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Selling Your Dream

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At an SDCC panel, ComicsPro offered their advice on how to get your Indie comic into comic book stores.

Just before my departure for the San Diego Comic-Con a couple of weeks ago, I got the news that Diamond had canceled distribution for my recently published trade paperback, Adrenaline, the title I had finally completed after 3 ½ years. It didn’t get enough orders to reach the new minimum, so they would be canceling any orders it did get and my book would not be distributed to any comic stores.

As dream-killing as this may sound, I wasn’t completely surprised. This has become a common story in the independent comic book publishing world lately with the combination of the poor economy and Diamond’s new minimum order threshold. I thought that I had a better chance with a complete trade paperback; I mean wouldn’t stores be willing to at least fork out in a one-time order, no commitment, for something that would have an infinite shelf-life? I guess not. There must be a line drawn by retailers between what is worth ordering and what isn’t and clearly my book was on the wrong side of that line.

And as chance would have it, the one panel discussion I decided to attend at Comic-Con was hosted by ComicsPro, an organization of comic retailers, on how independent publishers and creators can get their comics ordered by comic shops. Yes, it was late for Adrenaline, but I wanted to hear what the decision came down to for my own future reference and too be able to pass on the advice to other indie creators who might be in the same boat as I.

My first lesson came as soon as I opened the booklet they handed out. There was my answer in black and white. Retailers had little interest, it said, in ordering a $19.99 graphic novel by unknown creators that didn’t have any significant buzz going for it. That description fit my book to a T. Silly me. What was I thinking?

Clearly, I was the type of publisher they had designed this panel for, as it really brought to light some of the things I hadn’t known about the thought process of retailers as they do their ordering. The members of ComicsPro really put in the effort to clearly define what they wanted publishers to do so that they would order their comic or TPB. And as much as I appreciated the information, there was a part of it that came across like, “If you’d just make the comic we know we can sell, there wouldn’t be a problem.” A reasonable request, surely, but not exactly the epitome of creative freedom dreamed of by aspiring artists as they blaze their own path of individual creation.

Still, if the goal is to get orders, then these were the guys to listen to. So what did it come down to? The greatest misconception I had suffered from was the notion that retailers took at little time to consider each of the 600 new comics and TPBs each month and judged their orders on the information provided in the listing (the cover image and 50 words or less to describe the product that Diamond allots us).

But according to the panel, retailers will gladly breeze past as many listings as they can. As one owner of a chain of comic stores put it, if no one has specifically come in and requested one of the small press or indie titles, he doesn’t order it. In reality, retailers go through the catalog as quickly as possible, skipping as many books as they can without a thought, to save their time for those they have a specific reason to consider.

Now that’s a lot to ask from a publisher, to get people all over the country so excited about an upcoming book that they’ll make the effort to go into a comic shop, get the managers’ attention, and make a specific request 2 months before the book even comes out.

This system might be effective with the more compulsive mainstream fans who go to great lengths to make sure they know what’s coming out ahead of time and want to make sure they get every issue, but as an independent publisher, most of what we do is meant to appeal to that casual fan off the street. We’re bringing new people into the field, and they don’t come armed with advance order sheets and checklists.

So what was ComicsPro’s suggestion for how to get these people to request your book? They stressed the importance of having a Facebook or MySpace page. As a matter of fact, the retailers on the panel looked at those of us who didn’t raise their hands when asked who had one of these pages as if there was no point in even trying to help us.

The idea is you get one of these Facebook or MySpace, or some other social networking page, and then you get as many “friends” for your book as you can. Then, when you put out the word (two months before our comic comes out), your “friends”, like an army of soldiers, march to their local comic stores with the advanced ordering instructions to inform the retailers that they want to buy your book.

But as an addendum, ComicsPro warns against sending out what they call “shills”, or supporters who go around to comic shops to spread the word but don’t necessarily intend to buy the book from every shop they visit. To prevent this situation, which will damage retailers’ trust in small publishers, ComicsPro recommends having these supporters pay for the book in advance.

So essentially, the secret to getting your books ordered by retailers is for to gather all the fans that will want to buy your books, give them directions on how to order it from a store, and instruct them to pay for it on the spot.

Wouldn’t it be easier to sell it myself on that social networking site? And all of this certainly makes the idea of selling the book as a digital download more appealing. I mean, how easy would it be to just include a link for my “friends” to click on?

At the end of the day, I’m glad that ComicsPro was willing to make the effort to collect this information and present it to us. I appreciate their willingness to be so candid. I just don’t know how it really helps me do anything differently. As the public service message at the end of the G.I. Joe cartoon put it, “Knowing is half the battle.” But could someone please tell me what the other half is?

###

Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, and writes and draws layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series.
© 2009 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com
www.awaveblueworld.com

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