Ken Eppstein, editor for the independent Nix Comic Quarterly, shares his thoughts about the struggles of distributing an small press anthology.
Ken Eppstein is the editor, writer and publisher of Nix Comics Quarterly, a small press anthology. As he prepares to release his second issue next week, Ken wrote the following article describing some of the struggles of self-publishing a comic in the industry today.
I did it despite myself. I got excited about the message on my voicemail from Diamond Comics. I mean... I went into self publishing Nix Comics Quarterly knowing full well that it wasn't likely to get a lot of play, if any, in the modern comic book shop. I was pretty content with the idea of selling my garage rock comic book in record stores and coffee houses and maybe a couple of the local comic guys.
But, the Pleasant Voice in the recording told me that they wanted to talk to me about my submission for distribution and... I lost it.
"Sweet Gene Vincent! I'm gonna finally be in the comic book stores just like I always wanted to be! I'm gonna hob-knob with Green Lantern and Spidey on the shelves!!! Better get to counting. One chicken... Two chickens... Three chickens..."
Hold on you say! Thems chickens ain't hatched yet!
Turns out the Pleasant Voice was calling to give me a very polite, friendly and even a tinge regretful rejection. I was told that normally Diamond just spits out a form letter rejection to self publishers. Because they liked my book, I got a phone call: A solicitation to see how flexible I am with my product.
When I called back, the Pleasant Voice told me what I'd need to do to be considered for distribution at Diamond.
1) Add a UPC code to the cover.
URK! I should have done this from the get go, but I consciously decided not to. Too many nights getting drunk with buddies, listening to The Clash and joking about how people would be required to get barcodes in the future. (For the record, the UPC code on the London Calling LP is 7464-36328-1. Oh Joe Strummer! I curse you in your grave!)
I can do this. Swallow my punk rock cred, which is more of a sip than a gulp anyway, and add a barcode to every issue subsequent to issue #2. Everything else is printed or being printed and I'm not sure that there is much value to doing a new separate print run for Diamond alone. Live and learn on this one.
2) Drop My Cover Price Or Add More Pages of Illustration.
Basically, they're scared that customers will feel ripped off because the book has a high proportion of text to illustrated narrative. (The pleasant voice called it "actual comic." I'm high falutin', so I call it illustrated narrative.)
I put out a magazine that is 28 full color pages for $5.00. Of those 28 pages, 6 are ads and editorial text/letters to the editor... both of which done as homage to the comics I grew up reading. I've received a lot of compliments on the material. More compliments on the fake ads and editorials in fact than the stories themselves. If anyone who has bought the comic was disappointed by the material, they've been conspicuously silent about it.
The average Marvel or DC comic, and correct me if I'm wrong because being an indie guy I'm a little out of the loop, has about 20 pages of "actual comic" for $3. I can see the Pleasant Voice's point, although, I wonder if she's read the Wealth of Nations because the economy of scale doesn't seem to be in place... DC and Marvel print tens of thousands of their books and I only print a couple thousand. The limited run of Nix dictates the cover price more than anything else. I think the nice collegiate age and up folks who make up my fan base get that. Indie costs more. Corporate costs less.
Their suggestion was to perhaps do a compiled trade paperback of a few issues and to drop the letters/editorials. Again, even if I liked the idea of stripping down my product, that basically amounts to an extra print run specifically for Diamond.
3) Anthologies Are Hard To Sell
This is the most vexing thing the Pleasant Voice told me. I knew that anthologies are hard to sell. Everybody knows that. So why mention it in the same context as "we like your stuff so much that we wanted to give you a chance to change it." I can add a barcode. I can consider taking out the cumbersome text that scares them so much. But I can't change the leopard's spots. I put out an anthology.
No, wait, humble time is over... I put out a bitchin' anthology. And they seem to agree.
So why is "hard to sell" even brought up? I would understand if they functioned like my other distributors and ran a true warehouse. But Diamond works a little more like a commissary restaurant supplier. Diamond puts a book in Previews, gets orders from the retailers and then places the order to the publishers. Where's the risk for Diamond exactly? They are out the printing costs of whatever it takes to put my little ad in Previews, I guess. Maybe that's more of a burden than I think it is.
So here I am. Scratching my head at the official count of zero chickens. Luckily, reptiles, fish and even the occasional funky looking Australian mammal also lay eggs. Some of which have already hatched for me.
Written or Contributed by: Ken Eppstein