Who the hell am I to be telling you how to sell your small press books to retailers, anyway?
If you’ve been with us for the first two installments of this series…
…then you’ve been hit with a ton of thoughts and ideas from a small-press publisher working in the trenches, trying to make a dollar out of 95 cents in this comics game.
Well, for Part 3, I’m going to shut the #$%! up!
Instead, I’m going to drop 21 tips that come directly from comic book retailers who I’ve worked with over the years. On the panel today, we have:
Colin McMahon of Pittsburgh Comics
Jeremy Shorr of Titan Comics
I’m extremely grateful for these three gentlemen’s time and insight. Let’s get to it!
Tip #1: Never Call on a Wednesday.
Calling stores to tell them about your book is great.
Just don’t do it on a Wednesday.
“I am stunned how many calls I get from people wanting me to buy their stuff on Wednesday at noon and 5:00,” say Colin McMahon of Pittsburgh Comics. “Learn your market. More often than not, they piss me off and I intentionally DON’T order their stuff when I see it. A former game distributor would call every Wednesday at 12:30. To him, he knew I’d be there. To me, I have a line of people who are rushing in and out on their lunch break and I need to keep them happy. A 10 min conversation while trying to ring them out is not in the cards.”
Tip #2: Don’t Call or Email on a Wednesday, Either. Or Tuesday, or Friday Night…
Okay, so, New Comic Book day Wednesday are a bad time to try to capture a retailer’s attention.
But guess, what? Those new comics don’t magically appear on retail shelves, which means Tuesday is a lousy day to reach them as well.
“Don’t email stores on Tuesday, as we’re checking in the order and getting the store ready. We need to make 26 new holes on the New Comics shelf, a 3 hour process of shifting,” says McMahon.
Friday nights are also a bad time for many shops that hold Friday Night Magic tournaments.
“Your email header may be glanced at, but no store is digging through their mail those days and it will just get pushed down and out of mind. If I only got 2-3 emails selling me stuff a day, it’d be ok. But I get 200-300.”
Instead, retailers suggest you make your emails memorable, and send it when they can actually read it.
The best times to send emails to retailers are Thursday or Friday late morning, early afternoon.
“Just understand what is going on in the store during the week and figure out when we will be less busy… Don’t email a game store during Friday Night Magic and expect them to see it.”
Tip #3: But DO Call and Email.
While certain times are awful to contact them, most retailers are receptive to hearing from you.
“I always read emails,” says Jeremy Shorr of Titan Comics. “Don’t despair if I don’t reply.”
Tip #4: Sending PDFs is Good…
“PDF’s rule. If you really want me to order your comic, send me a PDF of the comic. Front covers are insufficient,” says Shorr.
McMahon agrees. “Send anything you can. If I know more than just the Previews blurb, I’m more apt to read it.”
Tip #5: …But Sending Physical Product is Better.
And while PDFs are the most commonly sent promotional material to retailers, understand a physical review copy is going to be a lot more effective.
“Physical copies are better than pdfs, but I realize there is a cost involved. I stand at the computer all day and the last thing I want to do at night is sit at the computer reading PDFs,” said McMahon.
“I’m old school. I like to read on the sofa. Black Mask sent me a copy of We Can Never Go Home #1. I threw it in my bag. Finally got around to reading it. Loved it. Tripled my order. I’m now hand selling it.”
“The problem with the PDFs is that it, like other emails, they get forgotten and drift out of sight. A physical copy has a better chance of being looked at.”
Tip #6: Remember You’re in a War for Shelf Space…
“Stores have a limited amount of spaces for new comics,” says McMahon. “I am lucky. My new comic wall is huge. I have 658 spaces for new books. But if a store only has space for 200 new books, well, you are going to get squeezed out.”
This is simply the reality of the arena you’re asking to compete in. There’s no sugar coating it.
“Sometimes its just a numbers game. Your shelf time might be shorter than normal so that promo effort needs to be timed right. I need to pull 26 titles off of the wall to make room for 26 new #1s tomorrow.
Tip #7: …So, for the Love of Everything Holy, Hit Your Ship Dates!
“Nothing slaughters momentum on a new series faster than delayed shipping,” says Shorr.
“This is true regardless of who is writing, drawing, or publishing the comic. The more its delayed, the lower the sales. Powers is a fantastic example of this – I was selling upwards of 40 copies when it was first being published. Once its shipping schedule started slipping, people got tired of waiting and moved on. Now, when it finally gets around to shipping, I sell around 16 copies. There are myriad other examples but that one is a gold star example.”
McMahon concurs, “Am I going to pull something that I have a lot of that will never sell once off the wall, or that book I decided to give a shot, but it didn’t move, and #2 is now two months late?
Tip #8: Don’t Expect the Retailer to Sell Your Books for You.
“I have 26 new #1s that I need to make room for on the shelves every week,” says McMahon.
“It’s not realistic for me to be able to read all of them tonight and talk about them tomorrow. And then next week its the same thing. There is rarely a break where I can get caught up.”
Tip #9: Diamond and Previews is Your Gateway to the Direct Market.
“I have no idea what is involved getting into Previews, but you really have to try,” says McMahon.
“Very few stores have the time to go online and try to find stuff. It’s not lack of desire or laziness. There is more stuff than I can use in Previews. Trying to find more outside of Previews is just an extra step.”
While there are retailers receptive to small press publishers outside of Diamond, it is a hard sell for most.
“I am a one man show. I run the store 5 days a week and do all of the ordering. Most weeks I’m lucky to not fall behind in the stuff I need to do to keep the store running. Adding extra steps to the process for something that might only sell a few copies isn’t worth the effort.”
“I’m not being mean or saying the books not in Previews aren’t worth it. But I do ten hours at the store a day and at least a few at home. Yesterday, my day off was two hours of computer work doing the weekly reorder and FOC.”
Tip #10: Retailers Are Probably Not Going to Back Your Kickstarter.
Retailer Colin McMahon’s take on Kickstarter:
1) I don’t have time to look at them.
2) I have found, through personal experience, that doing the retailer tiers is a wasted effort. The people who are really interested will just do the Kickstarter and the copies I get go unsold. We are trying for the same market.
From my own experience, it never hurts to include a few retailer tiers on your project, but your retailer promotion efforts are much better spent AFTER you have the product in hand.
Tip #11: Great Covers and Logos Matter.
“Have a great eye catching cover! I cannot stress this enough. My main wall is 36′ long, 6 shelves high, 7 books per shelf. 378 covers to look at. You have to stand out,” says McMahon.
“Most non-big, easily recognizable books need to catch the eye. Superman sells himself. You have to have something that makes the reader stop and look. Think back to the old Jimmy Olsen covers… “Jimmy is a turtle? I have to see how that happened!” You need to try to recreate that feeling of, “Wow, what’s this?!?” Just by the cover.”
Retailers also recommend creators make their cover logos clear.
“Nothing worse than someone asking me for a book they can’t find when it was right there, but the logo was so stylish that it was unreadable. How many don’t ask and assume I don’t have it? Not good for either of us.”
“Look at the logo for the Image book Sovereign as a study in how not to do it. Too fancy, not clear. Heck, even the recent runs on Avengers and New Avengers confused people.”
Tip #12: Get Involved with Your Local Shops.
“I also love you pushing the local angle,” said McMahon in response to that recommendation in the first part of this series.
Many retailers, like Ernie Pelletier of Friendly Neighborhood Comics will open their doors to local creators for signings, which in turn increases the likelihood for future shelf space in their shops.
Tip #13: Retailers Listen to Other Retailers.
Endorsements from comics news sites, critics, or other creators pale in comparison to a strong endorsement (backed by dollars) from other comic book retailers.
“I carry ComixTribe books because I deal with Larry [Doherty of Larry’s Wonderful World of Comics] online. And HE talked up your books for you on Twitter,” says McMahon.
“Local doesn’t just mean local. Local means those guys will work harder for you. And that gets you out there to the people (like me) who didn’t know you were there.
Tip #14: Pay Attention to Your Pricing.
“I know you need to make a profit, but my customers won’t even sniff at a $6 independent comic book,” says Shorr. “Which means I won’t order such a thing, either.”
One thing worth noting, however, is that cheaper does not always mean a retailer will order more. In fact, a retailer might even be LESS likely to order your book at $1.99 than he would be at $3.99.
Because that $1.99 book, when sold, will net him $1 in profit. Yet, it would need to take up the same amount of shelf space as a book at $3.99, which, when sold, would net him twice as much in profit.
This is a major reason why I discourage indie creators from trying to compete with a lowest-price strategy. That’s not a game we can win… and even if we could, we probably wouldn’t want to.
Tip #15: Factor in Shipping Costs with Your Offers to Shops.
Jeremy Shorr recommends that you factor in the shipping costs into your offer when you make a discount offer to a shop.
“If you offer me a 40% discount with an added $5 shipping charge on five comic books, guess what? That’s really a 20% discount. I do the math ahead of time and order accordingly.”
Tip #16: Format Your Books for the Direct Market.
“Artistic freedom rules! However, if your comic book is extravagantly shaped or sized, my customers avoid it like the plague,” says Shorr.
While there are notable exceptions to this, like Frank Miller’s 300 or David Peterson’s Mouse Guard, those are exactly that… exceptions.
“Please keep the shape and size near that of a regular mass market comic book. The further away from a regular comic book size your item is, the less likely I am to order it.”
Tip #17: Think Carefully About Graphic Sexual Content.
“I am not a censor, but if you must include graphic sexual content in your publication please wait until issue 2 to do so,” suggests Jeremy Shorr of Titan Comics.
“Nothing slows down the entry sales of a comic faster than being forced to seclude it from the general public.”
It’s also worth noting that different shops are subject to different local censorship laws and content suitability guidelines… so be sure to go into the marketing and selling of your book with your eyes wide open when it comes to graphic content.
And make sure you’re upfront about its content, and that graphic content is labeled as such.
Tip #18: Put a Bar Code on Your Book.
“Please invest in a bar code,” pleads Shorr.
Many retailers have invested in expensive POS systems to track unit sales… but that’s all for naught if your book doesn’t have a bar code on it.
[And let’s be honest, you have no excuse for not putting a bar code on your books, because we tell you everything you need to know about bar codes in this meaty ComixTribe article. We got your back, creators!]
Tip #19: Put a Price on Your Book.
This seems like a no-brainer, but in fact, many small press books do not carry a price.
“Please have a visible price printed on the comic,” requests Shorr.
Again, with hundreds of new books coming in each week, it’s impossible to expect retailers to know the price of everything in their store, unless it’s right there on the cover.
Tip #20: If Your Book has a Spine, it Needs Something Printed on it!
“Collected editions need information printed on the spine,” says Shorr.
“Most of my TPB’s are displayed spine out – if you have a blank spine your item will become lost in the sea of spines very quickly.”
Again, seems like a no-brainer, but I do see plenty of books with spines at cons that lack any information on them. If you’re trying to get into retail, that’s a no-no.
Tip #21: Follow Comic Shops on Twitter.
“If you have a Twitter account, follow comic shops,” suggests Ernie Pelletier, of Friendly Neighborhood Comics (@FriendlyComics). “If we are following you, we can’t send you a direct message unless you are also following us.”
And there you have it, 21 tips from actual comic book retailers!
Even if you’re not sure you want to listen to my thoughts on the matter, following the advice in this post alone will level up your retailer relations 1000%.
Again, big time thanks to:
Colin McMahon of Pittsburgh Comics
Jeremy Shorr of Titan Comics
for dropping knowledge bombs on us. I hope you learned a lot.
Category: Comix Counsel