Convince Retailers to Carry Your Comic
Ah, the Indie comic book. I have a lot of respect for people that make their own comics. You folks have about as hard a time making it big as a screenwriter or a novelist, and for a much smaller payout. You do it because you love it.
As a lover of the comic book medium I salute you and I’m glad you’re there. As a retailer with limited space and time, who has to pay rent and payroll every month, I’m a lot less enthusiastic. So I’m going to impart some words of wisdom to you about how to get that comic on a store’s shelves. As usual, this advice is not necessarily universal. My comic book store is a small space in a very high volume location, so I rely a lot on blockbuster titles. A spacious suburban store paying $5 a square foot (as opposed to my $140/sf) probably has a much lower threshold for what it’ll carry. But if you can convince me to carry your book, you can probably convince anybody.
So if I were an indie comic book creator, this is how I’d do it.
Make the cost worth the retailer’s trouble. It’s nice to think that there’s an unlimited amount of money out there to be spent on comics. And I am a big believer in growing the customer base. But we have to be realistic, too. My regulars generally have a weekly budget they stick to, and I want to maximize how much of that revenue stays in my pocket. If someone is spending $5 at my store on your comic, and I bought it from you at 40% off, that means I made $2. Win-win, right? Not exactly, because the way I see it is that if the customer spent that $5 on a Marvel or DC comic, I’d have made $2.65 on the sale. See what I’m saying? Your book takes longer to sell and for 25% less profit! This applies even if you’re willing to offer your book on consignment. So offer the retailer terms that match or beat the mainstream guys. I recommend 55% off or more. If you have to lose money on the deal, well then, consider it an investment. Which brings me to my next point: pricing the comic for consumers.
Price the first issue to sell. You’re not writing your first issue to make money. Your first issue is basically an advertisement, with the only goal being to garner interest in your series as a whole. With that mentality, ask yourself this: how much money would you pay to read someone’s advertisement. Not much, if anything. So make it a buck. We can sell almost anything for a buck. If you come to me with 20 copies of a $1 comic that I can buy at 60% off, you have my interest. Don’t forget to keep telling yourself: 1st issues are an investment, not a money-maker.
If you can afford to do a graphic novel, do it. Not everyone can afford to put out an 80-page comic with a spine. But if you can, do so. Graphic novels can stay on my shelf a lot longer than floppies, so I’m more prepared to take a chance on them, and if they sell out, I reorder them. Here’s how you do it: spend the time and money knocking out a full graphic novel. Sell it as the first 4 issues of the series. Get some great cover art for it. Then sell it to retailers cheap with a low cover price (per the previous two comments). Give the graphic novel a year or so while you work on the next few issues, and be sure to maintain a relationship with the retailer, being sure to restock him whenever he asks. Then sell issue 5 as a floppy. If your graphic novel is any good, you’ll already have a following, and you’ll be able to promise a steady stream of new issues based on the work you’ve done over the past year. These 2 points (followers and consistent release times) are key to getting the retailer to carry your comic.
Color your book, or else be damned sure it has another selling point. Do you have a blurb from Grant Morrison on your cover singing your praises? If so, you do whatever you want. Otherwise, black & white comics are a hard sell. Indie readers will still pick up your comic, but that’s about it. If you want to ensure a permanent place on my shelves you need a broader audience, and people want their comics in color. What about the Walking Dead, you say? I say: I admire your confidence, but let’s try to keep things real. Besides, Kirkman had Image behind him.
Stick to standard comic book sizes. I HATE oversized comics, and only like undersized comics a little bit better. They don’t fit well on the shelves, they confuse the customers (I kid you not) and they’re harder to store. Let the story and art sell your book, not a novelty size.
Be smart when approaching a retailer. Having a well written and drawn comic is great, but from a retailer’s stand-point it’s a secondary concern. Our number one goal is to make money off your comic. There are plenty of comics that I – as a reader – love. But I don’t stock them. Why? Because this isn’t my personal library. These books have to sell. So, to bring back my Morrison example, unless you’ve got an endorsement from someone like him, don’t approach me with an email or a pitch that focuses on how great your comic is. First off, everyone tells me their comic is great; secondly, even if it is, that’s not my primary concern. Here’s what you send me, preferably via email: 1) A very short blurb so I know what I’m dealing with. Very short; 2) How much the book sells for and how much it’ll cost me; 3) What will you do to promote my store? Do you have a FB page with 100 fans? Or a Twitter account, or a website? Tell me, and tell me how you’ll mention my store every week. Give me something.
I hope this advice helped. I went out of my way to be harsh, presenting the worst-case scenario because I want would-be creators to know what they’re up against and be as prepared as possible.
And don’t be discouraged! It’s not all dollars and cents for us, you know. We’re in the biz because we love comics, and we want to help you out. So help us out and make it as easy as possible to get your work in front of readers’ eyeballs.
What do you think? Comment below and I’ll be happy to respond.