Friday, February 6, 2015

How to Get Stores to Care About Your Creator-Owned Comic (And Other Dream-Enabling Wisdom)

By Liz Baker

It seems like everyone is trying to write a comic these days. With so many publishers out there, along with the power of the internet, there is now more of a chance than ever to get your story out into the world! The problem is, pretty much everyone has that golden idea that could make the best comic or zine ever to grace the history of the written world. And although there are a lot more outlets for writers and artists, the comic book market has also gotten increasingly competitive to break into as a result. Luckily, you found this article, so you are ahead of all those crazy creators who want to write stories about their toasters coming to life or cops with killer chicken sidekicks.

Here are a few tips and step-by-steps for getting your comic into your local Comic Store:

1) Get in the Game! Prepare for Battle!

Every soldier must prepare before they head into battle. In the case of the comic book business, this means getting to know your environment. You wouldn't just walk up to a volcano without wearing some seriously heavy-duty sneakers, would you? Of course not. That's ridiculous. Treat your local comic book stores like your ultimate volcano (they're hot stuff.) Create a relationship with your favorite shop that--this is important--has the capacity to distribute your book. Once you find your one and only, the next step is to become a customer if you aren't already. I know this sounds like a "no duh" kind of tip, but not everyone does it, and it can greatly help out your chances of your book being carried by a shop. This does not mean you should spend your entire savings account at a comic book store in the hopes that they throw you a bone. That's just bribery, and since comic book stores aren't Congress, it just doesn't work that way. Being a customer just helps the store get to know you and who you are. And really, if hanging out at a shop and talking about things like whether or not the Scarlet Spider has the best costume ever (No, he doesn't) with the coolest people on Earth doesn't sound entertaining to you, you're gonna have a bad time. 

This is what giving up looks like.

2) Don’t Ask For The Owner

Now that you've created a blood oath with your store of choice, it's time to think about how you're going to approach talking about your incredible ideas. The first tip here is, please, DON'T ask for the owner. I know it sounds strange, but asking for owner is just about the equivalent of asking to talk to the President in the middle of an Area A crisis. While it seems like a good idea, the reality of it is that if you ask for the owner, you’re basically taking them away from something that is almost definitely more important to them than your comic book pitch. There’s a good chance that, being the owner of a small company, they've probably been dealing sales people, both on and off the internet, and have been saying “No” for the past few hours. It’s crazy, even now with caller ID, how many people desperately NEED you to change phone services or radio services or delivery for your Beet of the Month Club services. If you absolutely must ask for the owner, always ask for them by name. This shows that at least you did some research before showing up and trying to convince them to join the cause that is your awesomeness.

"Which one do you like better? Beets me."

In case you're wondering, don't ask for the manager either. Most shops don't actually have managers, and those that do probably do more nah-saying than the owners on the daily. Sure, they'll listen to you, but it might just go in one ear and out the other if they've got a stack of projects on their hands.

Bottom Line: don’t ask for the owner. Talk to the representative who is at the shop instead. They are as good a source as any.

More Awesome Tips, after the jump!

3) Pitch it! No, Really…

Now that you've settled in, the next step is to get the shop interested in you and your book. Remember, you're trying to sell yourself, along with your story, and get someone to believe in you, so don't be dull! You are a creative person! You are a brilliant writer and/or artist! And your ideas are the Ten Commandments of comic book utopia, and must be heard by all! So be friendly, and tell people what you’re about! Shops are much more likely to work with someone they like whose work is in the beginning stages than with a some verbose literary savant who has no personality.

"At least Data was interesting to talk to..."

It's also worth mentioning that, along with being awesome, your comic should be easily accessible. This means either the shop can order it through their own distributors, like Diamond, or you have your own self-published copies of your comic in hand. That way the people ordering books know they won't have to jump through hoops to carry a book that, for all they know, has no guaranteed sales.

Now, there’s something to be said about your comic itself of course. It’s about something right? Well...spit it out! Is it a high Sci-Fi? Noir? Hodgepodge of Horror mixed with a psychedelic urban feel set in the Old West? Who’s it about? Cowboys? Gremlins? Carrot-People? And--here’s the big one--What Does The Character Want and Who Are They As a Person? Give the folks you’re pitching to someone to care about, someone they want to see succeed or fail to the utmost extent. What makes your characters so special that not carrying this comic would mean that the comic shop would miss out on the best goddamn story since Axe Cop? THAT is what people want to hear about! So give it to them! If you are confident in your characters and your story, they will be too. And they might even want to help you distribute if you do it right, who knows?

This is my "I'm listening" face.

4) Create A Most Excellent Game Plan

Ok! Now the fun part! Once you've formed relationships and looked up everyone to find out what their worst childhood fears are (mine is dresser drawers, they're horrifying) the next step is to think about planning an event. Events are a great way to get people stoked about your comic, as well as helping to grow your audience. Here's the thing though--putting on an event takes work. Like real work. Every time a store plans an event, they have to gather people, make special arrangements, and publicize for that specific get-together. It's basically like trying to erect a skyscraper in under a week, which, unless you're a Master Builder, is a pretty tough task. That's where you come in! You are a creator, a master of all things awesome, and winner of the "Getting Your Comic Distributed Award!" You will succeed because you are, of course, Most Excellent. And you are prepared.

That's everyone who isn't you blowing up in a cloud of failure as you walk away. 

Bad-ass? Definitely. 

When you decide to bring your comic into the living world, ask your shop about setting up a launch party. This is important--a launch party is NOT a signing. Often, signings sound scary to a store when it's a new creator because there is no guarantee of an audience. This doesn't necessarily mean they don't want to carry your book--they're just wary of taking the plunge because of the work involved. The way to get around this is simple: propose an event to celebrate your new creation, where you will do all the work of bringing in the audience and publicizing the event. Now that's a horse of a different color! You've just turned what would have been a huge organizational effort for the shop into a new group of comic lovers, the release of a new comic, and an event that they don't have to put extra hours into! Now I don't know about the rest of the world, but I'd take that bait if I were a tasty salmon swimming in the river of opportunity!

You tell 'em, Ron.

After you get the big OK, the rest is up to you. Publicize yourself! Tell your mom, dad, Aunt Mae, dog, friend's landlord, regular homeless guy who asks for pennies outside your work, your 3,000 Facebook friends who are definitely your friends in real get the idea. Get everyone to show up at your super awesome launch party and, most importantly, get your local store hooked on your story! If it all goes well, soon, you'll be "Master of Your Domain," and putting on events will be easier than brushing your teeth (remembering which one the toothpaste is the hardest part.) You've become your own publicist, and all it took was a little bit of Moxie. Which is only OK as a soda, but pretty freaking great for describing your steps to a momentous success. 

5) Just Keep Swimming, and Go with the Flow!

Lastly (because 5 is clearly the best number) don’t give up. That might sound trivial, but really, you can’t get anywhere if you give up. So don’t! If one shop absolutely won’t have your book, then ask them about other options. They probably know more places that could be of help than you think. Also, don’t forget online agents! The internet, while too-popular-to-be-cool, is still a great resource for up and coming comic writers and artists. Why not work on getting your comic book up on your website (which you definitely have) while you work on finding a place to distribute in person? It’s a great way to start gaining viewers and establish yourself a little, plus there’s always the slight chance a publisher or shop hears about it and reaches out. It’s the World Wide Web, man. It’s here to help.

If we can only figure out how...

After all that work though, the thing to remember is just to keep writing and illustrating, no matter what happens. The world needs art to cover up all the crap and make it more livable, and that can’t happen without people like you producing more awesome stuff! So go out there! Make some comics! And if you haven't seen it, for the love of God, go watch Desperado...that flick is a masterpiece.

We want to hear from you! If you're a creator, and think we've left out some particularly useful tips, (Just the Tips) or find some of these things pleasantly interesting, LET US KNOW! Comment below, and we'll make this article even more awesome.

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