"Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo"- Don Marquis
Occassionally, for reasons best known only to themselves, a few small press comic artists email me to ask for advice about materials, printers, and what to do with their comic when it is published. I usually try my best to reply but sometimes I just don't have the time.
But then I also love to procrastinate...
With this in mind, I was looking over John August's fascinating screenwriting blog and thought that perhaps I could, like him, compile a few blogposts that cover frequently asked questions. One of which being:
Where do I sell my small press comics?
There are several options available to you. Mostly, small pressers rely on their local comic book retailer to stock their comic and encourage their customers to take a chance on new material. Sadly, this sort of thing can be rare which is why some of the more successful self-published comic artists are using the internet and monetising it in a way that is working for them (see Octopus Pie and the TopatoCo collective). So...
1. Sell through your website
It's easy enough to set up a website using blogspot or wordpress or any of the other million ways in which having a website has been made simple. Paypal or Etsy are probably the best ways of making it easy for you and the customer to exchange goods for money but I'm sure there are, again, several different ways to do this too.
2. Attend comic conventions
There are lots of local, national and international comic conventions throughout the year. Along with all sorts of alternative zine symposiums and DIY events that would suit a small press publisher. Working out which ones suit your material and are helpful to you is trial and error, but most will certainly provide an opportunity to meet other creators. Perhaps the most pleasant aspect of these events is getting a chance to meet people who are interested in small press work and, hopefully, your own. Having said all this, I tend to find these things completely exhausting and have yet to feel totally comfortable when sitting behind a table.
3. Use your local comic store
Most comic stores will probably take your comics on a sale-or-return basis and take somewhere between 20-30%. I can't speak for the rest of the UK but in London, with McForbidden Planet generally only taking comics distributed through Diamond (which is an entirely different headache) and places like Comicana focusing more on back issue trade, the only viable, centrally located shops are Gosh! and Orbital Comics. Here, in my experience, is how they treat small press material:
Gosh! are well known for their support of alternative and independent comics. They have a great stock and are located opposite the British Museum so receive a great deal of passing traffic. They used to take small press on sale-or-return and offer a 70/30 split but, with the departure of one of their staff who used to oversee the small press section, they have opted for firm-sale (buying the stock from you on the spot) with a 50/50 split. This means they may not take your stock if they don't feel it is appropriate and will probably buy 3-5 copies in based on whether they think it will sell.
Now, firm-sale is a policy that The Beguling (in Toronto) and a few other stores have for small press. I understand it simplifies the paperwork for the staff and makes things that little bit easier, but predominantly these stores offer a better deal than a 50/50 split. That, for a lot of people, may not even cover printing costs and makes taking comics to Gosh! a choice between getting your comics to a wider audience or making your printing costs back. Which is a shame. The small press scene and local comic stores have always had a natural symbiosis and work together to create an exciting artistic community. This policy doesn't strike me as something that encourages that.
Which brings me to Orbital Comics. Who have, since day one, had a sale-or-return policy with 100% of the profits going towards the creator. The idea being that if they offer this deal, more creators will use Orbital, and more people seeking small press material will patronise the store (hopefully picking up a book that the store will make profit on while they're there).
There are other bookstores and art/design shops that your work may be suitable for in London, which leads me neatly into...
4. Target your audience
A lot of the material in my comics focuses on very specific subject matter (art school, music, relationships, auto-immune diseases, american politics) which I've always tried to address by getting my books in the relevant places. Taking boooks to independent politics bookshops, to gigs/record stores, to private views/exhibitions... whatever gets my work into the hands of those who may be interested but may not walk into comic stores regularly. It's always worthwhile trying.
5. Organise a book launch/exhibition
Finally, one way to sell your book and get people to see your work is to do it all yourself. Organise a book launch, hire a venue, get bands to play and then advertise or market it in your own way. It can be stressful, it can be a lot of work, but it can also be a lot of fun. One of the positive aspects of the continuing decline in printed media is that more people are taking it upon themselves to do things like this and it goes a long way towards creating a vibrant and diverse alternative scene.
So there you have it. A small, and by means compressive list of some of the many ways to get your work seen. I'm sure there are better, more viable avenues for you but these are the methods that work for me and might prove useful as a starting point.
Get in touch
Leave a comment if you think of some obvious alternatives I've neglected to mention. And if you have any pressing questions you want a rank amateur like me to answer then by all means email and maybe I'll blog about it in the future.