Guest column | Tips on marketing your comic
Editor’s Note: I started talking to Ken Marcus, whose Super Human Resources comic comes out from Ape Entertainment next month, some time ago about doing a quick Q&A for the blog. But after doing a quick Google search, I realized I was way behind the curve. So instead, he agreed to write up a guest column. Playing off of a post I did last year, he offered to share some of the things he’s learned about marketing his indy comic over the last few months.
And if you aren’t interested in this topic, we’ve got you covered as well — Marcus also sent over some preview pages from the first issue.
by Ken Marcus
Hey, peeps. My name is Ken Marcus. I’m the creator of the new mini-series Super Human Resources from Ape Entertainment. #1 is due in comic stores at the beginning of March.
Why am I talking to you? Um, besides shamelessly whoring my own book out? I’ve learned a few things about marketing my indy comic along the way, and I thought it would be helpful to share them with those thinking about publishing their own book. Particularly in light of the new Diamond sales thresholds.
Am I an expert? Hardly. Our sales numbers are not exactly lighting the world on fire. But they were pretty good for an indy from a first-time creator. In…I don’t know…the worst economic climate ever to launch a comic. I’m also an associate creative director at one of the top ad agencies in the country. So I know just enough about marketing to be dangerous. So I wanted to share what we learned. Starting with this little pick-me-up:
People do not care about you. Not readers, not retailers, not the press and maybe not even your publisher. No one gives two turds about your book except for you. (The publisher thing isn’t really true, but regardless, this NEEDS to be your working mindset.) So making other people give two turds about your idea rests solely on your shoulders. That’s another way to say “marketing.”
If you build it, they will ignore it. Look, there are too many baseball diamonds in too many fields in that Previews catalog. And most of them look better than yours. Too many people think they can send their files off to the printer and book their table in San Diego. Nope. You’ve created your book. Now comes the hard part.
You’re getting great press when your comic comes out. AKA, you’re ‘effed. This is the No. 1 thing I don’t get. Creators doing all their interviews and previews the month their comic is out. Indy comics are all about pre-ordering. Getting people to ask their LCS for your comic the month it’s in Previews. This is the already-on-life-support lifeblood of indy comics. You have a few weeks before your issue #1 hits Previews and through the rest of that month. That is your sweet spot for pushing all your press and PR.
Think of it like a movie opening. If you don’t hit that first issue hard in the pre-ordering phase, the rest of your series is finished. Cooked. Sure, some comics build buzz over time and reorders can grow. That’s all fine and dandy. But it’s not a marketing plan.
It takes money to make…er, lose money. Chance are, you are not going to make money on your first comic. God knows I won’t. You still gotta pay to play. Ads cost money. Banners cost money. Getting your book in front of retailers costs money. So budget for an extra comic. Have a four issue mini? Then budget for a fifth. And use that extra dough for marketing. Plan ahead of time, and it’s less painful. Slightly less painful.
Retailers are not the enemies of indy comics. They are the enemies of crappy indy comics they can’t sell. Everything you do should be viewed through the lens of “How can I make it easier for retailers to sell my book?” This even starts at a conceptual level.
The Big Idea isn’t necessary. But it sure helps. A town in Alaska that stays dark for 30 days is descended upon by vampires. Five illegitmate children each inherit one of their father’s super powers. A reformed villain lives in the Witness Relocation Program. Each of these comics have what we in advertising call The Big Idea. You hear the sentence, and you want to hear more. Not every great comic has one of these. But man, does it ever help. It should be front and center of everything you do. This kinda thing also helps retailers when they’re hand-selling in stores. For us, it was “Welcome to the HR department of the world’s greatest super team.” People get the idea right away.
It’s not your job to build demand for your book. It’s your job to demonstrate to retailers you’re building demand for your book. A tactical difference. Retailers are your primary customers. For every fan that pre-orders your book, hopefully retailers will order a few more. Don’t be afraid to share all your great reviews and interviews with retailers on forums like CBIA (Comic Book Industry Alliance). They don’t care about them and won’t read them. But again, you need to be out there demonstrating to them you are working your ass off to help them sell your book. They do care about that.
For retailers to order your book, they need to see it first. Unless your name is Ed Brubaker. You need to send them a hard copy of your comic. At least, a preview. (Wait. Even Ed Brubaker does this. And he’s friggin’ Ed Brubaker.) Things that help them sell your book like postcards, posters, buttons and bookmarks don’t hurt either. We had got a great response with ours:
Retailers get tons of pdf’s and get tons of links. They don’t have time to look at them. And most of them suck anyway. But a hard copy they’ll look at. The thing is, retailers pretty much know instantly what they can sell and what they can’t. These guys have exceptional bullshit detectors. That brings me to my next point:
Be ready. This is the hard part. Your preview better be good. You can have a great marketing hook and exceptional support. But chances are, retailers will know in the first few pages whether your book is sellable. Nothing can kill an idea faster than putting it out half-baked.
Get new faces into their stores. Sure, you need to sell to existing comic book fans. That’s a given. But if you can demonstrate that you’re trying to get new folks into stores, retailers will thank you for it. We posted on plenty of “The Office” forums and “Office Space” fan sites. Heck, I actually did interviews with human resources sites! I can’t tell you how many HR managers emailed me asking how they can get their copy of Super Human Resources. Of course, I sent them to the Comic Book Store Locator.
People want to help you. They really do. Most reporters, bloggers and podcasters want to support a great indy comic. They want to be one of the first to “discover” the next big thing. And often, scoop their competitors in the comics press. Use this to your advantage. Find reviewers and writers you like. Send them a preview of your book directly. Don’t go through the site editors. They get tons of crap. You want a writer to feel like they discovered you and take ownership of your little comic that could.
Advertise in Previews. Yeah, it sucks. It costs a boat-load. But there is no better way to get in front of retailers. Let’s never speak of this again.
Press releases are a waste of time. I never even wrote one. This is comics, not the pharmaceutical business. When you engage with online site or retailers on CBIA, try to be more fun and have a hook. Most people just ignore press releases from first timers. You would too. They’re horrendous. Remember, often this is the first time you’re engaging with folks. Zig when everyone zags. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.
Forums. The best free advertising there is. There are so many great forums out there. Including on this very site. You should be posting early and often. Post page previews, character sketches, finished art, trailers, whatever. But don’t just post marketing. Stay and chat. Heck, it’s fun. Often on these sites, you can add linkable artwork in your signature. Think of these as free banners. People will become interested with your title if you have interesting things to say about comics in general. So don’t be an a-hole.
Banners don’t work. I recommend them highly. Click-throughs on banners are increasingly low. But for relatively little money, you can appear like a much bigger player than you are. I found banners on a handful of comic sites to be relatively inexpensive. And they contributed to the impression that “we were everywhere” for not that much money.
More people listen to podcasts than you’d think. I can’t tell you how many people told me they heard of Super Human Resources on a podcast. Get on as many as you can. Most podcasters are super-supportive of the indy press and creators. Again, they usually want to help you and are looking for something new to discuss.
Never stop marketing. There is always more you can be doing. More forums to post on, more interviews to do, more podcasts to get on. It never ends. This is your fundamental job as a creator. Creating is only half of making comics. The easy half.
While we’re on the subject, ask your retailer to order Super Human Resources from Ape Entertainment. In Previews right now.
“Super Human Resources will touch you… in a good way, and you will know hilarity. This book is @%#$$-funny.”
Joe Kelly (Amazing Spider-Man, Action Comics, Deadpool, I Kill Giants.)
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