Robot 6

Guest column | Tips on marketing your comic

Super Human Resources #1

Super Human Resources #1

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.”

Super Human Resources, pg. 8

Super Human Resources, pg. 8

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.

Super Human Resources, pg. 9

Super Human Resources, pg. 9

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.

Super Human Resources, pg. 13

Super Human Resources, pg. 13

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:

http://blog.newsarama.com/2008/11/26/standing-out-in-a-crowd/

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.

Super Human Resources, pg. 14

Super Human Resources, pg. 14

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.

Super Human Resources, pg. 14

Super Human Resources, pg. 14

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.)

DEC083752 Issue One
JAN093975 Issue Two
FEB094040 Issue Three
MAR094064 Issue Four

http://www.superhumanresourcescomic.com

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Comments

11 Comments

Good column, Ken. Good to see you learned everything one should learn while doing a first book that will carry you on through the rest of your comics making life.

Great column. You guys are doing everything right promoting Super Human Resources and the waiting list at my shop just keeps growing and growing and growing.

Can’t wait to put this in my people’s hands!

Thanks guys. Should be next week. Diamond has been a little loopy with the warehouse change. It was supposed to be this week. But they have them. All four issues.

Overall nice job and thanks for pointing out that even someone as popular as Brubaker still promotes his work!

I do want to argue 2 points though.

[1) I sent them to the Comic Book Store Locator.]
Why? Unless you can reasonably expect that those retailers have even heard of you, why risk losing momentum by sending a potential customer to someone who can’t help them?

This is where you need to do some more legwork. Find out where this person is and personally hook them up with a local retailer. Call the local retailer, let them know you have a local customer for the book and would like to send them into the shop, Maybe arrange to send them a preview copy, POP material and maybe some giveaway items to encourage them to order extras for the shelf.

Retailers are used to doing EVERYTHING themselves and publishers who have interesting books and show a willingness to help us sell them will always get more support in store than those who just take out an ad in Previews, which leads us to…

[2) 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.]

I’d encourage most publishers to NEVER ADVERTISE IN PREVIEWS.

It likely will not be seen unless you can afford a full page ad and unless most of it contains pages from the book, will really not give retailers or readers any idea whether the book is their cup of tea. And most publishers put together shitty ads that will be overlooked anyway.

For the same amount of money as a Previews ad you can send advance copies to retailers through Diamond allowing retailers to really see what you are doing. If your book is any good, you will earn far greater orders than almost any ad could ever generate.

As you mentioned above publishers will need to budget for promotion and should have books completed before soliciting to make such an effort work but then again that is what separates professionals from amateurs and successes from failures.

WWBD?,

Hi Robert. Thanks for the feedback. Like I said, I am hardly an expert. But you are. You want to know what sells comics? Listen to retailers like Robert and James. That’s the #1 thing I learned in all this.

In the interest of brevity, (my piece was loooong) I did cut down some of my original “send new people to the store” section. When people outside of comics emailed me, I explained how to order and gave them order codes. I also explained the process of pre-ordering in advance of release. You’re right. I did not want to risk them going to stores and not having the comic there. The bigger point of that section was to reach outside of a typical comics fanbase, which I felt took priority.

I agree with the sending an advance copies/preview directly to retailers. As I recommended in the article. And if money is tight, I would definitely use that money for the preview, not the ad. I actually mailed my hard copy directly. I have heard horror stories of creators sending single advance copies to stores through Diamond only to have them arrive late. Well past the the ordering window for the book. Tangent.

But I have also heard, and I may be wrong, that many retailers don’t go online and don’t look at copies sent. But every retailer looks at Previews. (Maybe not the back of the book, but that’s another article.) I’m not saying Previews is the best or only way to sell your book to retailers, but it simply has the deepest reach. Amount of eyeballs for the money. I’m in advertising so I do believe in the power of a simple, well-written ad. I’m old-fashioned that way.

But yes, if you only have money of one or the other, go with the advance preview copy. Get your comic in front of retailers anyway you can. This may require an advance printing, which is costly. But that should be a priority over an ad.

Thanks though. I’ve learned a little, but there’s a lot more to learn.
ken

And I think you should also add that this article is about ‘how to market an indy book through the direct market’, because there are a lot of other ways to sell comics than Diamond, seriously.

Hi JM. I did have a blurb on mentioning that point in an early draft, but cut it in the interest of brevity. You are correct.

I didn’t want my article to be a missive for or against Diamond and the direct market. Merely how to sell more indy comics to more stores. The floppies themselves. And the best bet for sales to meet that goal, until demonstrated otherwise, is still Diamond.

I think it’s an important point that you should not have cut.
I guess for floppies you could argue that the direct market is best at this point because most people haven’t tried other methods of distribution except maybe selling directly at cons or selling directly to comic shops (and if we had some numbers about those maybe they will appear to be a better way to go than Diamond).
I think the important thing is to remind people who want to create comics that there are a LOT of different ways to sell a comic (and some of your points apply to those ways too). It’s not because Diamond is there that it is the only thing. Comics are a medium, they are not a market.

Good point, JM.

I was mostly working from my limited experience on getting one comic on the stands. There is a much bigger pond out there when it comes to distribution possibilities.

Ape Entertainment does some great work! For those interested in marketing/sales of comic books, check out my articles. I’ve done some pretty extensive writing on internet marketing and developing new markets for comic book publishers. Hope this helps!

http://www.matnastos.net/comic-book-marketing/

Salvador Firestein

November 5, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Wonderful blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely confused .. Any tips? Kudos!

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