Ladies, Ladies, Ladies!: How To Host A Women-Only Event At Your Local Comic ShopA column article, Kate Or Die by: Kate Leth
There are few moments I've enjoyed more than last month when I helped host a women-only night at my comic shop, Strange Adventures. The event was a huge success; the shop was packed to the rafters with guests, volunteers, comic fans and newcomers alike. We had book signings, cupcakes, giveaways and an atmosphere unlike any other. I'd been hyping the event online through various social medias, and some blogs were kind enough to post links to it and promote it. When people really took notice, though, was afterward. I put up a selection of photos taken during the event, and my inbox lit up overnight. A dozen-odd staff members and regular customers of shops all over the world were shocked at just how well-attended it was. We had easily over a hundred women come through during the two-hour window, which is a lot for a space about the size of a living room. Rather than responding to each shop separately, I thought I'd lay it all out here. Read it, take it to your LCS, and maybe try something different! Many other comic stores have had lots of luck with Ladies' Nights, and it's a fantastic way to bring in a crowd that might not normally have a reason to stop by.
What You're Going To Need
Guests: There's no better way to bring customers into the shop (without a half-price sale) than hosting an artist signing. Look around your area; if your city is host to a female artist (or two, or ten), ask them if they'd be willing to come! Even if they aren't a published author or don’t have much to sell, having them around to answer questions or recommend books is a huge asset. If it's within your budget to bring in an artist from out of town; go for it. If you know that a creator is coming to visit in a few months' time, contact them and ask them if they wouldn't mind scheduling a second signing during the Ladies' Night.
Treats: We had cupcakes, cookies, veggies and booze-free drinks aplenty, and they went over splendidly! I don't recommend the combination of alcohol + food around comic books, and I'd avoid anything too greasy for the same reason, but I leave that decision up to you. Several volunteers were more than happy to bring a contribution, so ask around! One of our artists made us three dozen rainbow cupcakes! It was amazing!
Volunteers: If your shop, like mine, has a small number of female staff, make sure you have some volunteers to wander about and help customers locate items. The best volunteers we had were regulars who already knew where most things were and ended up selling a surprising number of their favourite books! If the event goes well, you'll likely be stuck behind a counter or helping out the guests most of the time. It's great to have a couple extra sets of eyes. More importantly, their tastes will be diverse. You may not know about manga or webcomics, but someone will! You can cover more bases and that sells more books.
Prizes: Between signings, we did trivia to give away books and original art. Have fun with it! The alternative to this is door prizes, or having customers fill out a ballot and drawing names for prizes. Tips I learned from my boss: Do a draw every twenty minutes or so keeps people milling about. If you draw too early on, customers who have made purchases may leave right afterward. Keep them going at regular intervals throughout the night as an incentive to stick around!
A Signing Area: If your shop has the space, a dedicated table for a guest or featured creator is great. That way they have a place to present their work and interact with fans without being bumped into by other customers. It feels exciting! Keep a volunteer on this area to fetch pens/water/ink for the guest, and just in case a fan gets a little too excited. Someone with moxie and a good left hook is best. (kidding!)
A Door Person: The flagshop store for Strange Adventures, in New Brunswick, uses both a red carpet and velvet rope (borrowed from a local theatre) for their Ladies' Nights. They also have a bouncer! It may seem silly, a bouncer for a comic book store, but it can be useful. People wandering the street may get inquisitive and try to barge in, and nothing makes a group of ladies in a 'safe space' feel more uncomfortable than a boisterous group of dudes. It also gives the event an air of glam!
Gift Bags: Not a necessity, but definitely a plus. We put together bags advertising Free Comic Book Day (upcoming on May 5), but see what works for your store! Gift bags needn't be full of expensive items. We asked around town for donations or pamphlets from local shops and got a whole host of goodies. Businesses nearby gave us buttons, pencils, stickers, coupons and condoms! We threw in comics and postcards. It ended up being a pretty sweet selection of bonuses. My advice, as the retailer, is to give these out with purchase and not to advertise them too heavily in advance. Customers may complain about not getting a bag if they've heard about them beforehand and assumed they'd be free, but will be grateful and surprised if they receive one at the cash.
Bonus Activities: The next Ladies' Night I'm attending is putting on a formal tea service in the shop. Get creative! Use the space! Find reasons for newcomers to explore and interact with it. You could do workshops, have a sketching space, play a movie, set up a gaming table--whatever works for your store. You want to please your regulars, sure, but even more important is the lasting impression on first-time visitors. It's not hard to make a Ladies' Night feel exciting, and honestly, there's not much more fun than being in a room full of women talking about art. Still, it can't hurt, and it's great publicity.
Sales and Deals: We usually do a store-wide discount during the event, or specialize it to books and comics only. It works!
A Feature Section: Dedicate a rack or two to comics for and by women. If you're the lady running the event, make sure it's comics you can sell. This means ones that you've read and enjoyed, or can at least recommend knowledgeably. Ask your volunteers and fellow staff to contribute their favourite titles, so they can do the same! It's fun to have your picks on display, and gives everyone even more reason to feel like part of the community. Make sure you have lots of copies of early volumes of Y: The Last Man and Fables. Seriously.
How To Promote It
Word of Mouth: A large percentage of attendees to our event were folks who knew the shop or were friends of friends. Advertising with posters and ads is great, but hearing about it from someone whose opinion you trust is more of a sure bet. Tell everybody. I recommend giving yourself a month between announcing and hosting a Ladies' Night. You want a lot of people to know about it without thinking it's a long way away and forgetting to come. Tell everyone you know. Relentlessly.
Social Media: I can't stress this enough. A Facebook event is great--invite as many people as you can. Several women came to ours that I forgot I had even invited and wouldn't have suspected would come! If your shop has a Facebook group, invite everyone. You'll get a lot of REALLY annoying comments like "I would come, but I have a penis!" from male members, but try to remind them that they can help out by referring it to their sisters, wives, coworkers, daughters, friends, etc. Don't feed the trolls. Send out a message reminder about four days before the event, briefly outlining the plans and guests. Try and get it featured on women-friendly or comic-centric blogs! It's always a Good News story, and people lap it up. You won't find it too hard to get noticed. Tweet it! Ask comic artists with a wider audience if they wouldn't mind sharing a link. Ask to be on a comics podcast!
Local Press: Getting an ad or feature in a local university paper is great, because it will reach students who might not even know that their area has a comic shop. Try sending a note about it to your local papers, especially the alt weeklies. Again, good news story. Hometown journalists love positive features with a bit of a nerdy twist. It's like sweet, fluffy Page Five gold. Roll with it. This is best if your shop has a small customer base that you're looking to increase; you can really use it to raise awareness for the business itself.
Postering/Handbills: If you can get a staff member or local artist to do up a poster for the event, go for it! Print a smaller version and hand it out in the shop. Leave some in local coffee shops and art supply stores. Ask your volunteers to poster different areas around town that you might not have thought of. Make bookmarks or stickers! The best possible situation is to have the poster done an artist who will be signing at Ladies' Night, so you can have prints done up for them to autograph! It's a very cool souvenir. Another idea is to have t-shirts done up for the staff and volunteers, if it's within your budget and time constraints.
Window Displays: If your store has street or mall-facing windows, consider filling them with books by and for women. Fill it up with classics (Birds of Prey, Fun Home, Persepolis, Supergirl, Bone, Batman, etc) and newer titles (Fairest, Batwoman, Conan, Wonder Woman, Adventure Time, Fatale, etc) along with a poster or sign announcing the time & details of the event. I think it's best to do this about a week and a half to two weeks before it happens. Generate interest before it gets stale!
What You Might Have To Deal With
The Internet: Regular customer Tim Hanley wrote a blog post a few weeks before our Ladies' Night, talking a bit about the even and sexism in comics. It generated a massive response after one commenter called us sexist and claimed to be contacting the media about getting us shut down. Obviously, he or she was a bit crazy, but it did wonders for publicity. Some women who came across it said that it made them decide to come out after all, just to prove him wrong! If you're lucky, you won't have to deal with that stuff. I only mention it so that you're prepared. Obviously, his plan did not work. Nobody actually called or came into the store to do anything about it. Classic internet.
Problems: A guest might cancel, the weather might turn, a celebrity might pass away. You may have poor attendance your first time around. That's okay! Don't let it get to you. Our Ladies' Nights have gotten bigger each time as word spreads of the previous ones. They're a work in progress, but a damn lot of fun. The worst than can happen is that you and a small group of your lady friends will sit around eating cake and talking about comics. It's not so bad!
Ladies' Nights are, admittedly, totally sexist and a cheap money grab. They're also a lot of fun, a great place to meet people and a fantastic bit of PR for your business. Feel free to use the comment section to tell us about your experience with starting a Ladies' Night in your LCS! Stock up on popular titles and comebacks such as, "What do you mean, we should host a Men's Night? That's every night of the year in this industry" and you'll be all set. Good luck, and have fun.