chrisgumprich.com

LESSONS LEARNED #18

By Chris Gumprich. (Originally posted August 22, 2005)

The easy part was over. I was "back in business" as a self-publisher, with one hundred copies of my new mini-comic, Ace Fedora: Private Eye, hot off the presses, ready for sale. It was time to apply what I had learned from the disastrous attempts to get Evening Shift (and the previous mini Recriminations) into stores.

Now, I knew that some of the Evening Shift lessons would not apply to a short-run mini. For one thing, there was no point in approaching Diamond for distribution - they carry very, very, very few mini-comics, and will probably turn you down sight unseen unless they've heard of you. The major backorder distributor, Cold Cut, is a little more receptive to minis, but would not be likely to take the risk (and certain financial loss) on one mini. No, it figured to be a waste of time trying to find someone else to do the distribution for me - I'd be better off doing it myself.

The question was: who do I contact? The number of stores which stock any independent titles were few, the ones who would stock minis from a non-local artist fewer. I had managed to place Recriminations with one (count 'em, one!) web-based review site-slash-store, but didn't sell a single copy. Still, a year had passed since then, I knew the market somewhat better, and knew where to look to find others. I selected five stores - four that had a solid reputation as mini-friendly, and one Canadian store that supported local artists. (Strictly speaking, I wasn't "local," but I thought that being Canadian counted for something.) Copies were sent, and I waited for the orders to come rolling in.

And waited.

And waited.

Nothing. No orders. No rejections. Not even an acknowledgement.

Discouraged, but not defeated, I re-evaluated my store selection process. A number of stores had been crossed off my original contact list because they only carried minis produced locally. What if I turned that around, and contacted some of the local stores to see if they would be interested?

Why not? Because then I would have to face my biggest fear, the phobia which stopped me from self-distributing Evening Shift. I would have to make cold calls, risking rejection and heartbreak by attempting to sell directly, face-to-face over the phone.

I still carried a lump in my throat from the whole Evening Shift distribution debacle. Even then, I knew that the reason for my failure was me. Was I willing to go through that again? Spend the next five years staring at unsold copies of Ace Fedora, knowing that I didn't make sufficient effort to sell them - all because I was too scared to use the phone?

There was another way.

If I can't work up the nerve to use the telephone, I would just have to go to the stores in person.

But not without a plan.

Getting the easiest part (ha) out of the way first, I booked a day off of work. Because of some upcoming deadlines, I had to pick a Wednesday - which turned out to be my biggest mistake. I was smart enough not to hit the stores on New Comic Day (which up here is Thursday), but I didn't realize that most of the owners are not in the stores on Wednesdays.

I made a list of stores to hit - all ones that I was familiar with, as I happened to be familiar with almost all of the stores in town. I selected five stores in the downtown area, all within walking distance of one another. Some of them were indy-friendly, some weren't. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. and if nothing else, it gave me an excuse to buy a bunch of comics.

Not all of my planned stops were comic stores. Because the subject matter of Fedora was not in line with the standard public perception of a "comic book story," I planned a stop at a local coffee shop/independent bookstore that was on record as being a strong supporter of local arts. It was a chance to reach to an audience outside of traditional comic fans.

With the list in hand, I prepared sample packets for each store - an introductory cover letter, personalized to each store (and to the manager, if I could find out their names), and copies of Fedora and, if I hadn't previously sent them a copy, Evening Shift. I was ready to go selling.

But could I handle the rejection? The preparations were made, but I could back out at any time - and knowing me, I would. As usual, I was wracked with doubts, and came very close to tossing everything in the recycling bin and walking away.

"What am I doing," I asked myself. "Who do I think I'm kidding? I've sent this book to five major stores in the States, and not one of them thought I was good enough to carry. Why should I put myself through this?"

How do you know they didn't think you were good enough? Maybe you should check their websites - maybe they're carrying you, and just forgot to send the email.

All right, fine. A quick web search will lay to rest that particular doubt. And sure enough, none of the first four stores so much as mentioned Fedora. The fifth, a major store in Chicago, listed Ace Fedora: Private Eye - by Chris Gumprich -- on their order form. Right above ACME Novelty Library. There I was, rubbing virtual shoulders with one of the giants of independent comics.

It was the shot of confidence I needed. Next week, I'm knocking on doors.

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.