Sunday, November 27, 2011

Arrr Matey – Piracy on the High Internets

I am afraid to Google that phrase, because I strongly suspect I am the millionth person to pun to that. My hackdom aside, this post is going to be about comic piracy.

I don’t do it. I am not bothered by it.

I don’t do it because I want the comics I liked to continue, and I don’t want to steal them. I have illegally downloaded comics twice, when I couldn’t get to store to get them. I did eventually buy them, which isn’t much of an excuse, if it is one at all.

Now, you’re probably thinking that this is going to be an antipiracy screed. It’s not. Like I said, I am not bothered by it. I don’t do it, but I don’t care if you do. I would prefer that you bought my comics, because I need to fill my money vault so I can swim in it Scrooge McDuck style, but no skin off my back if you don’t.

There are a couple of reasons that I don’t care. The biggest, probably, is the futility if arguing against it. I am a deeply lazy person, so I’m not going to make and argument that won’t do me any good in the long term.

I also tend to think that the vast majority of the people that are pirating my book wouldn’t have bought it anyway, so them reading it doesn’t hurt me, and if they like it, it might even help. Cory Doctorow has said that the problem is piracy, the problem is obscurity. He wasn’t specifically talking about comics, but I think that’s probably doubly true for the industry.

Related to the above, I know for a fact that some number of the people who pirated the book will go and buy the thing later. I know this because a couple of people have flat out told me they did it. I don’t know if this group outnumbers the people who have bought the comic if they didn’t pirate it, but I suspect they do. So that’s a win for me.

So, I don’t mind. But…

Yes, there’s a but. Isn’t there always? The but here is that I do want people to understand how small the money is in comics, especially for books that aren’t produced by Marvel or DC. You know, like The Strange Talent of Luther Strode.

Luther is, by comic standards, a pretty big success. It’s an enormous success for an unknown creative team. But that fact is, none of us is making quit your job money from it, and many, maybe most, Image books don’t even make beer money.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode costs $2.99 an issue. We sold, in the first printing, about 10,000 copies. Let’s call that thirty grand, for the sake of the math. (Actually, these numbers are close – ish to being right but I’m rounding up and down to make the math easy) Of that thirty grand, about forty percent goes to the retailer. Another twenty goes to Diamond, the distributor. So forty percent comes back to Image.
Out of that $12,000 comes the printing cost, the Image fee, promotional fees, and things like lettering. What’s left after that gets split between me, Tradd and Felipe and we have to pay taxes on that. That’s not, in fact, a whole lot of money each month.

At the same time, getting a book out takes thousands of hours of work, mostly by the art team. Tradd, for sure, will have at least a thousand hours invested in Luther by the end, and both he and Felipe (and me, but my time commitment is much smaller – it is good to be the writer) will have worked on this for more than a year before they see a penny from it.

And we’re lucky. A lot of books don’t make anything. Thousands of hours of work for nothing but the love. Which brings me back to my point: comics desperately need your financial support. If you download a book you like instead of buying it, you reducing the chances of getting more of it.

So if you’re downloading and want to see more of a book, buy it. Or just send the creator money. We like that. But be aware that many, many comics are just barely hanging on, and they need your love and support.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Comic Marketing

...and then some,

So, here’s something that no one told me before I put Luther Strode out: marketing will take up a lot of more of your time than creating the damn thing to begin with. The scripts for Luther Strode total about fifteen thousand words; the total amount of words I’ve written about Luther Strode, interviews and such, is more than twice that.

Marketing a comic, especially leading up to the debut issue, is damn near a full time job. I spent, in the eight or so weeks leading up to first issue hitting the stands, somewhere between twenty and thirty hours a week promoting the book. Yes, this is a lot of time and yes, in my opinion, it’s absolutely vital.

Making comics is a hard business with, realistically, little hope of reward, especially if you’re doing creator owned. Luther Strode has been one of the bigger new Image books of the year, but none of us involved are making a lot of money. The market is small, and it’s pretty insular on top of that. If you don’t have a publisher like Image behind, it’s incredibly difficult to get people to even take a look at your book, much less buy them.

Assuming you don’t suck, obscurity is the biggest obstacle that new creators have to face. Lots of people are making comics, and even beyond that you have a thousand and one other forms of entertainment that are all competing for attention. So marketing is crucial, whether you like doing it or not.

Image does, in fact, do a good job of marketing their books, through the efforts of the awesome Sarah DeLaine, but what you need to understand about Image is that the company consists of, roughly, eighteen people. They put out thirty odd books a month. Even if every single person in the company was devoted to marketing and PR, they’d still be shorthanded. So, yes, you are going to have to hustle.

With that in mind, here’s what I actually did:

Got Published by Image

This is something you don’t have much control over, beyond doing comics that are good and getting accepted, but it’s something that needs to be mentioned. If we were able to put the book out, exactly as it is, on our own we’d have sold, optimistically, a tenth of what we actually did.

Having a publisher behind you gives you a lot of leverage. People will be looking at what your publisher is putting out to begin with, and they will be more inclined to listen to your requests for interviews and previews. This is all in addition the marketing efforts of your publisher.

Had A Good Chunk of the Book Ready

Luther Strode was accepted by Image a year ago, almost to the day of me writing this. Our first issue was out in October. The reason we took so long is that we wanted to have a big lead time. Everyone hates it when books are late, so we wanted to have a big enough headstart for this to be a non issue.

The other benefit of this, which actually relates to the topic of this blog entry (I know, I’m shocked, too) is that we had something to show people. When I started the marketing in earnest, we had the first two issues to show people, with the third coming along not long after.

Having a bunch of issue is in the can is marketing point in and of itself, and it also lets people get a real feel for the book. The media and retailers are a lot more likely to listen to you when you have 66 pages of work to show them before the book ever even hits the street.

Had A Web Presence

I’m reasonably active in a couple of forums and sites that are fairly comic intensive, and I’ve got a midlingly good number of Facebook friends and a fairly ridiculous number of Twitter followers, plus Flickr and Livejournal and such.

What I should have had was an actual website for myself, as well as one for the book. And I should have had a Facebook fanpage sooner. The problem is that, despite the existence of said web presence and this blog, I actually don’t like talking about myself, and I don’t like self promotion.

Your web presence is essentially your megaphone. It allows you to actually get people to listen to you and maybe carry your message on to other people. But for this to work you need to actively build your presence and you need to be at least half way interesting. Preferably all the way interesting.

If at all possible, you want to make sure that your web footprint includes people that are tastemakers for the industry. You want critics, pros and anyone else that fans and retailers will actually listen to as part of your online network. A couple of retweets or mentions from people with 5,000 fans goes a loooong way into getting your message out there.

Speaking of which….

Had A Message

Hrrrm, I’m not sure I like the term message, which sounds awfully pretentious to me. I knew what the book was about, and who I thought would like it, and I was able to convey that in a relatively succinct way. It doesn’t matter how many people you have listening if you don’t know what to say to them.

So I made sure I had a short pitch about the book and a reason for people to check the book out. An essential part of marketing is being able to talk about your book in a way that’s easy for people to understand, short enough to get in blurbs, and simple enough for them to tell other people.

Got Blurbs

I’m fairly fortunate that I’ve been around comics for a while, so I was able to get some friends to blurb me. Again, having a big chunk of the book ready to go helped a lot. I also approached people I didn’t know, whose books I liked and whose fans I thought would probably dig Luther Strode.

Compiled and Contacted a List of Media

Since I had a lot of lead time, I was able to spend it compiling a list of media that I wanted to contact about the book. Comics, obviously, but since Luther Strode is slasher movie inspired, I also targeted horror media.

Now, I say media because it’s a lot easier than saying websites, blogs, podcasts, magazines, youtube channels and newspapers. But, basically, I was looking for any media I could find that had contact information, did interviews and seemed to still be updating.

Once I had a list, I started emailing them asking them if they were interested in talking to me and the guys. This is where having the Image cachet and a lot of work to be able to show them was handy. Some responded, some didn’t.

We also got contacted by media that I hadn’t had on my list, and my approach was to say yes. It didn’t matter how big or small they were. If they were interested in talking to me, I was willing to talk to them.

Contacted Retailers

Not as well as I should have. I have a dislike of talking to people on the phone that borders on being a phobia, so while I was able to acquire a large list of people that were indy friendly, I didn’t do as much as I probably could have.

One of the challenges in marketing for comics is that, basically, you need to sell the book twice. If the retailers don’t stock a book, people are not going to see it, and if they don’t see it, they won’t buy it.

Your book is in Previews several months before the street date, and some of your marketing efforts need to be during this period, so that retailers will actually be aware of the book. Having your book on the front cover of Previews is helpful, too.

Unfortunately, this is also far enough ahead of the street date that people are likely to forget about it, which is part of the reason why I did so much marketing for so long leading up to the book.

So, contacting retailers with a preview of your book is incredibly helpful. We targeted the top 100 stores buying Image books, because those stores are probably responsible for at least fifty percent of copies sold, and maybe more.

This also helpful because it gives retailers a personal stake in the book, and having a retailer handselling the book is incredibly helpful. Retailers are your best friends; cultivate and maintain those relationships.

Created Additional Material

In our case, this consisted of a preorder form and a video. The preorder form featured the villain talking to the reader with brand spanking new art from Tradd and Felipe that summed up what the series was about. The video featured art from the series and music from Tradd, who has apparently limitless talents. The bastard.

The point of these is partly to reach the fans directly, but it also gives the media something else to talk about when it comes to our book, which means more exposure. We didn’t do as much of this as would probably have been optimal, but we were ( and are) busy writing the actual book.

Made Sure to Be Available

I am pretty easy to find on the internet which, if you’re reading this, you probably already know. I make an effort to be available for anyone who wants to talk about the book or just tell me they like it.

It’s helpful that I genuinely enjoy this, but being accessible to people who like what you’re doing and building a relationship with them is really important. These are the people that are going to talk about your book and get other people to read.

So that’s what I did and what I’m doing. This stuff is fairly specific to the situation I have going on; if I were marketing a webcomic, some of this stuff would be different. The takeaway here, I think, is that you need to be relentless. Which, actually, is pretty much the same you get into comics to begin with.

My Principles of Comic Marketing

Be Relentless

This is a lot of work. A lot of it won’t pan out. Do it anyhow. There’s no way to know ahead of time what is going to reach people and what isn’t, and that is largely out of your control. So be relentless. Keeping finding new ways to spread the word, and keep doing it even if it doesn’t look like its working.

That said, break it down into manageable chunks. Contact five media outlets everyday. Or ten. Whatever you can do. The key is to keep doing it. Don’t be afraid to follow up if you don’t hear back from people after a few weeks. Be relentless.

Be Interesting

Once you’ve got people willing to talk to you, make it worth their while to actually do so. I used to do comics journalism, so I know exactly how frustrating it is for the person doing the interview when you give three word answers. So make an effort to give answers that are worth reading or listening to.

I know a lot of creative types tend towards shyness and introspection, so if you know this is you, try getting some kind of media training. This doesn’t have to be formal – go to your library and check out books on job interviews and Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

It’s also a good idea to read a bunch of interviews with other creators and get a feel for the kinds of questions that are being asked, and then write answers to these questions ahead of time. This gives you a model for what you want to say.

You should also be prepared to answer the same questions in different ways. A lot of questions will get asked in every interview, and you need to find a new way to say them every time you’re asked. If you’re not good at this, practice.

Be Creative

Spend time everyday thinking of new ways to get the word out, new places to talk to people at, new things for them to look at. A lot of these won’t pan out or won’t be feasible (as many of my ideas were) but just one or two new ideas is worth. As above, be relentless.

Be Everywhere

Anyone who wants to talk to you, talk to them. Any place that’s willing to spread the word, use it. You want to be as ubiquitous as possible without, and this is difficult but not impossible, being so omnipresent as to be annoying. But the more outlets you have for your marketing, the better you’re going to do.

So, that’s it. No great secrets, I think. Just work.