I recently sat down to have a conversation with Kevin Mellon. Kevin is the artist on Thirteen Steps (written by Phil Hester and Chuck Saterlee), Gearhead, and the upcoming Cupid (both written by Dennis Hopeless.) He is an amazing talent and has a deep passion for the industry. I talked with him about his experiences marketing his independent books:
Hudson: In discussing comics marketing with you, you’ve talked about the importance of hyping your book by “sending a pdf preview of your book to every creator and publisher you know.” Can you talk a bit about your experience with this?
Kevin: It’s something that we did a little of with GEARHEAD but are going to really test out on CUPID (working title). With GH, we put all four issues up as pdf’s on a “secret” site that we could send links to retailers and industry pro’s, and people who emailed us about not being able to get the book at their local comic shop.
With Cupid we plan on sending out the first chapter to anyone and everyone that wants it. We plan on printing up ashcans to send to anyone that wants a physical copy of the first chapter, and we plan on making sure that both pdf and printed copy have in very bold plain print how they can get ahold of us and the full book.
If you have confidence that the material is good, there’s no reason to hide it. You don’t have to give away the farm, but letting them taste the eggs and the milk is the best way to get them to buy the chickens and the cows. ;)
With Cupid, is the “first chapter” the entire first issue?
Cupid will come out as an OGN, so we’re going to provide the first 25 pgs of a 144 pg OGN for free online. It’s akin to studios putting out the first 8 or 10 minutes of a film online or in theatres.
Is it possible to provide a full issue up front online and still boost sales? I believe Boom! Studios had some success with this recently.
The success for Boom was news headlines and a shitload of downloads that might translate into some sales in the direct market. i also am curious to see how well this does for them.
Again, it very much comes from the “if you think it’s good, don’t hide it” school of thought. If it’s good, and worth it, the people that truly want it will pay for it. People are more…. ethical than we give them credit for.
As we’ve seen in music with Radiohead…
A lot of people in comics, more amateurs, are thinking that the Radiohead example is a good example of how to conduct business in the future. They tend to forget that Radiohead is an established band that has already sold millions of albums worldwide. That sort of success for a straight to download album will not and does not translate to lesser bands, as evidenced by the “Niggy Tardust” album by Saul Williams. Despite it being produced by Trent Reznor.
How this applies to comics is, you could probably still sell a hundred thousand copies of New Avengers and still put the issue out for free online at the same time. it’s going to sell what it sells, no matter what.
But for a company like Boom… they already had guaranteed orders for *I think* 6-7 thousand copies, so they didn’t lose any money putting the book out for free online. Retailers had already paid for the product. Which is why they were less than thrilled by boom’s decision to do what they did. Ultimately I think that the advertising in the form of articles about it did exactly what boom thought it would do and helped the book gain an audience that it wouldn’t normally have had and helped sell through at the shop level because of people who normally wouldn’t have looked it in the eye to pick it up just cause it had some buzz.
What is the benefit of sending the preview out to creators?
The more people you have singing your praises, the better. If we can get someone like Jason Aaron, or Tony Moore to recommend us/our book(s) in a public forum, then we have the opportunity to reach their audience, which is not currently available to us.
Phil Hester did the intro to the GH trade, and I fully plan on hyping that up when we promote it being out. There are a few people who will buy it for that reason alone, and even more that will at least give it a look based on that. Plus feedback from people up the food chain is never a bad thing.
It also helps if they’re familiar with your work when you meet them at conventions. If you walk up cold at a con, then you’re just another fan. if you walk up and they have a frame of reference for you/your work… then that’s an easy introduction and common ground because they’ve been in your shoes.
I plan on getting as many “pull quotes” from as many creators as i can. the more backing of the people in the industry you can get, the better chance you have of people taking chances on unknown creators like us.
I’ve been shot down a few times when asking creators, both in screenwriting and comics, to take a look at my stuff because if the work isn’t published, there’s a liability for them if they look at it. Do you only send out the promotional materials for your book once you have a publisher?
Yeah. Pros are afraid of looking at unsolicited material just like publisher’s are. They don’t want to be accused of stealing your idea should they develop something similar, or be developing something similar.
Once picked up by a publisher, who is it most important to market to at that point?
A) Fellow creators.
B) The small portion of the audience that reads diamond’s previews catalogue.
C) Most important of all, retailers.
Go to a convention some time, and find a retailer. Then take him around to all the artists and publishers booths and make sure that he mentions that he’s a retailer at some point. You will never, in any other situation, see grown men throw themselves at another human being that is not a naked woman so shamelessly.
Retailers are the ones that pay for your books to be on their shelves, so it’s them you have to sell to the most. Consumers assume they are the ones paying you for your books, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Retailers choose what and how much of a product they want to carry, and then pay for that product to be on their shelves. If your retailer never orders certain indy books, it would be possible for you to never know they existed in the first place.
How do you contact retailers? Send an email to every store you can find an address for? Snail mail a hard copy to a list? Or just market to ones you already have a relationship with?
YES. All of those things. Make new relationships, firm up existing ones.
There are online lists of retailers, and there is a message board that is “just” for retailers. But i think anyone can join, you just have to go through an approval process. I have seen the site and have friends who are on it, i just haven’t joined it.
Is the comic market so small that there aren’t necessarily “target audiences.” Is it just “the comic audience” or do target niche audiences exist?
The comics audience is just like any audience. They have the fact that they like comics in common, but sometimes not much else. And, like regular print novels, and television, and music and movies, comics are full of sub-genres of books and the fans that will read only that type of book.
You don’t market a straight to trade black and white book about relationships to a person that mainly buys monthly single issue capes and tights fare. If you do, you better have a good selling point geared specifically toward that individual after finding out what they like beyond the big pecs and tits rags.
How do you reach those niches?
You reach them by looking for them, and they for you.
It’s the band/music analogy again. If you like a band, you tell others. The band wants people to like them so they promote to people that like the same genre of music that they play. It either grows or falters from there.
Comics are like anything, the best over all way to reach new audiences is word of mouth and the absolute best way is by making good product that you make as widely available as possible (see first answer on pdfs). That alone will do you more than yelling at anyone that might listen.
How are podcasts and internet review sites changing how you market independent comics?
That is how you market independent comics. That and talking to retailers and creators and fans online and at conventions.
How does marketing differ for periodical books vs. TPB’s vs. online comics?
Periodicals: the best marketing you can have on a monthly book is to be monthly and get past your first year of publishing. Mini’s are hard, the sales attrition from the first issue to the 3rd, 4th issues is so high that unless the book did over 5000 copies on the first issue, there’s a chance the fourth issue will not break even, let alone make money.
TPB: Trades are such that you have to market for the long haul as well, but a different long haul. You have to convince both consumers and retailers that your book is not only worth 12 to 20 dollars in fell swoop, but that it’s worth them paying that much to have it sit on their shelves for a possibly lengthy period of time.
Online: Be regular, and find a niche that you can exploit. Anyone can do an online comic about their shitty job, but doing an online comic about your shitty job from the point of view of a trashcan? That’s different. Like any medium, any art form, have a voice that is yours and unique. Be regular. Be on time. Be consistent. Internet users who read comics are just like monthly singles buyers who go to comic shops. They check on their favourite reads constantly, and await the next installment eagerly. The only way to satisfy that is to satisfy that need for regular consistency.
You can check out Kevin’s work and blog at www.kevinmellon.com.