B&N Week 80: Finding Your Audience

| July 3, 2012

Tuesday has come ‘round once again, and I couldn’t be happier. The past seven days were long and tiresome, but I was bolstered by the knowledge that I’d be getting to spend some time with you again. That made it a little more tolerable.

This week, I want to talk about something that is as important as sitting on your duff and doing the work, as important as making sure the work being done is of quality, and as important as getting a second pair of eyes to go over the book, looking for things you might miss. This week, I want to talk about finding your audience. Let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of that, shall we?

(But, Steven, I already know who my audience is!) Do you? Do you really? I don’t think you do.

Last week, I spoke about being commercial, yes? This is to make sure the book has the largest chance of success possible. I’ve told you time and again, just because you’ve built it, does not necessarily mean they will come.

Even though I’ve never seen Field of Dreams, everyone’s heard if you build it, they will come, which is a misquote of the movie. However, it still serves a purpose. It asks a question that most creators answer badly.

Who is they?

(That’s silly, Steven! Of course I know who’s going to come. Comic readers!) Think so, do you? We all know a few things:

-New characters are not well received by comic readers

-New books are not well received by comic readers

-If you aren’t being distributed by Diamond, most readers aren’t going to know about your book

To illustrate my point: walk into any comic shop in the US. Look at the shelves. What do you see? Marvel/DC dominates the space, and then other books may have some small space with a few issues here and there. If you’re lucky, you might have a local creator with space on the shelf. Where are you going to find interest in a story about a horse of a different color and his pet monkey, making their way across southern Utah in their search for The One Hoof?

Fine. Something easier. Pen-Man. Where’s that audience coming from?

You’re creative, and your family is proud of that fact, so they’re going to be the first to buy an issue of Pen-Man. You get rid of maybe 20 books out of the 3k you ordered [because you got a price break]. Friends and co-workers take care of maybe another 10. You’ve still got a veritable shit-ton of books to get rid of, right? So, how are you going to do it?

The first thing to realize is that you’re going to have to find your audience. The easiest way to do that is to take a really good look at your concept, see where it fits in the comics landscape, and market the book to those readers. If you’re lucky, they’ll pick up Pen-Man as well as a copy of the Green Lantern. If you’re extremely lucky, you’ll be able to steal that Green Lantern reader for yourself.

That’s right: most of the time, you’re looking to steal readers from other books. Lots of readers are on a budget, and only able to pick up a certain amount of books per month or week. This means you’re going to have to work hard to get them to pick up your book. If they pick up your book, they may have to drop another. While this is good for you, it’s bad for comics as a whole because it doesn’t grow the comic market. [That, however, is another discussion entirely.]

So, you’ve got a zombie apocalypse story set in the 1800s? Well, that’s still going to have to compete with The Walking Dead. You’re going to have to steal readers from Robert Kirkman. Good luck with that.

You have to understand that every book you create is only going to appeal to a certain segment of the comic reading population. Yes, there is a lot of crossover, but I feel that has to do more with the company or the creator than the concept. If Robert Kirkman or Brian Bendis were to put out a pure romance book, akin to the trashy novels that lots of women read but few admit to reading, then that book may be a success [read: breaking even], and there would be a revival of romance comics. [Not to be sexist, but we might even get more women back into comic shops—or get more comics out into places where people can see them again.]

Anyway, you should be putting a lot of work into your comic, and I mean outside of the creation of it. You should know to whom your comic appeals. It isn’t enough to create a comic that you would want to read. You want to sell the thing, right? That means you have to be better than everyone else out there that’s doing it. You have to study who’s doing what, how well that book is doing, and wonder where your book will fit within that scheme. That’s before you put pen to paper for your script, that’s before you start looking for an artist, that’s before you get too far ahead of yourself with creation. You have to know who your book appeals to.

(What about going outside the comic market? Going mainstream?)

I personally know a few creators that are going to try this.

Know that what I’m about to say isn’t meant to be discouraging. I never want to discourage. I just want to make sure you’re going into this with your eyes open. I want you to be prepared, both for failure, but even more importantly, for success.

Let’s say you have a political book you’ve created. You’re putting a twist on the politics because you’re using the backdrop of fish as your framing device. So, you’ve got politics, you’ve got fish, and you’re using fishing techniques as part of your action sequences. Your goal is appeal to those who love politics as well as fishing. You hang out in a few different communities that cater to politics and to fishing, with some crossover. Huge communities with millions of hits per day. Let’s say you buy some ad space on a couple of sites. Let’s also say you’re able to do a radio interview on a syndicated show.

It will be extremely difficult to market your book to these people. First, the conversion rate is going to be pitiably low. Probably less than a single percentage point. Remember, most adults [especially older adults] see comics as a child’s medium, something they grew out of once they discovered the opposite sex. They remember comics as a kid, and see it as a picture-book. Also, in general, the more educated a person is, the more they’ll have this view [especially the political set].

As for the radio interview, you’ll reach more people, but comics is a visual medium. People want to see art. They may be intrigued, but they’ll want to see what it is they could be buying.

So, that’s just the beginning of the problem.

Now, let’s say you convert them. Let’s say you’re successful and covert a lot of people into buyers of your book. How are they going to get it? (Mail order!) Right. And how are they going to order the book in order to get it through the mail? ( um Hey! A website!)

A website can work. Just remember that mail order is painful for the buyer. Now, you’ll have decisions to make. (Does everything really have to build on to everything else?) [Yes. Yes it does.] The first decision is simple: are you going to do print on demand, or are you going to shell out for a print run? [Remember, these people aren’t going to go to their local comic shop and pre-order the book. The book isn’t going to be carried by Diamond, and won’t be in the bulk of comic shops because of it.]

Print on demand has a high price tag associated with it. You’ll have to raise the price in order to make any sort of profit on the book. It’s a short run of only a few hundred, anyway. In order to get the best price, you go with offset printing and order in bulk, bringing down your price per unit significantly.

Now, you have to store all those books. If you have a house, you could put it in a spare room if you have one, or in the garage, or the basement. If you’re living in an apartment, you have less space [and all of it is precious]. If you don’t have that kind of space, your options are then using family or a friend to store these boxes of comics, or you can rent storage space.

Next come the materials. You’ll have to buy sturdy envelopes in various sizes [in order to accommodate multiple copies] in order to mail them out, and you may want to bag and board each copy. Those cost money, as well. Don’t forget the postage! If you’re lucky, the mailman won’t give you a problem about the comics, as long as they aren’t too heavy. You not having to make a trip to the post office means either you’ve bought stamps in bulk, or you’ve invested in a postage meter. [Basically, a postage meter means you’ve got an account set up with the post office in order to weigh and affix the correct amount of postage in your home, with pickup at a later time.] Costs for packaging materials and postage are passed on to the customer.

How are you going to get that money? You’re going to have to find a way to get it from your audience, right? Well, since most of the buying public has a credit card [or a debit card with a credit card logo on it], then all you’ll need to do is find a way to get it from them to you. Paypal works wonders here, and they don’t even need a paypal account. [Just remember that Paypal also takes a fee for the transaction.]

If you’re wildly successful, that’s a lot of time and effort on your part. You could also go the order fulfillment route, where another company warehouses, takes the order, and sends it out for you—all for a fee.

Finding your audience can be daunting, especially in the indies. You have to overcome the hostility of readers to try something that is new [which is getting easier, but still presents its challenges]; if you’re not blazing your own trail, you have to steal readers from other books; if you have a story that is outside the box that will appeal to non-traditional readers, then you have to find a way to market the book to them, getting it on their radar. Then, you have to be prepared for success, which can also be a daunting proposition.

I’ve gone on long enough. Your homework: look at where your book fits, what other books out there are like it, and how you plan to steal readers for it.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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