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Waiting For Tommy XXXI
By Richard Johnston
 
In last week's Waiting For Tommy, I talked about how to cheat your way into Previews. How to get a self published comic past the oppressive doors at Diamond by use of trickery, deceit and downright balls. Even how to get a better listing. a spotlight, a Cool Cat, whatever it is that gets you that added bit of notice when the retailers place their orders.

But that's just the start. You see, it's very rare that a self published comic actually gets enough orders to stay being distributed by Diamond. Because while you may have sneaked your way in, staying in month after month isn't as easy. Your numbers will drop issue by issue, and the minimum order number, usually around a thousand, is increasingly difficult to maintain. Hell, you'll be lucky if you get that for your first issue.

So, how to stay in Previews in a year? There are a number of techniques.

 

 

1. Build up sales by positive reviews, reader feedback and word of mouth. This never ever happens - okay, maybe a few times. Y: The Last Man, Bone, Authority, um. look, it's very rare. If you don't make a sales impact with your first issue that will sustain subsequent issue drops, it's incredibly unlikely you'll survive as you are. And no, you probably won't make that sales impact. Here's how it works. Retailers order conservatively, if you've hyped the book enough, they'll sell out. If they reorder at all, they'll get 1 or 2 copies. And since, despite your best efforts, less than a third of shops even carried your book, you're soon sinking. The number of great and glorious comic books that met an untimely death due to low orders could fill many longboxes. I'm sorry, but playing fair and square doesn't work. We learnt that even getting in Previews. look it has a role, certainly. And getting publicity on the right mailing lists and getting support from creators can certainly help. But not even Warren Ellis can take a comic selling 300 and make it sell 3000.

2. Relaunch. Just how many issue ones can you have? It's a bizarre fact but retailers will always order higher on the first issue than on subsequent issues, based on the fact that readers will often try a first issue, decide they don't like it and won't pick up a second. Or they'll pick up the second and not the third. And when you're on such low numbers to start with, even if there's a pick up in orders around the fourth issue, the likelihood is that it still won't be as high as the second issue. Yes, yes, I know, it worked on books like Powers and Fables but that's not the norm, and your comic probably isn't quite as good as you think it is. So why not make every issue a first issue? Okay, that won't fool many, but it will fool some. Dirtbag, a series I created that lasted seven issues, saw sales fall month by month, despite increasingly positive reviews and feedback. X-Flies, where every issue was a "first" issue in it's own right, nothing ever seeing the number '2' against its name, maintained sales far more successfully and, indeed, paid off all the losses accrued on Dirtbag.

3. Suck up to your Diamond representative. Constantly promise jam tomorrow, even if you never deliver. Maybe you're about to sign a Marvel contract. You're in talks with Frank Quitely to do a cover. You're going to do a Spawn crossover. Neil Gaiman's going to be writing an issue. Anything, make it up. You're a comic book creator, it shouldn't be hard. You can stretch distribution by a couple of tortuous issues this way.

 

4. Find a bandwagon. Tie into to something hot. Yes, X-Flies was a good example, but can't you throw a couple of giant fighting robots into the mix? Yes, I know, your comic is a slice of life gothic despair kitty torturing title, but c'mon, can't you do a fantasy dream sequence with a couple of giant fighting Japanese robots? I knew you could. Crossover audience for that kind of thing can be huge.

 

 

5. Change your name to Brian Michael Bendis. Look, it's worth a shot. Now some of you may be thinking that all this is cheap, tawdry buffoonery rather than concentrating on the art. But you want to your comic to be distributed don't you? And Diamond, though flawed in many ways, is at least a guarantee of some non-returnable sales, and a way to reach a very large audience who will actually pay for your work.

 

 

Of course, one day, all these techniques will fall away and you actually will have to start selling your work on pure quality. Who knows, by then you might actually be good enough.

Rich Johnston has self published a number of titles as Twist And Shout Comics and currently writes the gossip/rumour column Lying In The Gutters

The Waiting For Tommy Archive

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