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LESSONS LEARNED #19

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

The first comic store wasn't there anymore.

I was downtown on a Wednesday, promotional packages for Ace Fedora and Evening Shift in my bag, and a list of stores in my hand. One coffee shop, four comic stores. only it seemed that the first store on the list was now an empty storefront. The sign was gone, the shelves empty. A Judge Dredd anti-shoplifter sticker on the door was the only sign that I was in the right place - comics had been sold here, as recently as six months ago.

Strike one. The day was not off to a stellar start.

Going into this sales trip, I knew that I would be battling my confidence at every stage. I had ranked the five stops in order of "sales likelihood," in other words, the first couple of stops were at stores that had shown an interest in selling mini-comics or work by locals, and thus might be interested in me. If I made a couple of sales - or at least seen some interest - early on, I would have the confidence to hit the stores with a lower sales likelihood. All stores were in the same general area of downtown, making it relatively easy to walk to each of them.

The second store was a lot more welcoming than the first - namely, it was open. It had recently gone through a change in management, and the new owners were stocking more independent titles - it was where I had picked up a copy of Me and Edith Head. If they would stock minis from elsewhere, certainly they would be interested in mine, right?

Because it was still early on a Wednesday morning, the store was nearly deserted. I picked up a trade paperback, took it to the guy behind the till, and started up a conversation. We chatted about the book I was purchasing, and I asked him if he was the manager.

"No, the manager isn't in today - he takes Wednesdays off. Something I can help you with?"

"Well, maybe you can. Do you carry a lot of local stuff? Minis, for instance?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Not really. There isn't a lot of local stuff to sell."

"Well, let me show you something." I pulled the first package out of my bag and handed it to him. "I'm a publisher, and here's some samples of my work. I'd like to make a deal to sell them here."

He took a look at the cover of Evening Shift and whistled. "That's a nice cover. Are you distributed through Diamond?"

"Well. no. FMI carries the book, but with local guys I prefer to deal direct."

He put the comic in the envelope and put it on a pile of mail behind him. "I'll give it to the manager, but I gotta tell you, I don't think he'll be interested. We don't usually carry anything that's not distributed through Diamond. Sorry."

Strike two. I thanked him, took one of the manager's business cards, and left. While walking to the next store, I went over my spiel in my head. I hadn't bothered to go into pricing or anything like that, because there didn't seem any point - I wasn't talking to the manager. I was polite, I smiled, my breath was fresh, and I was dressed casual-yet-professional. No, as far as I could tell I hadn't done anything "wrong."

Somewhat discouraged, I entered store #3 - a combination used book/comic/music/video store in a heritage building. The entire store seemed to be hidden under a layer of dust, yet strangely enough the merchandise was always clean. They were one of the few stores still open from the 1970s, and occasionally I had found an underpriced gem in the back issue bins.

This trip was no exception - a copy of Raw Volume 2, from back when Maus was still being serialized within. Groovy. Book in hand, I walked up to the clerk (there was no "till" to speak of, all prices were calculated manually) and had a similar conversation. No, the manager takes Wednesdays off. No, we don't carry anything by local artists. Sure, you can leave some samples, but don't hold your breath.

Strike three. Again, I didn't think that I had done anything "wrong." Very polite, made a purchase before I started trying to sell anything, wasn't too pushy - it simply wasn't something that interested them.

I was feeling pretty discouraged, but fortunately I had anticipated something like this happening at about this point. The next stop, the bookstore/café, was just across the street from store #3. This was the one stop that I felt sure about - they had a long record of supporting local artists, selling everything from full-sized comics to chapter books to independent CDs. Half the battle had already been fought - I wouldn't be shown the door simply because I was trying to sell minis.

My confidence grew as I was introduced to the buyer - a blue-haired girl who was very excited to hear that I did comics. "We don't have nearly enough comics here - it's almost like nobody in town makes them anymore." I showed her my samples, she complimented the Evening Shift cover, and asked if I had an email address that she could use to place an order.

"Well, hey, I'd be happy to take your order right now, if you'd like."

She shook her head. "No. I want to take the chance to read them and show them to a couple of other people. If we decide to order, I'll email you." Don't call us, we'll call you.

I thanked her and left the café feeling incredibly discouraged. Four stores, three sample packs handed out, zero orders. The only store left on my list was a longshot at best - a typical superhero store that considered Image and Dark Horse to be "alternative comix." I decided to skip them altogether.

Sales-wise, the day was an abject failure. I never heard from any of the managers. But there is always a bright side - I was out there, trying to hand-sell to an audience that didn't seem to be all that interested. If I was going to make it in comics, it would be a very important skill to master.

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.