Sam Humphries on His Remarkable “Our Love Is Real”

| September 14, 2011 | 4 Comments

In this Trenches interview, I chat with writer Sam Humphries, about his quirky sci-fi WTF one-shot OUR LOVE IS REAL, which was recently picked up by Image Comics.  Sam is DEFINITELY a creator you should be paying attention to. 

I’m a huge fan of marketing guru and author Seth Godin.  Seth often says that these days, it’s not enough for your product to be good, it needs to be remarkable.  And by that he simply means worth talking about.  I think this is especially true for independent comics. OUR LOVE IS REAL is a book that certainly has people talking.  In your opinion, what’s so remarkable about this book?  

I think Godin’s theorem is pretty applicable here. “Dude publishes comic book” is not a remarkable story by itself. If you want people to write or chat about your book, you have to understand what makes your book remarkable and be able to communicate it clearly. If you can’t do that, no one else can.
In the case of Our Love Is Real, the content is provocative, the first and second editions sold out rapidly, and, thankfully, people seemed to think the book was good enough to justify the buzz. You can come up with marketing and PR hooks all day long, but if the comic itself doesn’t measure up, it will all fall flat. The comic has to come first.

It’s no secret that independent creators face a large number of obstacles to get their books seen in a crowded market.  As you were getting ready to face this uphill battle, what did you see as the major challenges Our Love Is Real would face, and how did you plan to address them?  

One of the major challenges was the lack of resources and logistical capability to handle a “normal” print run. So I reduced the print run to 300 and tried to leverage that as best I could. It turned into a situation where the book sold out in nine hours and was going for $40 on eBay the next day. It contributed to the buzz surrounding the book. When you don’t have the backing of a big publisher, you have to turn your weaknesses into strengths.

Our Love Is Real is a one-shot (though you seem open to doing more with that series in the future.)  What are the pros and cons of doing one-shots?  Do you think creators need to take a different approach to marketing a one shot than a mini-series or graphic novel?

One-shots are great, because there’s only one of them! Every page equals more money. And if it tanks, you’re not on the hook for four or five more issues of something nobody wants.
I think there’s also a done-in-one aspect in the psychology of the reader that helps if you’re an unproven creator. It’s a minimal commitment. If it sucks, a reader won’t feel quite so burned because they didn’t have to read 150 pages to figure out it sucks.

Every book and every format requires a different marketing approach. The only common factor is to work your ass off. No one is going to care about your book more than you do. You set the bar.

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the approach you’ve taken with Our Love Is Real.  As such, you’re now on my radar as an independent creator worth paying attention to (and borrowing a few ideas from!)  What other creators out there are YOU paying attention to?

Shane and Chris Houghton of REED GUNTHER. They are another example of self-publishers who got picked up by a major publisher. It’s a very smart, funny, unique book. I’ve read all the original editions so I’m psyched to see the new chapters!

I’m excited for Steven Sanders’ next gig, but I don’t know if I can say what it is. Anyone who liked his work on OUR LOVE IS REAL should definitely keep an eye on him.

For a while now, I’ve looked at the direct market’s pre-ordering system, and found it overly cumbersome. You’ve taken an innovative approach to addressing this. Can you talk about your pre-order app and website and the thinking behind it?

Anyone interested in OUR LOVE IS REAL can pre-order the book now, online, at this link: http://bit.ly/OLIRpreorder

You can choose to have it delivered by mail anywhere in the world, or you can pick it up at one of over 75 comic book stores in the US, Canada, and the UK. Our pre-order app makes it very simple and it takes less than two minutes. The first edition of the book sold out in nine hours, so two minutes to pre-order is a breeze. When customers use app to pre-order OUR LOVE IS REAL, their pre-order is sent directly to a comic book store in an email. The app is not a middleman, it’s just an enabler for readers to buy and retailers to sell. They connect directly with each other.

The thinking about it was this: the pre-ordering system in the direct market blows for promoting books to readers. It’s wonderful for stores and publishers and Diamond, but the downside is that it’s extremely difficult to persuade customers to pre-order a comic book within a marketing message. And I’m just talking about existing comics fans — for casual or new readers, forget it. The process is too complicated and counter-intuitive. It sounds more convoluted than dealing with the DMV.

I wanted to create a friendly “user interface” to layer on top of the pre-order process. Something that would streamline the system for readers and make it recognizable to anyone who orders entertainment online. Something they can act on immediately. A way to deliver sales directly to comic book stores. And a simplified marketing message — a message we can repeat anywhere and everywhere. We’ve condensed a confusing multi-domain, four-to-six step process into one link: http://bit.ly/OLIRpreorder

It’s shorter than a tweet!

What are you working on next? What have you learned from the creation and marketing of Our Love Is Real that you’ll bring to your next project?

Behind the scenes, I have a new self-published book coming out in December. But I’ll be keeping quiet about it until the last minute. That’s definitely a lesson I learned from OUR LOVE IS REAL: keep your mouth shut and do the work first.

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Category: Trenches, Writers

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at [email protected]

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  1. What is the Ceiling on DIY Distribution? | ComixTribe | April 5, 2012
  1. Noel Burns says:

    Nice article Tyler. It has given me a few things I need to think about for direct marketing. I need to sit down and get these fleshed out quickly. I am guessing there is a POD printer on the other end of this system or are the books warehoused? If someone happens to know would be great.

  2. Tyler James says:

    I’m guessing that in Sam’s case, his first two short print runs were POD, and that he shipped them directly to the small batch of retail stores that carried the initial runs, and also sold online himself.

    I’m also guessing that his follow up Image print run will be an off-set run, distributed through Diamond.

  3. No POD. All copies of OUR LOVE IS REAL were printed at Gotham Press in Los Angeles, California.

    I “warehoused” them in my apartment. Since each print run was 300 copies and they moved pretty quickly, storing them for a little bit wasn’t a huge problem. Mailing all the copies myself did drag on a bit, but once you establish a system it’s not so much an issue.

    If anyone has any other questions I’d be happy to address!

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