The following is the second in a three-part guest column by writer and filmmaker David Accampo.
In Part One of my story, I talked about some of the challenges we faced when we chose to launch Sparrow & Crowe as a five-issue miniseries, which meant we’d be dealing in the direct market, from Diamond advance solicitations to retail pre-orders.
To summarize: we were three unknown creators soliciting a brand new property in the midst of a giant catalog of, well, all the comic books.
It was an uphill battle, but we had a few tricks up our collective sleeve.
First, we had a bit of an audience. For three seasons, my co-creator, Jeremy Rogers, and I ran Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery as a free audio drama podcast through iTunes. This earned us an audience. Sparrow & Crowe is technically a prequel to Wormwood, and we knew that we’d have some fans that would be interested in the comics. One fringe medium to another, am I right?
Except, of course, you’re going from free, global distribution to pre-ordering three months in advance from a comic book store, which for you may be two towns away.
The second thing in our favor, probably the biggest thing going for us, was that we had a few quotes from some name creators. Scott Snyder read the first issue of Sparrow & Crowe, and he gave us a wonderful quote. As did both Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman. This gave us a stamp of approval, which helped us with our next step—the retailers.
There are some amazing retailers out there. I said before that they, by the nature of their business, have to be a bit conservative. But all that means is that they do this because they love comics. And that’s what you really want in a retailer.
Have you had your retailer suggest books you might like based on your purchases? I’ve discovered some great books that way. I’ve also taken a chance on books that my retailers have spotlighted on the shelves. While retailers have to be receptive to their customers, they do have a level of influence. It benefits them to expand their customer base and expand their customers’ reading habits, and if you get them on your side, you can really do wonders. They want to find new things, because if they can find a new book that will excite their customers, they’ve not only solidified that relationship, they’ve grown their business in some small way.
There are some creators who are fantastic at working with retailers. Sam Humphries springs to mind as a creator who established relationships directly with retailers and was able to sell books like Our Love is Real directly to shops.
But this is, in itself, also a full time job. I know my retailer gets regular mail, email and phone calls from independent creators who want them to order their books (my retailer’s advice, by the way? “Don’t call me on Wednesday, please.”).
You can call shops, you can send them PDFs (which worked in a few cases), and you can visit them in person.
My dad, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, decided to go around to every comic book store he could find and give them postcards for Sparrow & Crowe.
Actual conversation (paraphrased per his recollection):
My Dad: “Sparrow & Crowe. It’s a horror mystery.”
My Dad (pointing to postcard): “This guy Scott Snyder liked it. Does that mean anything to you?”
Retailer: “Oh, Yeah. That means a lot.”
And so this is what we did. We put the call out on our social media channels for fans of the audio drama. We called stores. We visited stores. We tripled the prediction of certain people.
But that’s not the end of the story. This isn’t exactly a success story.
Orders for issue #2 dropped dramatically. Some of this is on the publisher and creative team. For various reasons, we weren’t able to keep a monthly, or even bi-monthly schedule. And I do believe that hurts you in the direct market—hell, in any market. Consistency and regularity, a pace that matches the frequency of the overall market and the expectation of the paying customer—that’s valuable.
But I’ve also been told that retailers will order number one issues without any real intention of ordering the second. Whether this is because of some vestigial “collector’s” mentality that they know exists in a portion of their customer base… I don’t know. I do know that in some cases, non-comics reading fans went into shops to pre-order issue #1… without realizing that they also needed to pre-order the rest of the series.
Our publisher warned us that our third issue would be the issue where the sales would level out and we’d get our “real” numbers.
And so the orders came in, and… our real numbers were not good. We had dropped down to about a third of initial numbers.
Hermes Press decided to pull the plug on the print series.
The good news here is that this is a strategic move: Hermes still believes in the book, and they honestly believe that they can find us a better audience with a graphic novel – something they had told us from the start. It’s a market they know better, and one in which we have a better chance of leaving a lasting impression.
They’ve also offered to keep publishing the issues in a digital format. So, we still intend to make use to that, giving the story to readers of that format, building a little buzz, with the graphic novel on the horizon.
So, it’s not a success story, exactly. But it’s not a tragedy, either. It’s simply the nature of the direct market.
Of course, there are options.