It’s a must listen for anyone who is a comics creator or publisher who is looking for ways to get ahead in marketing comics. Hibbs discusses the ways that comic book retailers look at ordering comics.
First, a bit about how comics are ordered:
Whether you like it or not, comic book stores are the life-blood of the comics industry. Without them, it doesn’t exist. And there is no major chain of comic book store. Each store has it’s own manager/owner who orders basically whatever books he likes or thinks will sell.
For current monthly comics, the only place you can order them is through Diamond Comic Distributors. Diamond provides a catalog a few months in advance for retailers to order from.
Hibbs says “Thousands of comics come out every month. If you spend more than 30 seconds considering it, you’ll never get your ordering done.” So, how can you best take advantage of those 30 seconds and convince those retailers with the power to make or break you to order your comic?
Here are some points from the interview for those of you, who like myself, are new creators facing the challenge of marketing an independently published book:
1) Pre-ordering is a must.
Even though retailers have control over the books they order, they certainly pay attention to their audience. A big factor in ordering new books is whether or not their existing customer base is pre-ordering the books. That is, a customer can come in and say “hey, I heard about this book, I’d like to pre-order it to make sure I have a copy when it comes out.” The retailer then takes down the order and probably will add more to it if the buzz is big.
If a store has 100 subscribers and 10 people pre-order a book, Hibbs says he might order 40 or 50 copies.
Therefore, your target market should be two-fold: comics retailers and comics readers. And those two are closely tied. Why would you just rely on the Diamond catalog (more on this later) to push your book, when pre-orders guarantee a large order from retailers? If you are marketing a book, all your energy needs to be going towards getting those pre-orders.
So, how do you get readers to pre-order books? Great question. I’m just getting started in this industry, so I certainly don’t have all the answers. But with my experience in marketing it’s about two things: A) word-of-mouth and B) ease of ordering.
Once Strongsville finds a publisher, I plan on taking advantage of pre-ordering by implementing these ideas in the following ways:
Word-of-Mouth: One thing that is great about comics is the fiercely loyal community. And everyone is a critic. So, get your work out there. Post 5-page previews everywhere you can. Let the buzz build. Join online communities, and don’t just pimp your book, but immerse yourself into them and make friends. You’re not just selling a project, you’re selling yourself. No one is going to buy a comic from a salesman, but they will buy it from a friend.
Ease of Ordering: Create a website where customers can print out pre-order forms with all the information that a retailer needs to order. Provide a space where customers can email their retailers to pre-order the book as well. Make it easy for customers to “tell a friend” and recommend the book to others. Provide a link to all of this wherever the preview is posted.
Based on this interview, you cannot afford to miss out on the opportunity provided by pre-ordering.
2) Your work is what sells your comic.
“The single best thing a small press publisher can do is to send me a copy of the book.” says Hibbs. If it’s good, retailers will order it. If it sucks, well, then you better get back to the drawing board. Outside of pre-established characters or creators, the thing that is going to get books sold is quality.
Hibbs says that he prefers to read a hard copy of the book as opposed to a PDF. So, the thought is, if you think you have a quality comic and you want the work to speak for itself, then just send a copy to every retailer. However, this could get very expensive.
A couple of solutions:
A) Target your ideal retailer. Now here is where it gets fuzzy. I have no idea how to do this. I’m sure if you googled for more than ten minutes, you could find a list of all the retailers in the U.S. I would imagine it’d be possible to find the stores that sell the most books. The more indie books a store orders, the better for an indie creator. These are the stores you should target. If you can only afford to send out 100 books, target the stores that best fit your book. For Strongsville, I hope to target stores that sell to a high young adult and female demographic (probably hard to find).
B) Maybe you can’t afford to send out full books to 3000+ retailers, but you could afford to print that many postcards (which are super-cheap at any number of online printing companies). Showcase the quality of your artwork, with a great intriguing tagline or pitch and provide a website where the retailer can check out an entire issue online. Maybe even follow up with a phone call. Anything you can do to make it easy, personal, and higher quality.
When asked if a full-page ad in the Diamond catalog could help, Hibbs responds that if the work sucks, then it will certainly hurt it. If the work is great, but it’s art by a guest cover artist and doesn’t feature any work from the actual book, then it does nothing. But if it showcases the strong work of the book, then it certainly will help.
If you’ve got a quality project, it will rise to the top. However, every little bit of extra work you put in can only help. Get your book in front of readers. Chase after those pre-orders. Get your book in front or retailers. Make them aware of the quality of your book, make it easy to order, and sell yourself as a personality.
Thanks to Comics Radar for the great interview.