HOW A RETAILER USES AND ABUSES PREVIEWS
You might remember me closing out last week's column with the following:
Retailers want to help you sell your book. We're here for you. Don't get lost in the shuffle.
This is true for all comic creators no matter how celebrated or obscure your work may be to the eyes of the industry. If you're a comic creator you've undoubtedly invested no small amount of time and energy on bringing your creation to life. Making comics is a labor-intensive task that takes nothing less than sincere diligence and unending dedication to your craft, and depending on how your comic is being published, often a creator's artistic exertion is only eclipsed by their financial investment.
Comics is one half art and one half business and regardless of who your publisher is and what your place in the industry may be, the realities of business dictate that comics that don't sell get shitcanned. Major publishers hand out pink slips, self publishers throw their hands up in frustration, and plenty of folks just run out of money and stop making comics altogether.
So remember: that's your money and your art on the fucking line. You'd better make damn well sure that people get to look at your book!
But before you can do your part to assist retailers like myself to most effectively pimp out your precious comic wares to the entertainment starved masses, the simple truth is that you've got to get your comics into those retailer's hands.
And that means Previews.
Diamond receives some criticism about Previews, but as a retailer I find it to be an effective tool, filled to over-flowing with comic goodness. But a comic retailer is only one of the target audiences Diamond has to be concerned with. Previews has to be many things to many people and not just an ordering tool for retailers. Many of my customers pre-order their comics using the catalogue and still others like to read them to keep abreast of all the future developments in the world of comics, so creators and publishers need to consider them as well as retailers when running solicitation copy or designing ads.
The most important thing I can say to you is that no matter how big the store, how rabid the customers, or how completely comic pimpin' an individual retailer may be… there is only so much money in the world to spend on comics every month. I can't stress this point enough, and can't express the importance more. As a creator or a publisher it is crucial for you to keep this inescapable fact is mind.
There is only so much money to go around.
Even in a thriving and perpetually growing business like the Isotope this fact remains true. As nice as it might be to carry 20 copies of everything that Diamond solicits, it's not financially feasible and just isn't going to happen. Like every other retailer out there I go into my monthly order with a general idea of how much money I'd like my weekly bill to be and I do my order based on that number times four.
That means that your comic is in direct competition for my retail dollars with everything else in that catalogue. And I do mean everything! Comics, t-shirts, collectable cards, graphic novels, porno mags, stuffed animals, posters, role playing games, pewter figures, DVDs, and logo-emblazoned panties just to scratch the surface. When you consider that Previews clocks in at around 500 pages every month you can appreciate how hard your book is going to have to work to get even a small portion of those retail dollars.
Something to really think about.
Of course the smarter retailers out there don't just rely on Diamond to provide them with their comics, but even the most street-smart retailers still rely on Previews for the bulk of their ordering. It's common knowledge that there is no better way to get comics into the comic stores, and The Comic Pimp says that if you're going to do it, you might as well do it right.
Now I'm not going to tell you how to get your book into Previews, because Larry Young's pocket guide to self-publishing "True Facts" (STAR15631) has already covered that. But I am going to tell you what I can to help your book from getting completely lost in that big, fat catalogue by showing you a peek inside how one retailer uses and abuses Diamond's glorious catalogue of the future every month.
For the purposes of this column I won't be using the latest Previews, but I've included some photos I took from a couple months back to help illustrate how I use Previews and what creators and publishers can do to catch my eye when it comes to ordering time.
The Life of Previews (Day One)
I love it when the latest Previews shows up at the Isotope! And as soon as I get my store set up I'm tearing into that book. And I do mean tearing. The first thing I do is rip out any cardstock ads that have been bound in the catalogue. They don't let the book lay flat and I prefer to be able to lay the book open on the counter in front of me. Like I say, Previews is a tool and I have no problem mutilating this tool to make it more effective for me.
If you've invested in one of these undoubtedly pricey ads you might be feeling a twinge of panic right about now, but fear not, your advertising isn't being ignored. Just because I tear these ads out doesn't mean I don't read them, in fact, I make sure to read every ad before discarding them in the Isotope round-file.
Judging by the additional time I spend tearing these card stock ads out, and then reading them before throwing them away one might assume these are the most effective ads of all. That actually isn't a bad assumption as I do invest more time in these ads than any other, but given the fact that I throw these out a whole month before ordering they might not be as effective with this one retailer as creators and publishers might hope.
Have I mentioned already that this isn't meant to represent how anyone but I, myself, use Previews? Have I said that I have no idea how or what other retailers are doing with their Previews? Have I said that we're just talking about my orders at my store here?
Well if I didn't do that yet, let's consider it understood that I've never discussed ordering or Previews or advertising or solicitation copy with any other retailer ever. I'm sure other retailers have their own Previews rituals that they use every month, but frankly I have no idea what they are.
The Life of Previews (Week One)
I spend the entire first week with Previews just flipping through the book and checking out the cool stuff that I'm going to get to sell in a couple months time. This always makes owning a comic store a fucking blast because there are so many extraordinarily fantastic comics that I'm going to get to put in my customer's hands, and I'm sure for my customers who use Previews this is just as exciting for them as it is for me. You creators and publishers out there have no idea how happy your monthly solicitations make me, and on behalf of retailers like myself the world over let me thank you for publishing and creating so many kick ass comics. You all rock and I got nothing but love for you all!
During this first week I'm looking for impressive comics from historic creators, the grandiose new series that are going to set the world on fire, and the off-beat and unlikely gems from all corners of the industry. I usually spend the first week checking out the ads that catch my eye too.
If you're gonna spend the money to run an ad, you might as well make it as useful as possible. Color ads to represent color comics are helpful, but not always necessary. There are no specific rules I can give you in designing a killer ad, but a non-cluttered, "clean" design certainly helps. If you can show me more than just the cover art, that's very helpful. And since I'm going to be reading your ad and your solicitation, you might as well not just say the same thing in both places. You paid for that ad space; you might as well get the most mileage out of it as possible. If you include a URL that will take me to see even more preview pages on-line, chances are I will take a gander at them.
And honestly, the only ads that tend to get glossed over by yours truly are any ads in the first 4 or 5 pages of the catalogue, around the table of contents, the What is Previews section, and the explanation of the symbols. I've looked at Previews enough times that I want to get right to the meat and potatoes, so more often than not these ads in the first few pages get ignored.
The Life of Previews (Week Two)
Week two I spend reading through Previews. I take this thing everywhere with me and read it. I read it in restaurants and on the train, and have even been known to bring Previews with me to the bar on occasion. If you see me out somewhere lugging around a 500 page behemoth of a Previews catalogue it's a pretty safe bet that it's during week two of that book's life cycle.
That's all you've got to work with if you're writing solicitation copy for your book.
These may be the most important words you've ever written in your life. The more your solicitation copy reads like a sales pitch that I may give to my customers, the easier you've made my job, and the better your orders are going to be. I want to help you sell your comic, and the more effectively you can write your solicitation copy, the more effectively I can do just that. If you can give me the high concept for your book, then that only assists me in finding the right readers for it.
And for fuck's sake, don't just hack out your solicitation copy at the last minute! This is perhaps the single most important piece of writing you will ever do as far as your comic is concerned. That's because your solicitation copy is the face you put on the comic to the comic retailer. If your solicitation copy is bad then you can bet that retailers are going to assume the writing in the comic is bad too.
Poor solicitation copy can kill your book's sales, but great solicitation copy can get me to invest a larger percentage of my retail dollars on your book than I would've otherwise. Remember, there is a lot of competition out there. And if you want my retail dollars, you're gonna have to work for 'em. Spend some time working up great copy to run in the previews catalogue because that's what's going to help your book stand out from 500 pages of other things I could spend my hard-earned money on.
Comic retailers, by the nature of our work, are gamblers. We're gamblers, and if you can write great solicitation copy or put together that killer ad, we're gonna bet on you.
The Life of Previews (Week Three)
By week three my customers' pre-orders are in and I've pretty much devoured the catalogue. I take the Isotope staff out to dinner and we talk about what stuff we'd like to stock more of, and which titles we're going to really get behind that month. I'm always happy to hear their opinions on ordering as my staff has awesome taste in comics and their opinions are an invaluable resource to me.
I also take this week to see what my customers are interested in reading. I take a lot of time doing double-checks of those books that my customers have pre-ordered to make sure I didn't miss out on something really cool and to make sure I know what the consumers are interested in. I like to think I have excellent taste in comics, but as I'm buying for a very broad audience of comic readers, my pre-ordering customer's opinions are also an invaluable resource to me. There are those very rare occasions when I've missed something really great and it's always nice to have one of my staff members or customers to point it out before I do my monthly order.
One completely cost-effective method in which creators and publishers who want to ensure that their books are ordered for their local store's shelves is by pre-ordering a copy themselves. Not only does this keep your finger on the pulse of when your book ships to comic shops, but also it highlights your book to the retailer by showing that someone wanted to buy the book. I'm of the opinion that if one person wants something then there is a good chance that two people do, or perhaps more. And I'm willing to bet I'm not alone in this opinion among retailers.
I can't say it would work on every retailer or even on me everytime… but I think it's certainly something I would do if it were my comic and my orders on the line.
The Life of Previews (Week Four)
This is the week that everything comes together and I do my order. If your book has effectively caught my attention through solicitation, cover design or advertising, I'm going to spend my retail dollars to line your pockets with gold. How well you've promoted your book, how much I like the concept, and how well the solicitation copy has read is going to dictate how much of my money you get.
And that's the monthly lifecycle of Diamond's Previews catalogue as seen by one comic retailer.
This week, we're going to throw tradition out the window and instead of pimping out a bunch of hidden gems from all corners of the comic world, we're going to take a look at the current works from one creator.
This week we're going to talk about the comics of Joe Casey.
Joe is one of the few creators our industry has whose work knows none of the traditional comic book boundaries. He effortlessly bounces back and forth between the mainstream and the underground, writing some of the industry's biggest icons like "Batman," "Superman" and the "X-Men," but never losing his hip indy street cred. I couldn't respect Joe's career or his work more and that's why I demanded to be the one to get to host the launch party for Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard's AIT-PlanetLar graphic novel "Codeflesh" this next week.
In my opinion Joe's recent work is the best of his career, and lays the foundation for what will undoubtedly be years of groundbreaking works to come. My staff, customers, and I are looking forward to spending a day at with Joe at the Isotope and showing him the love he deserves.
Artwork by Cully Hamner and Dexter Vines
DC Comics $6.95 each
In this hyper-kinetic look at the early days of Batman, Bruce Wayne struggles to find a place in his life to fit running Wayne Industries along with his life-long vigilante mission as Gotham City's Dark Knight detective. Gorgeous art by Cully Hamner and Dexter Vines makes every panel explode off the page.
Artwork by Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend
Boardroom violence, industrial manipulation and corporate branding are the predominate themes of this superpowered action movie on paper. Like nothing else on store shelves, "Wildcats 3.0" is remarkably subtle and quietly nuanced in it's genre bending and intelligent over-the-top action. A fascinating read that keeps rewarding its readers month after month.
With Richard Starkings and artwork by Ladronn
HIP FLASK: Unnatural Selection (MAY031899) $2.99
HIP FLASK: Elephantmen (MAY031897) $3.50
HIP FLASK: Unnatural Selection Limited Hardcover (STAR19898) $29,95
Casey, Starkings and Ladronn's vision of a genetic manipulated future gone wrong. Best described as an anthropomorphic Blade Runner by one of my customers, smart writing complements Ladronn's jaw-dropping artwork with spectacular results. The annual Hip Flask issue is absolutely worth waiting for!
Artwork by Charlie Adlard
(In stores November 12th)
Cameron Daltrey's only superpower is that he can get hit in the head. A lot. As a bail bondsman for supervillains by day and a masked skip tracer by night, Daltry's job doesn't leave much time for a social life, or for sleeping, or for his stripper girlfriend for that matter, but he does get the opportunity to use his superpower.
This hard-boiled ass-kicking graphic novel by Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard takes place in dirty, filth strewn back alleyways of LA and is so gritty you need to clean out under your fingernails after you're done reading it. Great stuff!
Those interested in hearing more of mine (and others) thoughts on Joe Casey's current work are invited to stop in to the Isotope on November 12th and hang out and talk comics in plush luxury with Joe Casey himself. Check out Joe's comics along side other comic connoisseurs. To celebrate this event the first 12 pages of Charlie Adlard's original CODEFLESH pages will be hanging on the Isotope's walls and Joe will be entertaining guests with readings from his comics.
Next week The Comic Pimp will be taking a look at the single most crucial and effective tactic comic creators and publishers can do to get their comics into the hands of potential customers, and my thoughts on clever and persuasive methods for helping retailers sell your comic book.
As always, feel free to pontificate on industry issues, preach the gospel of great comic books or discuss this article on the Comic Pimp Forum