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Monday, April 27, 2009

Writing for Comic Books, part 10: Publicizing on the Web & Dealing With Success (or Failure)

by Henry Vogel

Welcome to part 10 of Writing for Comic Books. I'm going to cover two topics today, publicizing your comic book on the web and what to do if you comic book becomes a big success or if it fails to develop a following.

Publicizing on the Web
Before I delve into this subject, please take everything I say in the section with a grain of salt. Better yet, take it with an entire salt shaker of salt. The world wide web did not exist when I was writing comic books. None of what I'm about to write is based on experience. What I'm writing is what I think would be a good approach to publicizing your comic book on the web, nothing more.

First, establish a domain name for your comic book, mycomicbooktitle.com, and put up a web page advertising your book. I'd recommend doing this as early as possible, even if you have very little to put up on the site. At the earliest opportunity, I'd put up character concept drawings along with musings from the writer about the characters. Eventually, you'll want to post the artwork you'll use as the comic book cover. I'd also post the first five or six pages of the finished comic book. Include the domain name in all of your correspondence, including press releases.

Next, find the popular comic book news sites, such as Newsarama and Comic Book Resources. Not only should you send press releases to sites such as these and consider advertising on them, you should also join their forums and actively begin promoting your book within the forums. There is a risk of trolls with this approach, so plan to keep your temper in check. A flame war with trolls will cost you far more than you'll gain. Keeping your head and responding professionally to all messages will show that you are serious about your comic book.

Another avenue to consider is sites such as Drive Thru Comics. These sites sell digital copies of comic books. Not only is this a cheap way of making past issues of your comic available for new readers, you may be able to offer the first half of your first issue as a free download, allowing readers to try your book before spending money on it.

Dealing With Success (or Failure)
The first issue of your comic book has been released and is on comic book store shelves! Exciting? Absolutely. Nerve wracking? Again, absolutely. Now that your book is out, will it find an audience? Will sales improve or drop off? Will there be enough interest to even justify a second issue?

I'm going to answer the second question first. Sales for issue two will almost certainly be lower than sales for issue one. Comic book retailers, with good reason, expect first issues to sell well. Some people make a habit of buying any first issue that looks at least halfway professional. If the book becomes "hot" they'll have an investment copy on hand. Some people will buy your first issue and not like it enough to buy the second issue. The store owner has to take those people into consideration when placing orders for the second issue. Also, unless your book is published quarterly (or even less frequently), the store owner has to place his order for issue two before he even knows how well issue one will sell. Expect retailers to be conservative.

This is where we look at question three; are the orders sufficient to justify a second issue. You'll only be able to make that decision when you know how many copies of the second issue were ordered, the cost of printing that many copies and the revenue you'll earn selling them. If you're going to lose money publishing the second issue, this is where you have a decision to make. Look at your finances and figure out just how much money you're willing to put into this project. I can't offer any advice here because only you know how much money you can afford to lose.

But, hey, what if sales are great and stores are placing reorders with the distributor? First, congratulations! Your book is selling well and comic book store owners have noticed the sales. This bodes well for your second issue, certainly, but should you reprint your first issue? The short answer is probably not. If the distributor contacts you to see if you have more copies available for sale, it might be worth your while to reprint your book. Again, you'll have to balance the number of copies the distributor wants against the cost of printing and shipping the books. If you'll break even on the reprint and if the distributor can wait until you can have the book reprinted, go for it. You'll make the distributor happy, the retailers happy and, one hopes, readers happy. If you'll lose money with a reprint, simply tell the distributor you'd lose money with the reprint. I'd follow up by telling the distributor the minimum number of copies you'd have to sell to make the reprint worth your while. Chances are they won't increase their order, but stranger things have happened.

In the long run, very few comic books are reprinted. Most have an initial print run and that's it. If the book is successful, the publisher usually solicits orders for a trade paperback collection of several issues. Typically, six issues are gathered into a single collection. There are people who prefer to read collections rather than single issues. I'm one of them. You miss out on the "investment" potential of the individual issues but usually end up paying less than you would have paid to buy the individual issues. Retailers keep these books on the shelves longer than individual issues and you may even be able to develop a market in regular bookstores.

Wrapping It Up
I originally expected to write no more than five columns in this series. I've doubled that with the help of suggestions from some of you. In ten columns, we've gone from planning a comic book to soliciting for the second issue. I honestly can't think of anything else that's left to cover. Ten is a good, round number to use as a wrap up.

Thanks for all of the positive comments and thoughtful questions!
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