chrisgumprich.com

LESSONS LEARNED #6

By Chris Gumprich. (Originally posted May 29, 2005)

If you want to sell your comic, you have to know how to get it in the hands of people willing to buy your comic. "If you build it, they will come" is fine advice for putting a baseball stadium in the middle of a cornfield, but it's meaningless when it comes to comics. To paraphrase Larry Young, you are not a unique snowflake. Comic fans are not going to fall all over themselves to seek out your comic and give you money and recognize your genius...

...unless you go out and find your audience. Put your books in people's hands, get them talking, start a buzz. Use every available tool to make your comic a topic of interest. In short, you need a marketing plan.

This was the lesson I took away from my first mini, Recriminations, which had sales in the single digits. A couple of reviews and random message board posts are not going to lead to big sales. I needed a careful plan of attack - to use everything that I've learned in order to make sure as many people as possible hear about my book, and, more importantly, become interested enough to buy it.

Unlike established professionals, I did not have a bankable name attached to the project. As a semi-lurker on a number of comic-related message boards, I was somebody that you might have heard of, but darned if you can remember where. I didn't write a regular column, didn't have a weblog, and my posts were barely above the level of "Me Too!" The artist was a relative unknown at about the same level of "fame" as me. Obviously, I could not create a marketing campaign around the creative team. But I had to find a starting point to build my campaign around.

The first thing anyone sees in a comic is the cover - it can be considered one of the main selling points. Putting two and two together, I realized that if I spent some of my advertising budget on getting a big-name artist to do the cover, I would have a "name" attached to the marketing. But how would I find a big-name artist who would be willing to spend time doing a cover for a completely unknown self-publisher?

Easy. I found an artist that I liked, emailed him, and asked if he was interested in a commission. And you know what? I received a "yes" from the very first guy I asked, the Eisner Award-nominated Brian Wood, considered one of the best cover artists currently working.

Now that I had an image (or at least I knew I was going to be getting one), I had to work out how to get that image out there. I drew up a plan involving websites, magazine advertising, convention appearances, and full-page ads in as many distributor magazines as I could. Crunching the numbers, I realized that my advertising budget would be as expensive - if not more - than the printing. It would be money well-spent if it translated into sales - I considered it an investment.

Unfortunately the time to buy advertising came slightly after a small personal financial crisis, forcing me to cut back on the full plan. The key components were still there - a dedicated website, ads on three other websites, distributor catalogs - but I could only afford one convention, and most magazines were completely out of the question. To supplement my slimmed-down marketing plan, I devised a method of guerilla marketing - getting the word out myself as best I could, everything from phoning retailers personally to sending review copies out to webloggers.

The marketing plan was now in place. I had done all that I could up to this point - now I had to play the waiting game. I needed artwork. Fortunately, the first deadline was coming up - I was only a week or two away from having the first eight pages finished and in my hands.

This was where the real troubles began.