ymmv .14 – Launching a Book
Launching a book is no laughing matter. In fact, it’ll have you bleary eyed with lack of sleep, it’ll have you grinding your teeth down to Stonehenge nubs, and it’ll have you leaking tears just at the thought of FOCs and Diamond Order Codes and finding that fine line between getting word out and being a goddamn spambot for 2-3 months.
And in the end the ROI you’ll see on your hard work will feel so insubstantial. Because launching a creator owned book is difficult. There are many hoops to traverse, some flaming, some dripping with nuclear waste, and some with trick brick walls on the other side.
But isn’t it worth it when someone digs your comic? Just that once, someone tweets out some love, or a review nails what you were going for, and you are happy for all the work. It’s all worth it but we oscillate in cycles of remembering/forgetting/feeling this.
I am caught in the rip of just this thing and it’s maddening as much as it is supercharging.
CHUM is a creator owned book with Sami Kivelä on art, Mark Dale on colours, Nic J. Shaw on letters, Dan Hill editing, and a script from me, all published through ComixTribe and right now we are beating the drum. Hard.
Even though I have no idea what beat people wanna hear.
The truth of the matter is, everyone is spruiking their comics, and no one has it right, because you never know what’s going to catch on. Certain little things might occur and create a spark but there’s nothing definitive. Hell, even movie departments spend millions on advertising and they still have no idea what they’re doing [except for the Deadpool movie team, they were insanely on point] but everyone else is just flinging pasta and boogers and old wet dreams at the wall to see what sticks.
I’ll freely admit to not knowing what’s going to turn my comic into a creator owned success. But at this stage of my career it’s almost fun to just try things and see how it flows. So here are some thoughts on what it’s like working up the lather for your new book that people simply must preorder, read, love, tweet about, and generally buy extra copies to make promotional clothing out of.
BE PREPARED FOR NO ONE TO CARE
And, honestly, they don’t have to. It’s not your right to have people fawn over your book. It’s also hella easy for people to overlook your book. It’s not personal – well, it might be sometimes – but it’s not something you can expect nor demand. I know sitting alongside CHUM #1 in the April releases there are scores of other #1s. That’s new stuff you’ve gotta compete with, your shiny new business has to be the shiniest and the newest to make any kind of waves and get that green spewing from the wallets of the masses. And this doesn’t even start on the ongoing costs people are outlaying already to be reading East of West, or Kennel Block Blues, or Power Man and Iron Fist. You gotta compete with the best.
To get the money from people you have to make them care, give them a reason to take a gamble, draw them in. Because no one is making a heartless leap for a $3.99 comic. I know I wouldn’t/don’t.
24 PAGE DIGITAL ASHCAN PREVIEW
Tyler James – Four Colour Impresario at ComixTribe – came up with the idea to create a digital ashcan that people could download. We put 7 preview pages from the comic in there, we packed in Sami’s thumbnail/pencil/inks process, we showed all covers for the series [which are bloody gorgeous] and all we asked in return was that people handed across their email.
I know this is something people don’t like to do all that readily but it gives us an email list from which to build a backbone of peeps we can hit up with future previews and such and they might now care enough to share the good word. It’s give and take and we hope to get the people who did download enticed enough to preorder, and then hopefully tell a friend.
For my money, the Digital Ashcan is a great idea and I personally wish other comics would do it so I’d have something to download from them because I love weird kooky PDF packages of comic goodness. I’m a process junkie, I love free stuff, and seeing all of this stuff is very much my jam. If nothing else, I’m glad we’ll have this for our comic, and I hope it leads to more happening from others in the future.
I know I loved it when Frank Barbiere put up the Five Ghosts pitch doc, and when Declan Shalvey recently put up the Inkjection PDF with sketches and process material in it.
THE EMAIL MACHINE
You can fall down a very deep and dark and damp and depressing hole when you start emailing about your book.
If you’re worth your salt, you’ll have a list of creator peeps you’ll wanna share the work with and see what they think – and hopefully get them to share said thoughts online where others can be influenced.
And you’ll want to have a list of press peeps who might wanna run a piece about the comic, do an advanced review, interview you, anything.
Then, finally, there are the retailers you want to let know.
So many emails to send. So many addresses to curate. Which is easy enough in a spreadsheet, but you can’t just load up the confetti cannon with news of your impending four colour domination and then make it rain. I wish you could, I know I’ve tried, but this isn’t the world we live in.
First of all, no one likes to get the BCC treatment. Second of all, it takes time to personalise emails to creator/press/retail peeps. But you kinda have to – though I admit I’m rubbish with this. Many of my BCC blasts to creator peeps start with: “Hey all, sorry for the BCC, one kid hit the hospital this week, the day job had me running a night workshop for parents, and there’s a con in town this week, so I’ve been buried deeper than Christopher Sebela’s self-respect…”
But at least try to make it personal: “Hey friend, how bout them local sportsballs and your [INSERT LOVED ONE’S COLLECTIVE NOUN FROM MAIL MERGE], lol.”
Though good news, you’ll have years to hone this craft. Because at first, your list will be small. And over time, your list will wax and wane. People will never respond and maybe you can stop bothering them, or some people will actually lend a hand, and it’s then that you should get personal and keep it up.
I speak of this like I know what I’m saying. I have a long day job, two kids, a wife, so my email game is sad-to-nil, alas. But I know that there are some avenues where people keep me afloat. I have some good press peeps that appreciate my finer works, I have some retailers that chat and they are golden, and I have some very understanding creator peeps who I’d bend over backwards for, and they’ve been just as super helpful to and for me.
So spend the years checking in with people, share your things with them, but don’t be a distress signal that you hope all hear and will jump to action for.
ALSO, what do you email them?
Well, I know John Hendrick at Big Bang Comics in Dublic recently wrote some great long thoughts on the subject over at SKTCHD so read that first and then I’ll sound off like an Assistant Coach below.
Have your damn comic finished already.
It’s fun to start teasing and leaking things every single time fresh art drops into the inbox but most people don’t wanna play that game – they wanna scope the book and see if they dig so then they can help you in some way.
Have at least the first issue done, if not just the whole damn thing, and then give the PDFs to the people. This might be hard to swing, what with the time and money and energy it costs to make comics, but it’ll help a great deal in the long run.
I’ve seen argument between saying send PDFs as attachments and as links to outside places – Google Drive, Dropbox, MediaSomething, etc. One editor told me to send PDFs and despite that meaning that the inbox gets clogged it also means the editor is guaranteed to have the work right there forevermore. People shuffle Dropbox files and the links will stop being active when that happens – or the one time Dropbox links all just changed and I hadn’t moved my files and yet the links didn’t work and I looked like a complete rookie cockhead.
For my money, I link to Dropbox. I have my files sorted there, I try not to move the completed PDFs I share, and it won’t clog an inbox. This is what I like to receive, and what I’ve been told many appreciate.
Also send the cover. If it’s good and doing its job then just looking at that will get us enthused and we’ll know the tone/direction/vibe of the comic.
Try to keep it short enough that it doesn’t take paragraphs to get the pertinent information. Make sure the people know the title, the creative team, the publisher, the order date/shelf date, and a brief idea of the story as easily and quickly as you can, and then the Diamond Order Code. Bold items, underline, dot point, so long as it is clear then that’s fine, clarity is golden.
I also believe you should bring your own flavour to it to a fair degree. You are selling the book, sure, but you’re also selling yourself. Let those being emailed know who you are, and how you do. But don’t go overboard – being too sassy, too cute, etc, can be a real drag. Find that fine line [good luck, a-hahahaha].
You can maybe reply to the email with them once if they haven’t engaged yet. Y’know, just to ping it back up in the inbox, I know we all get busy, that’s fine, but any more than that and you probably have not heeded the subtle implications of the silence.
I’ve heard of some peeps doing well via the phone, but then have also heard retailers say catching them on the phone while they are busy, or have customers, or no pen handy usually equates to you and the work being forgotten or not written down quickly enough.
This game is hit or miss, so far as I can tell.
Algorithms could be working against you. Or you might be batshit boring, and people have muted you. You might live in the wrong timezone – I always feel like I’m screaming into the abyss when on twitter because the USA market is asleep and that’s a good chunk of peeps I wanna chat with.
Trying to boil down how to be successful on social media is like trying to train to catch a fart on the tip of your finger.
I can’t tell you what to do but I’ve got some tips on what not to do [that then might branch, through process of elimination, into some quality ‘do’ territory].
Don’t spam the feed like you are strafing the enemy warzone 24/7. This shock and awe will not work, it just annoys people. Sure, aim for hot tweets to land in different times – some people are creatures of habit and only check the twitter tubes during the same portion of each day, so you have to reach them all x infinity, but you don’t have to spam. Spend your preorder period also talking about other things. I see people tell people to still be human when on social media. I guess that could work.
Oh, and this goes double for Facebook. You don’t have to link every single interview you do into every single group you poked your nose into. Triple so for groups that don’t really relate to what you are pushing. Doing this will get most people to mute that group – which totally isn’t fair – or just mute you.
It’s a delicate hand to promote, use images, different text, different reasons to bring it up. Not just the same damn “Here’s my link: [LINK]” tweets/post. Leak superb panels, show pencils/colours for a page or the cover. Always try to differentiate so all peeps have a new reason to check your digital missives and let them collect in the brain pan like some kind of four colour virus that makes them need to know more about this book and gorge when it drops.
Engage Instagram if you got it, show some script pages, the ad in Previews, whatever. Mix it up so you don’t bore people [and yourself, let’s be honest] to death.
I’ll add into this writing a newsletter. I write a newsletter because it’s fun and also because it ensures my word gets out – it lands in the inbox, it lodges there until engaged or formally dismissed, and it’s completely opt in so I can do so guilt free. So long as your newsletters aren’t three times a week, or anything.
In all, tread lightly but have presence, and then pray for traction [I know, right – much saavy, so trending, very retweets – I am no help, I understand this and have come to accept it].
You can schedule a month of posts – I did a tonne of coverage for Negative Space before it launched. I looked at the cover creation process, the issue titles, the impetus for the story, etc. I had posts dropping at least once a week, usually maybe 3 a fortnight.
I didn’t wanna overload – neither the readers nor my own schedule – but it is stuff I’m excited about [natch] and it was relatively fun to do.
But did it move the needle? I say I was preaching to the choir but you never know what having more options to turn up when googling “your name” and “your project” can yield. And it’s always there, so it comes down to a mindset of “Why not?”
It’s standard practice for creators to pass their book around early and get some pull quotes from quality peeps. Something they can put in future press release emails, or something for the twitter machine.
I know if someone I super trust vouches for a work then it’ll prick my ears up, but that circle of peeps is surprisingly small for me to trust them to snake my money from me in exchange for actual good comics. So I don’t really know how this fares, plus your squad needs time to read it and come up with something.
Sometimes you feel like human garbage asking. Or, I do.
IS ANYTHING WORKING?
The whole idea of making the noise is to generate interest, which flows into sales, right?
But how would you ever really know? RTs and Likes do not equate to sales. And some of your readers are bound to not know you or anything about you, so how would you ever reach them anyway?
Does keeping your book title in verbal/email/tweet circulation for 2 months before launch help make it ubiquitous so that people won’t miss it? Or out of 20 tweets, could it be tweet #15 that finally piques some interest?
And in the end, are people even preordering anyway? People see a preorder sheet they can download and print off but how many times have shops ever seen that? I always assume those things are just a good excuse to shoot a tweet out with “something” in it and not just your desperation.
In the end, you can’t remain silent, you then end up feeling crazy guilt for wondering if you could have done more. Spoilers: you can always do more. But are you going to get ROI on all your hard work and time? And is that return based on sales or just general new ‘readers’ who will throw you a follow and engage with what you do?
There are always new ways to think outside the box and I hope we find them, assess if they work, and then share them with mates at every turn. A rising tide raises all ships is a wonderful way to think of comics. Especially with indie creators. We need to imagine we are a phalanx, we need to interlock, team up, and slowly march forward, while whispering sweet nothings into each others’ ears.
Because pushing a comic is hard, and it takes a village to sell a comic.
RKL NOTE: Hi, yeah, sorry if you thought this was a ‘How To’ post. I’m clearly the anti-messiah. I think what I learned from writing this was that you can’t control how a book lands – you can influence it, sure, but you can’t even control your influence. The only thing you can control is if the work is your best effort, and then hopefully your best work.
So go make a kick ass comic and even if it only lands in a dozen hands, if it’s amazing, then I guess that’s its own victory – aside from the usual victory of cold hard cash and high fives we’ve grown accustomed to thanks to Hollywood and Bollywood brainwashing us from either side.
CHUM is available on April 27 from all good LCSs and this columinst hopes you’ll consider dropping a word into your good four colour fungeon master and asking them to get you a copy and set it aside for you, also.
Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer who has logged time at Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Vertigo and other esteemed publishers. He currently writes Negative Space, a comic we here at Loser City love quite a bit. You can (and should) pick Negative Space up from your local comic shop ordirectly through Dark Horse.