It's taken as a given that comics don't make money. The direct market has its share of difficulties - between monopolized distribution and a high barrier to entry for potential readers - but even online comics, despite their accessibility, are regarded as financial sinkholes.
Still, more and more creators seem to be able to make a living making comics. They're leveraging crowdfunding, consistency in publishing, and their own creativity to claw their way toward financial independence. But even then, most aren't earning much.
The core issue is that we're not selling enough comics - both within the direct market and outside of it). If we were, a lot of these problems would be fixed.
But it's hard to sell comics, right? People just don't read comics.
Wrong. People will consume whatever you get in front of them. Of course, this assumes they're the right audience and you deliver the message well - but that's what marketing is all about.
Most of you, though, aren't marketing well. Or at all. You're door-to-door salespeople who are too embarrassed to even walk up a driveway, much less knock on any doors.
I think the reason most creatives are hesitant to sell their work is that they're worried about bothering their potential readers. But, the truth is that if you sell your readers something worthwhile, they will thank you for it.
And while ensuring that what you're selling is worthwhile falls outside of the scope of this site, the actual selling is definitely within our purview.
So, here are six reasons you're probably not selling as many comics as you could be.
Not Demonstrating Value
If you want to reach a larger audience, you need to explain why they should pick up your book. "Because they might enjoy it," is not a good enough reason. What's your story about? What aspect of your story is going to resonate with them? Is it the high-octane action/adventure? The sincere, emotional storyline? Or the edge-of-your-seat tension and suspense?
Stop thinking that anyone's doing you a favor by picking up your comic. You may be selling them their next favorite thing. Keep this in mind and tell them why they'll enjoy it.
Beyond just explaining the value, though, actually demonstrating value goes a step further. While interviews fall more under the explanation side, they're still strong pieces of content. Pull quotes and reviews, however, will hopefully show your potential readers that people they trust (the reviewers and established creators providing your pull quotes) recognize the value of your comic. These are essentially testimonials. I know it's an unimaginative way of thinking about things, but sometimes it's necessary to be a little plain to help us get over our gilded perceptions of our art.
Understanding the value of your comic, nails the why, but in order for your demonstrations or explanations to be effective, you've got to be talking to the right people - you've got to get the who.
Not Targeting An Audience
If you take the time to think about who would really enjoy your comic, you can go beyond the assumed boundaries of what's possible when selling comics.
What other comics, movies, books, or video games do you think your audience enjoys? What other interests do you think they have? Trace the sensibilities of your audience to the content they might enjoy online. If you're creating for your own sensibilities, then examine what else you enjoy online for similar or associated reasons that you find yourself inclined to this specific project. Then spend some of your time marketing to the communities found specifically in those places.
With the understanding of who your audience is and why they - in particular - will get value from your project, whatever that value might be, you'll be well on your way to selling more comics.
Not Keeping Your Audience Engaged
For many of us we just share content relevant to our personal or professional circles. Instead, we should be thinking about how we're serving our audience. The readers who follow you on Twitter are showing you they're interested in getting more from you. But in independent comics in particular, long delays between projects are far too common. In the "downtime" between comics, you need to be keeping your more enthusiastic fans engaged.
Are you continuing to share content relevant to their interests? Are you replying to their comments and feedback, or talking to them about their other favorite comics?
Just retweeting nice things people say to you about your comics is not enough - and it's also the Internet equivalent of bragging, not to mention a really blunt way to demonstrate value.
Actually talk to your audience. Have a conversation. They didn't have to reach out to support you and let you know their thoughts. The least you can do is thank anyone who's picked up your comic, read it, and liked it enough to message you about it.
If they're interested, give them opportunities to be involved and help you along. Do whatever you can to continue to bring them value so that this key audience - people who, of their own volition, are interested in you and your work - doesn't erode during your downtime.
You could even invest in periodically making shorts, and releasing them to your audience for free.
Not Tightening Your Audience
Connecting to you is only step one. Once they've engaged with you, they're part of your community, and it's your job to provide them with ways to interact with other likeminded readers. It's hard, but the creators that have succeeded at doing this have reaped the benefits.
When you bring a community together on the strength of your work, and then connect them to each other your contribution acts as a foundation upon which your readers can build a community amongst themselves. It's a catalyst for your both your relationship with your fans and your overall reach to grow, on its own, without needing you to get more involved - though that never hurts.
Not Thinking Outside the Box
Everyone advertises and markets the same way in comics. Previews, Interviews, Reviews, etc... It's really quite boring. What can you do differently?
How can you think outside the box? Sometimes experimentation is worth it for its own sake.
Maybe your answer won't be buying a billboard on the Vegas Strip. But why not consider it?
Here, it's really up to you to come up with something that fits your project and will reach your audience - even if that audience isn't necessarily entirely within the comic industry.
To use a good example from film marketing, go check this one, very clever example.
Not Thinking Small Enough
Think about marketing your project instead of marketing yourself.
Developing a brand and marketing yourself as a creator is important, but you shouldn't be doing so in place of marketing your projects. Building a brand as a creator is a long-term endeavor and is dependent, in part, on what you do from one project to another.
And if you only focus on your brand as a sales driver, as opposed to using the qualities of each, unique, comic project, you're denying yourself a whole segment of potential readers and eventual fans.
If you want to build a career in comics, you don't have the luxury of being idealistic and thinking "I don't need to market" or "If I build it they will come." Yes, the cream rises to the top, but not if you don't get your work in front of people first.
Selling your comics is definitely difficult, and, like all things, it requires you actually put in the work. Unless you are just pursuing comics as a hobby - and there's nothing wrong with that - doing this work (or finding an ally to do it for you) is going to be integral to your progress.
So... What are you trying already? What are you going to try?
Let me know on Twitter, I'm @JeremyMelloul and use #makecomics