By Chris Gumprich. (Originally posted August 1, 2005)

So what do you do when you have 1100 copies of your first comic, zero distribution, few contacts in comic retailing, and almost no money left in your budget? You research alternate marketing strategies, that's what.

There are approximately 3000 comic shops in North America. Of these, the majority are not what we would call "indy-friendly" - these are the shops that rarely order anything outside of the Marvel/DC pages of Previews, and were unlikely to take a chance on an unknown comic by unknown creators that was not being carried by a distributor. But how was I to figure out which stores were which? Simple, I used Thanks to Mark S. Adams and his list, I was able to narrow my "contact list" to approximately 150 retailers who were a) interested in independent comics, and b) open to unsolicited contact. This second point is very important - the best way to get a bad name in the industry is to be involved in a mass spamming of retailers.

My other line of attack was to be the home front - the local comic stores. I had a slight advantage here by virtue of an out-of-town artist. Between he and I we would be able to personally visit every comic store in Winnipeg and Ottawa and try to get them to place an order for Evening Shift. I emailed the artist, told him my plan, and he agreed.

The next line of attack - word of mouth. I set up a store on my website, allowing people to order directly from me. I included a cover scan, solicitation information, and a PDF of the first eight pages. Of course, that wasn't enough - how would I get people to the website? I purchased banner ads on some of the major comic websites, along with a non-comic one, but that wouldn't be enough. I had to get people talking about the comic.

To stimulate word-of-mouth, I went to two types of people: bloggers and professionals. The reasoning behind the bloggers is obvious - a good review gets people interested. Even a bad review can stimulate some interest. Interest leads to clicks, clicks lead to sales. The artist contacted a few bloggers, asking if they would be interested in receiving a free comic in exchange for a review. Nobody said no. The reviews appeared shortly thereafter, and they could be called "mixed" at best. No one really loved the comic, no one really hated it. but all of them made a point of mentioning the lackluster artwork. Still, any press is good press, right?

The second part proved more problematic - getting quotes from professionals. I made a list of eight professionals whose name would carry some weight in the genre, from small press guys to big names with movie credits. I emailed them asking if they would be interested in providing a quote for me to use in the advertising. Of the eight, I received one response. and after sending him a PDF of the comic, never heard from again.

My spirits were lifted by an email from the artist, telling me that he had placed Evening Shift in three Ottawa-area stores. I also received an order from the owner of my local shop, placing copies in both of his stores - this made a total of five stores carrying the comic.

Five down, one hundred and fifty to go.

As long-time readers know, I made a number of mistakes during the production of Evening Shift, some serious, some not so. This mistake was by far the worst of the lot, and could be considered the single point of failure.

I did not contact one store on the list.

I could make excuses - I don't like cold calling people (despite their willingness to be contacted), I didn't want to run the risk of spamming (despite their willingness to be contacted), I didn't want to blindly send out copies and be tossed out with the rest of the flyers (despite their willingness.). Or I could tell the truth - I didn't want to be rejected.

Back in the first column, I said that there is only one hard-and-fast rule which guarantees anything in the publishing game, especially comics: You can only fail if you give up. And that's exactly what happened.

Two years work went down the tubes, all because I wasn't willing to go the extra step.

However, the best thing about hitting rock bottom is that you have nowhere to go but up.

Chris Gumprich writes comics and other stuff. His self-publishing credits include the full-sized EVENING SHIFT (released 2004) and two mini-comics, RECRIMINATIONS and ACE FEDORA, with a new mini scheduled for release later this year. A new column appears every Monday at the Isotope Virtual Lounge.