David Accampo: My Life in the Direct Market, Part 2

The following is the second in a three-part guest column by writer and filmmaker David Accampo.


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Sparrow & Crowe: The Demoniac of Los Angeles hits print along with posters and postcards.

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.

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After a quick check for dangling chads, it’s off to the races!

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.”
Retailer: “OK.”
My Dad (pointing to postcard): “This guy Scott Snyder liked it. Does that mean anything to you?”
Retailer: “Oh, Yeah. That means a lot.”

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Gracious words of recommendation from the likes of Scott Snyder, Gabriel Hardman and Caroline Pruett lend credibility to the upstart underdog.

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.

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Sparrow & Crowe: The Demoniac of Los Angeles #1 arrives on retail shelves across the country.

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.

– To Be Continued –


Comments

  1. WillMc WillMc says:

    I’ll be going through the same process soon with my graphic novel (crowd funding here: http://pozible.com/circus) < so subtle.

    I went through the 3 issue mini-series VS. graphic novel conundrum for a while. I've heard people like Bendis say that bringing something out in singles then a collected edition is just the most viable way for the big companies to make money from all different crowds. In the self-publishing or independent publishing realm it just doesn't really work. The retailer I live closest to likes graphic novels because he ends up having issues 2, 4 and 5 left after people don't come back after issue one. That's not a good look for potential customers browsing a shelf.

    I'm planning to go digital with the singles and then print the collection. I feel that is the way of the future.

  2. Dave,

    Love the books (I don’t think I’ve expressed that to you before) and can’t wait to get my hands on the GN.

    Does your deal with Hermes prevent you in any way from working with Kickstarter?

    Brian D

    • daccampo daccampo says:

      Thanks, Brian!

      I can’t really go into the details, but for now our book is still with Hermes Press, and Hermes Press still wants to do the digital releases and the graphic novel, and I’m very cool with that strategy. Hermes has been very good to us in terms of offering us the graphic novel and the single issues within a creator-owned deal. They were as disheartened as we were that the sales didn’t work out as hoped. If Hermes wanted to use Kickstarter in some way, it would have to come from them (we did do a successful Kickstarter to launch the first issue, by the way, but that was more about production/marketing costs with launching the first issue).

  3. That’s so strange that retailers will order #1s and then not the rest. I’ve definitely been “duped” that way. Discovered a great indie #1 on the shelf, and then could never find the rest of the series. “We’ll order it for you” and then it never comes in cause at that point its weeks past the ordering time and none to be found anywhere.

    I think i prefer to read my indies as collections/complete stories. At least i know i wont’ get left hanging.

    Or make every issue a #1 haha

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      I actually asked my LCS owner to order me some issues of “The Phantom” from Moonstone when it relaunched in 2009 but he just said “that doesn’t sound like something I’d carry”. But when I asked him to order a copy of Ghost Rider #1 he did that with no hassle and sold to me 3 months later. Weird. Now he’s actually carrying the first issue of this indie series “Half-Breed” which I totally dig so hopefully he’ll get the later issues right off the bat.

  4. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    Hey David, how does that quote thing work? You mention Snyder read the first issue and gave a quote and then that generated more interest, but how does something like that work? Did he say that in person to you, you asked to use it, and then you printed it on the cover? I love seeing familiar creators quotes on books I pick up, it gives a clue as to what the book is like and gives me a feeling that these guys all know each other and connect.

    • daccampo daccampo says:

      In Scott’s case, we had connected previously. The behind-the-scenes part of the Scott Snyder story involves iFanboy’s Paul Montgomery. :) Paul and I had a chat with Scott about his prose collection, VOODOO HEART, on the Fuzzy Typewriter podcast. Some time later, when the book was ready, Paul sent Scott a PDF copy of issue #1, to see if he would give it a read. He did, and he liked it, and then he graciously supplied us with a quote to use. I also met Scott at C2E2 last year, and we were able to chat a bit in person, which was very cool.

      The art of getting a quote is equally about asking and also knowing when and if it’s OK to ask for one, which is really a situational thing, and, yes, it probably helps a lot if you have connected with the creator on a personal/professional level.

      I’ve chatted with artists and writers online and met them at conventions. And the ones that I consider friends or, at least acquaintances, are usually folks that I’ve bonded with over something — writing, comics, movies, whatever. These are the ones most likely to read my stuff and offer a quote. I have also been told very politely by creators that they prefer not to give out quotes, and I completely understand and respect that.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Thanks @daccampo. I actually met an Indie creator who asked me to email him my thoughts on his latest book so he could quote me on the pages. I did and he never emailed back, I might have upset him with what I said about his first book but I loved his latest one and told him why. Or maybe he’s just really busy, either way I hope I helped him out and his next book is successful.

  5. daccampo daccampo says:

    One thing I failed to mention in this segment of the article, I want to add because James Sime (Isotope Comics) mentioned it in the comments to yesterday’s Part One:

    When we visited stores, wrote letters to stores, or called stores, we tried to be personable, and as nice as we could be. If I personally knew or visited the store at ANY time in my life, I tried to make that personal connection: that I KNEW the store, liked what they did, and thought that they might like this book.

    We also tried to give retailers an indication of what the book was like, and tried to relate who might be fans of this book: fans who read HELLBOY, FATALE, LOCKE & KEY, HELLRAISER, HELLBLAZER… All the HELLS, basically.

    So, that’s a key piece when contacting and connecting with retailers.

  6. theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

    Maybe you can help me out. As creators, why not finish all 5 issues ahead of time so you could deliver them monthly and keep the interest of the readers, as well as stay in the previews consistently? Consistency seems to be very important when starting out. Ted McKeever, as an example seems to work that way with his minis that later get collected. Is there a benefit to getting the first issue out early?

    • daccampo daccampo says:

      It’s a great question, and I covered the fact that I agree that consistency hurt us. It’s a difficult question. If I had to do it again? Yes, I would have waited until the entire book was complete.

      At the time? Well, the scripts were done, and our artist was toiling away, working at a pace that put us on a course. SDCC 2012 was in sight, and we thought it would be a great idea to launch the book at SDCC, perhaps getting some additional attention that way, showcasing the book for retailers, for the media, for fans, etc. So, we pushed to launch it then, based on the momentum we were seeing.

      But a few things happened. The book is all hand-painted in watercolor. This took longer than originally anticipated, and then the artist hit a few rough personal spots, and that affected the lead time. Then, at one point, Hermes decided to wait one month, as I believe they thought they could maybe try to build a little more buzz off the book (perhaps nervous about pre-orders).

      However, I do not know HOW any of this actually affected our pre-order numbers. If you added Sparrow & Crowe to your pull list, I know the great retailers out there would spot the book whenever it hit the catalog, and they’d order it. We heard from a few fans who were ready to buy the book whenever it came out. We used social media and even a few comic book shows to try to make sure everyone knew WHEN the solicits were out.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      @daccampo, how did it work between you and Hermes with the comic? You said they wanted to wait a month to build buzz, but did that affect when you had to turn in the next issue to them? Did they do additional advertising on the book? And did you have to put any money forward to pay for printing ?(I don’t need actual numbers, just yes or no. I know of 1 indie publisher that does require you to put money in to have your book published).

    • daccampo daccampo says:

      @Itho — We work closely with Hermes in terms of production of the book, and they gave us a schedule of WHEN stuff has to be done, from the solicit copy for the Diamond catalog to the actual, print-ready files that Hermes then sends to the printer, who then sends the physical copies to Diamond for proper distribution to stores.

      I don’t know if I can get into all of Hermes details, but our publishing deal is very similar to an Image deal. It’s creator-owned, and we are not paid up front. We make money after the publisher recoups their costs, etc.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      That’s plenty, thanks again @daccampo.

    • theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

      Thank you for the info. Sounds like the whole thing is something of a balancing act between publisher and creator, and buzz and work schedule. Art is always a tight schedule and I know it doesn’t take much to get behind on the work. I swear there is a ton of luck in making it in any profession. These articles have been very insightful. Thank you for sharing such personal information, and best of luck to you. Sounds like an interesting story.

  7. mrlogical mrlogical says:

    Very informative, Dave. I’d love to know the actual numbers we’re dealing with here, but it sounds like you are deliberately omitting that information. Are you planning to share that in the next installment, or is that info going to remain confidential for business reasons? I understand if you’re not at liberty to discuss, but I’d definitely be interested to know.

    • daccampo daccampo says:

      You know… frankly, that’s a little bit of a gray area for me. I’m just not sure the numbers are my information to give, since that’s really what the publisher has to use to make decisions.

      I think it’s probably enough to know that you have to print comics in batches to get a decent enough discount on the printing costs. So, the numbers had to drop below a level where the publisher felt they had any hope of making their profit after printing the books.

  8. ohcaroline ohcaroline says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Dave. I look forward to seeing the rest of the story in whatever form we can get it in.

    Also, I’m not saying this is the ONLY time in my life I’ll be in a sentence as ‘the likes of’ Scott Snyder & Gabriel Hardman, but this is definitely the FIRST time it’s happened, which is pretty cool on my end as well.

  9. stuclach stuclach says:

    Dave,

    This is a fascinating read. Some of your responses in the comments have been very interesting as well. Thank you for sharing this with us and taking the time to interact.

    Also: I did not expect a dangling chads reference. That brings back (horrible) memories.