Graphic novels continue to be among the most circulated titles in libraries, and there’s a growing emphasis on outreach to the library market among comics and graphic novel publishers: they’re seeking more face-to-face meetings, more participation in miniconventions at libraries, and more library-targeted promotional materials. And more comics publishers than ever are going to this summer’s ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans.

The interest is mutual. At this year’s ALA meeting, the members of the organization’s Graphic Novel Member Interest Group will state their case to become a roundtable. While the difference between an interest group and a roundtable may not be readily apparent to a nonlibrarian, according to ALA membership specialist Tina Coleman, roundtables have more structured memberships and budgets based on member dues. If the GNRT is approved by the ALA, it can create resources including tool kits and best practices, or even create its own prizes, as the LGBTRT does.

“It’s not a done deal yet, but I am very hopeful,” Coleman says. “The members of the member interest group are very active and have done some very dynamic work.”

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Librarian Development at Conventions

Another growing trend is uniting the library world with that of comic conventions and festivals, as more major comics shows are including a focus on graphic novels in libraries in their programming. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) has long had a one-day symposium for librarians and educators, and in 2015, the Comic-Con International: San Diego added a five-day program at the nearby San Diego Public Library. Last year, the New York Public Library followed suit with a one-day conference held in conjunction with New York Comic Con, and this year, ReedPop, the organizer of NYCC, added similar one-day library events in Seattle for Emerald City Con and in Chicago for its C2E2 pop culture convention.

It’s a welcome development for all, says Gina Gagliano, who was recently named as the publishing director of Random House Graphic, a new graphic imprint at Random House Children’s Books. “The San Diego program is really growing and building every year, with more and more librarians and educators coming there,” she says.

And these events don’t just benefit publishers—they’re bona fide professional development events for librarians. A panel on this topic was held at C2E2 this year, and one librarian there told Gagliano that her library was closed that day so that the staff could attend and learn more about the comics market.

The rising interest reflects the growing attention that graphic novels are getting everywhere. But for publishers looking to work with libraries, methods can vary; traditional publishers expanding their programs into the market may adopt a different approach than comics publishers that distribute via the comics shop market (aka the direct market).

Before moving to Random House Graphic, Gagliano was associate director of marketing and publicity at First Second, Macmillan’s graphic novel imprint, and its library outreach program was much admired under her tenure. Libraries make up a third of First Second’s sales, according to Gagliano, and its focus on the library market includes attending the ALA meeting regularly and going to an increasing number of library shows and book festivals, including the Texas Book Festival in Austin. Gagliano says that much of this developed by virtue of being part of a large book trade publishing house. “[First Second is] part of a kid’s publishing imprint where libraries have always been a major part of sales,” she says. “Starting out within that framework gave us an automatic focus on that part of the market.”

First Second’s efforts in the library marketplace got an early boost thanks to a savvy campaign of successful submissions to literary awards competitions—and the good fortune to have a powerful book of high literary quality to submit. “We got really lucky in the first year we submitted all of our books for prizes: we won,” Gagliano says, citing Gene Luen Yang’s acclaimed graphic novel, American Born Chinese, which won the Printz Prize and was shortlisted for a National Book Award in 2006.

First Second has gone on to win a slew of awards for such titles as Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillierl, Marc Lizano, Greg Salsedo and Alexis Siegel (the Batchelder Award) and This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (a Caldecott Honor book)—both of which helped legitimize the medium at libraries and raise First Second’s profile.

American Born Chinese really opened a lot of doors for us and helped overcome the pockets of lingering prejudice that graphic novels aren’t real books,” Gagliano says. “First Second is unique in that we kicked off with immediate library acclaim and since then we’ve really tried to keep up standards of quality for every book that we publish.”

New York Review Books is an independent book publisher that expanded into graphic novels in 2016, with its New York Review Comics imprint. Publisher Linda Hollick has found success for graphic titles by working with libraries the same way it does for its prose line. As a small publisher, it is represented at shows by its distributor, Random House, and it participates in the ALA’s Book Buzz program even in years it doesn’t exhibit.

Though the NYRC line of graphic novels is a challenging one composed of highly literary European comics in translation, it’s still found fans among librarians. Dominique Goblet’s Pretending Is Lying struck a nerve last year, as did Nicole Clavoux’s The Green Hand and Other Stories.

“The reaction has been really strong,” Hollick says. “People seemed to be looking for material outside of superheroes and the traditional stuff that everybody knows about. They’re interested in writers who are very well-known in Europe but not here, and that’s part of our mission. Librarians appreciate that we’re bringing a wider range of titles, including a number of women writers.”

NYRC does outreach at an increasing number of comics arts festivals, including N.Y.C.’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival and TCAF, and is looking to participate more in other comics and library events.

NYRC and First Second have the benefit of being imprints of traditional book publishers when attempting to make inroads in the library market. But for comics publishers, getting into libraries has involved a steep learning curve—even for some companies that have been in the space for decades.

Libraries Are for Superheroes

DC Entertainment, the publisher of series featuring such well-known characters as Superman and Wonder Woman, has been attending the ALA annual meeting for a long time, and its backlist of classic graphic novels—including works by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman—contains many library staples. John Cunningham, DC’s senior v-p of sales, says, “It’s been a focus of our sales and marketing effort for a long time,” but that focus came in steps.

DC became an industry leader in library marketing by doing simple things, such as including Library of Congress numbers in its books. “That was a long time ago,” Cunningham says. “But I keep going back to that because it was so important in defining what our challenges were going forward. Coming from a traditional publishing environment, the thought of adding an LC number doesn’t faze you at all. But in an operation where it didn’t exist, you have to explain its importance and then create a routine.”

Cunningham, who worked in the book trade at St. Martin’s Press before joining DC, says dealing with libraries “is something that is second nature to traditional publishers, but it’s just not been part of the culture of comic book publishers.” He adds, “We looked at it and knew it was going to be a multiyear process to begin developing it as part of our sales reflexes.”

DC now has a robust library program created in conjunction with its distributor, Penguin Random House Publisher Services. And it will be taking full advantage of the program as the house organizes an ambitious slate of newly launched book-market-focused imprints: DC Zoom, a middle grade list of original graphic novels; DC Ink, a YA list; and Black Label, which will publish original graphic novels for adults. Significantly, DC specifically chose the ALA Midwinter meeting to announce the details of Zoom and Ink, rather than a comics convention, where its usual direct market announcements are made.

“Part of our overall concept was that these are books that we can sell in all markets,” Cunningham says. “But you have to have the school library market [in place] before you can expect mass or any other channel.” Even though DC is a leader in the comics shop market, those methods won’t work for the library market and book trade.

“If we had to predicate the launch of a book in print based on the Diamond previews solicitations schedule [a monthly listing of comics that direct market retailers use to order their stock], we’d be sunk,” Cunningham says. “But going out as early as we did [to librarians] is still serving the needs of the direct market by giving as much lead time for the imprint’s books as we can. I can’t have enough lead time to do something as revolutionary as this, in the right way.”

DC plans to participate in about 50 events hosted at libraries this year. Cunningham says library events are essential for marketing these books, especially now that DC is launching an expanded list of graphic novels for young readers. “We’re going to be very, very aggressive about this. A core part of our strategy is getting connected with writers and artists who have followings in middle grades.”

Though participating in small library-based miniconventions—a growing and popular trend in libraries—can be inexpensive, attending big events like the ALA meeting can be an intimidating investment for smaller graphic novel publishers. But it’s an effort that has to be made, says Peggy Burns, publisher of Drawn & Quarterly, a Canadian literary graphic novel press.

D&Q attends the ALA every year, as well as the Ontario Library Association’s Super Show. Both events got on the D&Q radar a few years ago. Like many graphic novel publishers, D&Q had been represented by its distributor, Macmillan Publishing, but it realized that presenting its list itself made the most sense. “Two years ago we went to the ALA in Orlando and it was just the most rewarding experience,” Burns says. “Librarians love to talk about books, and they love to tell you how they use your books.”

Showing up at these events has helped D&Q get its message out to librarians. “They were so happy to see us, because so many companies go with their distributor,” Burns notes. “We were the only publisher of our size there. Librarians get really excited when they find out we publish Lynda Barry.”

In recent years, D&Q has become more selective about which comics events it attends. But the house has found attending book festivals and industry shows even more effective for outreach. D&Q recently attended the National Conference of English Teachers, and next year it will go to AWP. D&Q books are now carried by the Junior Library Guild, a direct result of attending a library event, Burns recalls. “It’s diversifying our list. We can go to a comic book show and sell 200 units or go to a library show and sell 200 units, but that’s the long game.”

Recent library success stories for D&Q include Sarah Glidden’s Rolling Blackouts and Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim’s Poppies of Iraq, which was a Junior Library Guild selection. “These are the kind of books [with social relevance] that you know librarians will love,” Burns says.

First-Time ALA Attendees

Several graphic novel and comics publishers will be debuting booths at this year’s ALA meeting, an indication of the importance of developing one-on-one relationships with librarians.

Boom Studios (which is distributed by Simon & Schuster) will be a first-time exhibitor, but libraries have been a growth market for the publisher for some time. “It’s been organic growth until now, but 2018 is the first year that we’re actually making a real concentrated effort to do outreach and really engage more with the library market,” says Filip Sablik, Boom’s publisher. In 2016, Boom added Spencer Simpson, formerly of the bookselling chain Books-a-Million, to its team as sales manager to help with that outreach.

Boom’s first library hit was the Lumberjanes series, and it’s grown from there. “I wish we could take credit for its success in libraries as a calculated strategic choice, but the reality is that librarians found us,” Sablik says.

As with other comics publishers, Boom gradually learned how to pivot to the sales tools that are used outside the direct market, such as NetGalley and working with distributors such as Baker & Taylor and Ingram. “We’ve been building a contact list of librarians and influencers in that space,” Sablik says. “In terms of our strategy, we’ve come in very humble and asked a lot of questions.”

Simpson says that face-to-face meetings with librarians are essential. “It’s a matter of fostering those direct relationships, whether with comp lists or review lists, and listening to find out what they need.”

Boom’s appeal to libraries is also rooted in the diversity of its line. (Lumberjanes has strong LGBTQ content, as do many of Boom’s titles.) “The truth is that underserved audiences are looking for material that represents the world outside their window,” Simpson says. “And if we can do that with engaging, challenging material, I think success in the book market will come.”

Fantagraphics is another literary graphic novel publisher that is increasing its library outreach. Although it has long been represented at industry events by its distributor, Norton, the small house is finally executing a plan to ramp up its direct participation.

“Norton has fantastic library outreach, but we believe there’s a certain language for discussing comics with people who might not necessarily be familiar with our line,” says Jacqueline Cohen, director of publicity and promotions at Fantagraphics. “Right now, comics growth has hit critical mass, and it’s time for us to share that with librarians.”

The success of Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters last year helped Fantagraphics get on many more librarians’ radar, Cohen says. “People hear Emil Ferris on NPR and then go to the library and get it. That was a turning point with Fantagraphics being recognized by a lot of contemporary librarians.”

Although Fantagraphics is best known for its deep library of comics masters, including Daniel Clowes, Charles Shultz, and the Hernandez Brothers, Cohen says the recent title Hip-Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor was “one of the first books that we really started pushing for libraries, because it appeals to so many people outside of comics.” The publisher just started releasing a series called Disney Masters, which reprints classic European Disney comics, and Cohen is hoping it will appeal to families. “Not only are they great books—they’re sturdy hardcovers that will last a long time.”

Fantagraphics’ line is mostly adult (with a few outliers such as Peanuts and the Disney books), a category that libraries often have difficulty shelving. However, Fantagraphics hopes to expand into adult collections with books it will spotlight at ALA: Lorenzo Mattotti’s Garlandia and Gipi’s Land of the Son.

Like most publishers, Fantagraphics is gearing up to attend more library events in general. Fantagraphics’ first ALA will be exploratory. Cohen hopes to develop reading lists and guides for librarians, but this time out, she says, “I’m going to take a lot of meetings to see exactly what librarians need and want from us to better serve the market.” She adds, “It’s a matter of jumping in head first and getting the information directly from them.”

Manga at the Library

Meanwhile, the manga resurgence is on in libraries as well—but for manga publishers, there can be an even steeper learning curve to get information about new series to librarians. These publishers also face unique problems due to the length of many popular manga series, which sometimes run to scores of volumes.

According to Kevin Hamric, Viz Media’s senior director, sales and marketing, Viz has taken many steps to reach out to librarians, including a dedicated library catalogue and a “Manga 101” publication that explains the category’s terminology. Viz keeps updated lists of its top 25, 50, and 100 titles and house supplies of signage, including shelf talkers, to provide more info for libraries. It also participates in many library minicons, supplying samplers and tote bags as giveaways and doing webinars when feasible.

Viz has been targeting the library market for a long time, Hamric says, adding that sales to libraries have grown in each of the seven years he’s been with the publisher. “We’re very, very happy with that,” he adds. Using the digital library lending service Overdrive has helped with the shelving problems of lengthy series, he notes.

Though Viz is represented at library shows by Simon & Schuster, it also has its own booth. “We’ve found that librarians want to talk to the publisher directly because this is a very, very hard category,” Hamric says. “Many librarians are not aware of the hottest series—or, in some cases, the length of the series and the space needed to shelve it all. A lot of librarians have to listen to their patrons and consider what kids come in looking for.”

Hot series for Viz include My Hero Academia: “It’s blowing the roof off,” Hamric says. “Sales are way beyond our expectations. It’s by far our #1 requested and sold series in the library right now both on the digital side and the print side.”

Other popular Viz series, according to Hamric, include Assassination Classroom, Pokémon, Splatoon, Tokyo Ghoul, and perennials Naruto and One Piece, which sell “year after year, month after month.”

Like NYRC’s books, Viz’s books are nearly all translated, and it can be expensive to bring them over to the states; Japanese manga artists are also famously reclusive and some have stringent requirements for appearances. But Viz has worked closely with TCAF in past years to bring over such stars as Akira Himakaya and Taiyo Matsumoto, and this year it featured Inio Asano, whose stories of emotionally detached youth have found cross-cultural acclaim in the U.S. and Europe.

It’s a relationship Viz is very happy about. “We’ve worked with TCAF for years, their outreach is quite good,” Hamric says, adding that creators are treated very well.

As graphic novels continue to grow in acceptance and acclaim, most comics publishers know they need to be involved with libraries in some way, but some are still learning how to take advantage of the market. “I think, in the comic space, some people still have a hard time wrapping their mind around how institutional, educational, and library sales can be a massive amount of your sales,” Gagliano says. “There’s a library in every town in the United States, and if they all bought a book, that would be 20,000 copies right there.”