First Second creates a modern-day Bullpen Bulletins
Something has been going on at the First Second website. For about a year and a half to two years, the publisher’s marketing and publicity coordinator Gina Gagliano has been bringing personality to its blog with informative, funny and engaging posts that make me want to Make Mine First Second. Yes, there’s decidedly a lack of alliterations, but there’s an effortless style to the blog that harkens back to the classic days of Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins, as written by Stan Lee.
Gina was introduced to us in 2007, when First Second was just establishing itself. It was using Typepad for its blogging, and editor Mark Siegel was the primary writer. Gina’s posts generally stuck to limericks to promote new releases. Cute, and a unique way to talk about First Second’s books, but maybe too brief and structured so they didn’t really create a personal connection or invite conversation. But then somewhere around summer 2012, she began to become the dominant voice on the blog. As she took over, her posts became meatier, and she started to cover a richer variety of topics that have really brought the site to life in a unique way.
I’ve been using Gina’s first name because, like Stan Lee’s informal and casual tone in the classic Bullpen Bulletins of the 1960s, she makes you feel as if you’re pals talking about comics. But unlike Bullpen Bulletins, she drops the huckster/hipster routine. She doesn’t replace that by adopting the voice of a lofty, impersonal publisher. As First Second is a owned by Macmillan (which itself is owned by the Holtzbrinck publishing empire), one of the “Big Five” book publishers, this is probably what I would expect. Something corporate and dry. Fortunately, fortunately that isn’t the case. And she’s also not a constantly blaring promotional trumpet posting variations on “read our books” day and night. Instead, she sounds like a completely approachable and likable person that happens to sit on a large pink ball instead of a chair and has a thing for book spines.
One of the key shifts in the blog’s mission, and why it’s become such a worthy stop, seemed to be that its mission became not to just talk about First Second, but to provide value. Senior Editor Calista Brill, who is also a contributor to the blog, appeared to establish that with some early posts, and Gina has really run with it. Whether it’s been for fans of their graphic novels, or for creators who hope to be published by First Second one day, Gina has been giving information that’s actually useful.
For creators, her two-part submissions process in September 2012 gave very real advice on how creators could get their work seen at First Second. It wasn’t just a list of instructions on how to submit either. She shared the best practices she’s seen and a refreshing sense of humor. It doesn’t just stop there, though. She’s even posted about how to dress when meeting with a publisher. Even something simple like posting the correct email addresses at First Second sends the message that First Second wants to hear from its readers and fans. Gina even reassures that the generic-sounding mail@ address really does go to real people who will read it. But just in case, there’s also this earlier post on why you haven’t gotten a response yet. There’s even something for journalists, like a piece about how to request review copies and why publicity embargoes exist, that are written accessibly enough for non-journalists.
Being publishers of comics, there’s no shortage of visuals. Her commentary on book previews is always fun, as she enthusiastically takes us on a tour of the design of each new book. If you’re not already excited about Box Brown’s Andre the Giant biography, Gina’s preview should do the trick. One of my recent favorites is this compare and contract of a reissue of Anya’s Ghost by Square Fish with First Second’s original edition. She also does photo reports of conventions, like this recent stop at the ALA Midwinter Conference. And there’s even a fun trip around her cubicle.
The content for book geeks goes deeper than that, though. Thanks to Gina, I now know what book bands are (and that they even have a name). Somewhat more traditionally, there are interviews (like this Q&A between Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks) and guest blogs (like this one from Olympians author George O’Connor). Of course, this is getting into more traditional promotion strategy, but set within the context of the rest of the First Second blog, it works. If that was all First Second posted on their site, they would still be interesting but also a lot easier to ignore. Everyone knows when they’re getting pitched something, even when it’s something we’re apt to like. But when it’s surrounded by other content that isn’t talking about something you should buy, it makes it much easier to look around and not feel like you’re being eyed by a salesman.
This strategy is the same reason why comic shop owners are smart to chat up their customers, whether it’s about the books they’re buying or not. If we feel like we’re getting something out of an interaction, even if it’s a casual chat about the weather before we go back to work, we’re more apt to feel a loyalty to that interaction, and by extension, the shop. It’s the same thing Stan Lee was doing in the ’60s with his Bullpen Bulletins. By creating a colorful cast of characters and talking directly to Marvel’s readers, Stan Lee helped build a loyalty to himself, to Marvel Comics, and to their characters. Gina is doing the same thing for First Second in her own style and voice.