The following is the first in a three-part guest column by writer and filmmaker David Accampo.
In July of 2011, while at the San Diego Comic-Con, Hermes Press offered to publish our comic book mini-series, Sparrow & Crowe: The Demoniac of Los Angeles, based on art samples from our artist Jared Souza, and an 11 page mini-comic of the first pages of the mini-series, that we had laid out and printed specifically for SDCC.
Actually getting a publishing deal at San Diego Comic-Con? Dream come true, and something that folks say doesn’t even happen in this era.
But the real reason I mention this is because as we left the meeting with our publisher, we were offered a choice: did we want to publish this as individual issues, or did we want to publish a graphic novel? Hermes Press focuses almost exclusively on graphic novels, most often reprints of older material like the Buck Rogers comic strips, etc., so for them to offer that we become their first serialized mini-series was a huge honor—and a lot of responsibility.
It also meant we would have to face the full fury of the direct market.
iFanboy has held a lot of discussion on the nature of this particular beast. I’m not going to praise or bury the direct market. I’m just going to share some of my own experiences in the context of a newcomer to the direct market.
So, we chose to publish Sparrow & Crowe as five individual issues. This was our first gamble — I reasoned that with five issues on the shelves, we’d have five opportunities to build buzz and grow awareness—all in advance of the eventual collected edition.
When we solicited the first issue, our publisher’s Diamond representative predicted that we wouldn’t get many orders at all.
I think we tripled his prediction, by the way. Still not very big numbers, but a damned sight better than that estimation. Score one for us.
But I need to take a step back there. What went into those initial pre-orders?
What the hell is a pre-order?
I’ve said this time and time again: pre-ordering is antithetical to the way almost EVERYONE buys their entertainment.* And that’s a big problem. Especially when you’re unknown to the comics market.
(*I now have to add “almost” to that because Kickstarter is essentially a new pre-ordering platform. Discuss.)
But pre-orders are a necessity in comics because it’s the only way in which the eco-system works, as it currently stands: monthly comic books are, by and large, sold at comic book specialty stores. The stores cater to a very narrow demographic: the regular comic reader (I’m an every-Wednesday-at-lunch kinda guy, personally). The retailer places advance orders from Diamond, and the publishers base their print runs on this number. This small, closed loop of money-for-goods works with very little excess, and it depends upon the habits of the readers and the passion of the retailers. As such, it tends to work best for established characters and talent.
I know plenty of folks who will buy anything related to the X-Men. So, if they’re going to buy it anyway, and they can offer their retailers a guaranteed sale, and their retailer can offer them a discount because of that guaranteed sale—then it all works.
For me, it works best with creators. For example, I love the work of Greg Rucka, and if Greg Rucka is asking me to pre-order his book, Lazarus, from Image Comics, then… that’s a fair bet. I’ll pre-order that. Sure, why not? Otherwise my comic shop may not carry it.
And why would a retailer not carry a comic book? Comic books from Diamond are non-returnable merchandise. If they buy books they can’t sell, they eventually just become that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark—a very expensive storage unit. Comic book retailers are usually operating a pretty lean business model—slim profit margin versus the overhead of rent, staff, utilities, shipping, etc. They simply can’t afford to take a chance and order a bunch of unusual series that might end up shoved in a musty box next to the Ark of the Covenant. Thus, the comic shop owner, by nature, needs to be fairly conservative in his or her orders.
Every month, retailers chalk up their strategy and place their best bets through the Diamond catalog, a massive tome front-loaded with all the premiere publishers and devolving into a busy, multi-column layout full of tiny thumbnail covers.
My publisher, a mid-level publisher with no special placement in the catalog, finds itself somewhere in the middle of the book.
So, as we solicited our first issue in the Diamond catalog, what retailers (and some customers) saw was this:
- Three unknown creators
- A new property
- A small listing in the middle of a giant catalog
And we were asking you to agree to buy our comic three months before it comes out.
The odds were not in our favor.
– To Be Continued –