6 ways comic book creators can make more money by using tactics popularized by indie authors

I know it seems like I don’t talk about comics anymore, so this one is for the comics people.

Why have I been so out of the loop with comics the past couple of months? Because I’ve been trying to master book marketing, and it’s really hard. It’s the hardest thing, aside from learning to write, that I’ve ever done.

Do you know how when you are just starting out at something you get a lot better and then you think you have a handle on it, and then you meet a group of people who are so far ahead of you and just think…holy crap I don’t know anything? And in that moment you understand why you haven’t gotten anywhere with your career yet?

That happened to me when I got involved heavily in book marketing and decided I wanted to figure out how to make a living as an author.

I thought I had a handle on it since I raised over $50,000 on Kickstarter last year, but I was wrong. It was like Alice falling down a rabbit hole and waking up in Wonderland when I dove into this research. I quickly learned that I knew nothing about how to make a real financial impact with my work. So I set about learning all I could. The nascent stages of this research started last summer when my mailing list exploded from 2,000 to 6,000 in a month. I used what I learned that summer to develop the marketing strategies for my $25,000 Pixie Dust campaign.

I know this book marketing knowledge can be ported from books to comics because I’ve done it.

And since I’m just some shlub who loves research, I am confident you can implement some of these things as well. That’s what this article is about. I want to share with you some of the best tips I learned from book people that you as a comics person can implement immediately to start making more money.

Build a big mailing list with thousands of fans.

1. Most successful indie writers have built their mailing list to 20,000+ fans. 

I’ve seen mailing lists above 90,000 for some indie authors, but almost all the successful ones I know have more than 20,000 people on their mailing lists. Think about that, then ask yourself how many people you know in comics that even have 1,000? Not many, and those that do are the ones that are probably the ones getting ahead right now. Indie novel writers treat the mailing list like we treat Instagram, a MUST HAVE item, not an afterthought.

The good news is that I build my mailing list from 2,000 to 20,000 in less than 6 months, so I know that it’s possible if you have a little money and dogged determination, but you need to start a mailing list TODAY!

Additionally, they have thousands of people following them on Bookbub and Amazon, much like we need to have hundreds of people following us on Kickstarter to help push us forward when a new project launches. If you aren’t building your Kickstarter follows, then you need to start doing that, because it’s free advertising when your next project launches.

2. Novels writers are churning out book faster than we churn out comics.

Almost everyone who is making a splash releases a new book every 2-4 months. My comics friends are lucky to put out 2-3 issues a year on a good year. I know because I’m one of them. If we want to get ahead in comics, we have to turn out more product so that we can stay in the public zeitgeist, because attention turns on a dime. I don’t know how to fix this issue because comics cost much more than novels do, but speed to market is a big deal with comics lagging so far behind books.

3. Indie authors run deals all the time to find new readers. 

Because novel writers have so much product, they don’t mind running deals to get people into their series. They often discount their first book to $.99 and then rely on readthrough (people enjoying the first book and picking up the second) to make back their money. There is even a formula for read-through that I found. It might not be perfect, but at least it’s a start.

50% of people will move from book 1 to book 2

80% will move from book 2 to book 3

90% will move from book 3 to book 4

and almost 100% will move on after that.

If you know your own read-through numbers, you can predict marketing spend on a promotion much better. Most people run their promotions scattershot, but if you know what to expect from the end it makes planning for a promotion more dependable.

4. Indie authors have mastered group promotions

Indie authors, even the struggling ones I know, have mastered group promotions. Most of them are in 10-20 group promos and giveaways at a time. The super crazy ones have 30-40. This helps them build their mailing lists my thousands a week, and sells a ton more books than just going it alone.

Comics people rarely do group promos, and if they do it’s 1-2x a year, compared it 10-15 a month. These can include box sets, giveaways, or anything where a group of authors work together to cross-pollinate each other’s audiences with new fans.

We in the comics community are so precious about our audiences. We fear that in opening them up to new creators they will leave us and never read our stuff again. However, that’s just not how it works. In fact, readers appreciate it when you show them new stuff and end up being drawn deeper into your brand. It’s quite the opposite of how most in comics think about their audience.

By joining a group promotion and having 10 different authors offer up their audiences, you are giving a little of your audience to gain a ton of potential new readers. This does nothing to diminish your audience, and brings you hundred of potential fans who might love what you are offering them.

5. Indie writers cross promote with each other like it’s their job, and they are right.

Aside from joining group promotions, independent authors are constantly looking for newsletter swaps with other authors in their genre. They also host “takeovers” of each other’s facebook pages and groups where one author will come onto another’s page or group and talk about their work, usually offering something for free to get people excited.

There are all sorts of ways that you can promote with another author. You can get together for a Twitch session or a Facebook live. You can write posts on each other’s walls, or you can share comics on each other’s mailing lists.

It’s incredibly important to keep finding new authors to grow your audience. I know an another who used newsletter swaps to get 5,000 entries into a giveaway she ran. With just $30 in ad spend and several swaps, she was able to vastly increase her audience.

During the Pixie Dust launch, I swapped backer updates with 10 creators. I sent out their project in one of my backer updates, and they did the same to me. This gave us both exposure. I raised over $2,000 from this strategy alone, and almost all of it during the lull in the middle of the Kickstarter campaign when backer numbers are low because you exhausted your own audience.

6. Indie writers have ARC and street teams.

The biggest takeaway I had from this marketing research is that indie authors don’t go it alone. Aside from group and individual cross-promotion, authors also have ARC (advanced reader copies) and street teams that help get the word out about the launch. These teams are built from author super fans who get books and goodies for free in exchange for helping to build buzz about books before they launch.

They also have reader Facebook groups where they connect with their readers personally even when they don’t have a launch. I built a street team before my Pixie Dust launch, and it helped us get out of the gate strong and raise over $5,000 in the first day, which brought us to the attention of Kickstarter, who then showed us to more people in their audience.

Long story short, it’s not a secret why these novelists are successful, nor why the biggest indie writer demolishes the earnings of the most successful comics people. It’s because they work their ass off and consider marketing a key part of their life.

Aside from churning out new product faster which I think is an enigma to us all, we can easily start doing more swaps and building better group promotions, building out our own ARC teams, and treating our mailing list better…and we can start doing it today, this minute.

People in comics are always talking about the change that will bring about more success for indie creators and they always thing big, which is great. However, the change doesn’t have to be “starting a new company where we all work together”, it can just be, like, actually working together to grow each other’s brands.

And there is a model where it already works, and that model is the way independent books are marketed. Are books the same as comics? Not exactly, but at the end of the day, we are trying to engage readers to buy our work, so the overall idea is the same, even if the mechanics might be different.

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