCs to the convention, building buzz for Brandon Mull’s upcoming fantasy series, Five Kingdoms, which kicks off next spring. “These are consumers who will go out and buy the book—especially teen books,” said Lucille Rettino, Simon & Schuster’s director of marketing, children’s division. “We know teens listen to other teens. Also, launching a new series, this is the place to do it. If fans love the ARC, they go out and buy the next book.”
A few rows away from Simon & Schuster was Penguin Group. The house gave away copies of more than 20 books while it participated in a score of panels, from “What’s Hot in Young Adult Fiction” to “Paranormal Passion.” Surveying titles coming from the Young Readers Group, Penguin Young Readers, the adult and online groups and Rich Johnson's new InkLit graphic novel imprint, Penguin organized the panel “What’s Up with Penguin?” an annual opportunity to hype upcoming titles. “We get several hundred people in there who just want to listen to us talk about books that are coming,” said Colleen Lindsay, associate director of marketing at Penguin. “Getting right to the reader—getting the reader’s attention—is extraordinary.”
Penguin gave away a mix of approximately 7,000 ARCs and samplers, including those for such books as Melissa de la Cruz’s Frozen, out in September, and Aprilynne Pike’s Earthbound, out July 30. But one item that really set Penguin apart from book publishers there was its Comic-Con–themed Mad Libs book, part of a humorous, longstanding book series that invites readers to fill in the blanks with nouns, verbs, and such. Penguin gave away more than 5,000 copies. “Another thing about readers at Comic-Con International is that they’re not just reading science fiction and fantasy here,” Lindsay said. “They’re really ravenous for YA, middle-grade, crime fiction, and, surprisingly, romance as well. And I think some of the other publishers may overlook that stuff.”
For its part, Hachette Book Group was drawing attention with its limited copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling, released via Hachette’s Mulholland Books imprint. Before the convention, news hit that unknown author Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym of Harry Potter series superstar author J.K. Rowling, driving interest in the book through the roof and giving Mulholland Books’ marketing manager, Pam Brown, a chance to create gigantic buzz around the Hachette list. “I got 50 copies shipped to my hotel room, and we were giving out 10 a day,” she said. “The response has been so wonderful.”