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Marketing and Distribution Tips for Indie Comic Book Publishers

It’s time for another long, rambling essay on comic book marketing, publishing and distribution.  Since Nifty Comics had quite a bit of success selling comic books outside of the comic industry from 2005-2007 (I’ve been on a break since then, but am working on getting things back on track in 2010), I get a lot of emails from other publishers asking for my secrets.  This is in spite of the fact that I’ve published a lot of what I’ve done in extensive details on my various websites — http://www.ComicBookMarketing.com (before it was hacked!) and http://www.NiftyComics.com both have articles on comic book marketing and alternative distribution for independent comic book publishers.

Anyway, today I received another such request from a good friend of mine and fellow indie comic publisher, Hal Jones.  Hal does a comic called “Beyond Human” (and did a really cool superhero book back in the late 80s called “Alternate Heroes” that I wish had gone for more issues).  You can get more info at his website: http://www.haljonesbeyondhuman.com/

Hal sent me a note that said, “Mat, I really do admire your business savvy and would like to get your skew on what I’ve been trying to do with (comic title removed), where and how.” and goes on further to say, “I’m not quite sure who, among comic readers, exactly ARE my demographic. On Drunk Duck, it seemed a wild and wide mix of people enjoyed it...”

Here is the response I sent him.  Hopefully there will be some tidbits in there to help out other indie publishers as well.  Of course, I’m sure I’ll still get the same questions from someone else tomorrow.

Hal:

I’m not completely sure what you’ve been doing to market “Beyond Human” at this point and don’t know much about the book itself, so it would be hard for me to give you an assessment. 

The first thing I want to say is:  your line about “I’m not quite sure who, among comic readers, exactly ARE my demographic” is a bad one.  Comic Book Fans or the comic book industry is an incredibly tiny and very inbred market…yes, and one I’m a solid part of as a reader.  It’s bad to focus on it because you automatically limit your sales potential and, even worse, you’re aiming your marketing at a group who is largely uninterested in indie material as a purchase.

I also don’t really know enough about the book itself to make any sort of intelligent suggestions.  All I remember, and this is not a judgment in any way, is that it had a fairly religious bent or orientation.  That is a good and bad thing — on the good side finding groups with similar sentiments are a great way to build readership and get sales (any niche market is an absolutely fantastic thing to target, religious or otherwise);  the bad side is that it may turn off a more mainstream audience, forcing you to stick to the niche.  Not a completely bad thing at all, especially for an indie comic without a lot of funds for advertising or marketing (I’m making an assumption there and apologize if you don’t fall in to that category).  As a business person, I’d rather have a solid niche than a more general product. This is how I make a living, both as a comic book publisher and as an internet marketing person.

Obviously, the key to any type of sales is letting your potential customers know about your product and make sure it is easy to find and purchase. Comic books are no different than any other product and work the exact same way.  What you need to do is start researching where your potential demographic congregates (either on the internet or even locally to start) and then begin to frequent those locations — be they message boards, coupon websites, local businesses, etc.  Figure out where they are and then make your presence known.  Join that community and begin to build back links to your website — or to where they can purchase your books.  It’s tough with Indy Planet because you are sending people away from your website and to a third party site to purchase — the more clicks you ask someone to perform, the more potential sales you lose.  Having a shopping cart on your own website, where the majority of information on your products should be found, is always optimal. (note: I really wish Indy Planet would offer publishers a way to tap directly in to their shopping cart system instead of forcing them to just link to a product page.  They’d see a significant increase of sales conversions if they did this.)

The same goes with Drunk Duck: building a following on Drunk Duck doesn’t do as much for your potential sales as you might thing.  First off, you’re building traffic and readership more for Drunk Duck than for yourself (their site owns the traffic and benefits from all page rank increases from your comic, for example).  Second, that audience has been trained to get product for free.  Converting that traffic and readership to sales is incredibly difficult.  You’d be better off offering a small sampling of your book there and then funneling traffic back to your own website where they can get more of the story and have a buying message placed before them.

The thing you need to do, in addition to promoting your comic, is to promote yourself as the creator.  The reason for this is you want to give a face —  a real person — for your audience to connect with, as opposed to faceless corporate comics.  Achieving a connection with your audience as a creator and a person with something to say is going to result in a higher conversion rate than someone who builds a site just around their comics or publishing company.  As part of this, video of you working or talking about your comic and how excited you are about it is an absolutely essential part of your grassroots marketing.  Showing people the person behind the curtain is fantastic for your sales conversion rate.

In terms of promo material and the like, having previews before a book comes out is fine with the comic book industry but is an absolutely disaster for an indie book or someone trying to work outside of the industry.  The reason is this:  if you’ve brought a potential buyer to your site and they are interested in buying something, you need to have a product available for purchase right then.  If there is nothing to purchase, they will leave and forget about your books.  Period.  There is so much out online for people to buy that, even if they are 100% interested at the time, they’ll forget about your product as soon as they exit your site.  Have product ready to purchase before you start any marketing or PR for your series.  Once you’ve got a solid following, then you can start offering sneak peaks.  Until you have a market established, no one cares.

In other words, don’t try to sell until you have a completed project a customer can buy as soon as they discover it.

With the information I have and with my limited time, that’s what I see in terms of getting your book (or any comic) going.  First up, get your book done; second, get your website working.

I hope that helps!

That’s it for today.  Until next time, it’s back to the drawing board!

-Mat Nastos, Super Genius
http://www.MatNastos.net

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