New Worlds Comics

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6 Harsh Truths About Indie Publishing

During my first six months as an indie comic book publisher, everything I thought I knew about comics was shattered.

Harsh Truths

I’ve been an avid comic book reader for more than 30 years, and it turns out I knew nothing. Not about why fans really buy comics, not about what matters to them, and not about what makes the successful comics I loved successful.

In this article we’ll face some harsh truths about the life of the indie publisher and about the fans. In my next article, I’ll show you how you can the harsh truths around to become a successful indie publisher and to reach the fans who would really love your comics.

Ready for some harsh truths? Here they are:

Harsh truth #1: Reviews don’t help sales.

One of our first series, Wynter, was immediately called by reviewers an “SF extravaganza” and that reading it was “necessary for you to exist”. Increase in sales? Zero.

All right, I thought to myself. It’s issue #1, people are wary, they need to see I can do it again.

Wynter #2 came out. Reviewers across the web started calling it “the best sci-fi comic on the shelves today”. Increase in sales? Zero.

All right, I thought. That’s just two issues. People need to see more.

Wynter #3 came out. It was again hailed as “the best SF comic book on the market” across the board. Increase in sales? You guessed it: Zero.

Conclusion: Positive reviews don’t help sales.

Harsh truth #2: Ads don’t help sales.

We placed ads on CBR, a comic book website with hundreds of thousands of unique visitors. The results: 14 visitors a day from CBR.

Turns out this is a well-known fact in start-ups. If you’re totally new, ads don’t work. You have to get people talking about you, create communities of readers, and then ads would work.

Conclusion: If you’re an established comic book company, ads may work for you. If you’re an indie, don’t waste a cent on ads. It’s a waste of money!

Harsh truth #3: It doesn’t matter that you’re good.

The fact that people think you’re good will not get them to recommend your comic book to their friends in any meaningful way.

The reviewers that called Wynter such great things did not successfully recommend it to their friends. The fans that emailed and tweeted about how much they loved it did not recommend it to their friends in any meaningful way. At least not at first – not until we grew.

So: Being good doesn’t make you viral and doesn’t increase sales. Not when you’re new and small. And not on its own.

Harsh truth #4: People will refuse to read you for free.

Undeterred, I was throwing pasta at the wall to see what sticks.

New Worlds Comics offered a free Wynter #1 through two reasonably popular comic websites. All the readers had to do was email to get a free copy.

An average of 14 people per website emailed.

Conclusion: God damn, this is tough!

Harsh truth #5: Fans don’t care about previews

Don’t take my word for it. You can do the research for that right now.

What’s your favorite super-popular comics news blog? Go to its Facebook page, where you can see how many people actually click ‘Like’ on every post.

Now compare the number of Likes of posts about previews with the number of Likes on their other posts. The Likes on the previews are always low.

Conclusion: Sharing awesome, unbelievable, magnificent art or previews from your awesome, magnificent, unbelievable indie book will not get you more sales. It’s not what fans really want.

Harsh truth #6: Talking about your comic makes people want to not buy it

I think you should read that line again: Talking about your comic book will make people want to not buy it.

Look at every indie publisher out there. What has s/he got to talk about? Their comic book, of course! How else will people learn about it? How else will they learn that it’s awesome? (Warning, warning: We’ve already seen that your comic book being awesome will not get people to buy it.)

The problem is that ALL your Twitter/Facebook/website/Pinterest/Tumblr/Instagram/etc. followers know that you’re here to sell.

So when you try to sell, it turns them off.

I’ll say it again: When you try to sell your comic book by telling people about it, you are turning people off. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t.

 

In Conclusion

Yes, those harsh truths look bad. Really bad.

But don’t despair, because the good part’s coming.

Although what we think gets people to buy does not actually work, fans still spend their dollars on comic books. So there are ways to get them to spend money on yours.

Here’s the results I can attest to:

  • After 9 months of slowly gathering 2,000 Twitter followers overall, I changed my tactics and now I’m now getting 1,000 new followers a week.
  • People are starting to talk about our comic books and actually recommend them to each other visibly online.
  • Traffic to the website is increasing weekly.
  • Sales are increasing drastically.

This isn’t happening because I’ve been around for some time, or because of the quality the comics (which has remained the same from the beginning). Things are changing because my attitude is changing.

In the next article I talk about how to change to bring the change.

See you next time!

 

And one last thing. If you’re an indie publisher, join our #IndiePower initiative. Together, we can become stronger!


This article was originally published by the Comic Book Illuminati Magazine.

 

 

 

Why Do People Keep Buying Bad Comics?

You must have seen this: Comic book fans keep picking up issues they suspect are bad even though they’ve heard recommendations of other comics that are probably better.

Why?

Here’s the answer!

Fans don't buy these because they expect them to be good.

Fans don’t buy these because they expect them to be good.

 

The Harsh Realities of Being an Indie Publisher

Here’s one of the biggest fact I’ve learned since becoming a publisher: Good reviews don’t generate sales.

One of our comic book series was hailed as “the best sci-fi comic on the market today” across the board and sales did not improve as a result. Nada. Zilch.

Why is that?

All right, people are wary of trying something new. But there has to be more to it than that, right?

I think I’ve found it!

 

The Solution

Ever hear of ‘loss aversion’?

It’s a widely known economics idea, used time and time again in marketing to get more people to buy.

It basically says that when presented with an option of getting something great or not losing something, people would prefer not to lose rather than get something great.

Sound weird? I know. But it works!

 

The Experiment

Sure, the idea’s been tested to death and it works, but I wanted to try it myself.

On Twitter I was publishing a page a day of the TV pilot script for one of our comics.

When I switched from describing it this way (“Exclusive!” – a word showing gain) to describing what a person would miss (“Don’t miss out!” – a word showing loss) the engagement rate on Twitter tripled.

Three times as many people clicked on it or responded to it!

Three times as many! Just because of the phrase change. Just because the framing of it changed from gain to loss.

 

How Does This Relate to Bad Comic Books?

Think about it like this.

Why do most people buy all those massive crossovers, or the PR stunts like ‘Female Thor’, ‘Spider-Verse’, ‘Secret Wars’, ‘The New 52’, ‘Death of Wolverine’, and so on and so on?

Why are these such marketing successes and bestsellers?

Sure, some people think they’ll get great stories. But I’m betting most don’t. I’m betting most people know there are really good stories just a bit left or right of those stories.

I think it’s loss aversion.

People don’t expect to get something good, they’re afraid to lose out on something, anything.

It doesn’t matter what they’re afraid of losing. It could be they’re afraid to miss an important moment in the life of a character they love (rather than miss out on a good story). It could be they don’t want to miss out on the one interesting moment they hope will be there. Or it could be they’re afraid to miss out on the conversation everyone’s going to have about this new cross-over/series/whatever.

Let me repeat that.

People don’t buy these comic books by the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands because they expect them to be good, but because they’re afraid to miss out on something.

That’s how loss aversion gets us to buy bad comics. That’s why good reviews for new comics don’t generate sales.

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments!

 

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The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer, and Comics Fans

I just saw Amanda Palmer’s TED talk and it made me think of you, the fans.

If you hadn’t seen it, it’s awesome and thought-provoking. Here it is:

How does this pertain to comic book fandom? I’ll tell you!

In her talk she describes how her fans treated her with kindness, open hearts, and surprisingly open wallets, when she was just starting out. And the bigger she got, the bigger this phenomenon got.

Now let’s look at the comic book fans we know. I’m not talking about my fans. I’m talking about all of us, including myself as a fan.

We are so quick to cut, so quick to burn people who make one thing we perceive as a mistake. So often, looking at the forums, you see fans saying something along the lines of “This writer/artist did such and such and I WILL NEVER LOOK AT HIS THINGS AGAIN!”

So: How is it that fan behavior is so different?

It couldn’t be just Ms. Palmer’s approach to her art – we’ve got so many artists and writers in the industry, at least some of them must be doing something right (from a fan point of view).

Is it that we’ve grown accustomed to behave this way?

Is it that music is one thing and comics another and therefore behavior must be different?

Is it that this is how a left-brain fan behaves vs. a right-brain fan?

Or is it something else?

And does it have to be the way it is?

Can we be more like that?

Do we want to be like that?

I’d really like to know what you think. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Comic Book Writing Guidelines

A Twitter fan asked: How to pitch a new comic book series?

Here’s the answer!

 

Timing

First of all, check our submissions page for openings.

When submissions are open, the page will also tell you where to send your submissions to.

 

Format

Other companies may care about format, but I don’t. If you have what it takes, you’ll find a way to describe it.

 

Content

All right. Now we get to the writing guidelines.

See at the top of the page there? It says “The best stories. The best art.”

I mean that.

New Worlds Comics is about creating the next generation of comics, a ‘Comics 2.0’ revolution.

We’re about creating standards so high for writing comic books, that they will be a genre onto themselves, a genre of visual literature, with the same depth of character, philosophy, and story that the best literature has, in visual form.

Hence: Comics 2.0.

Here are the most basic criteria for Comics 2.0 stories we’re looking for.

  • Use Yourself as the Original Material. Does it come from you? Does it come from your gut? Is it about your experiences? Is every panel unique and special to how you see the world? – If the answer to all of those is Yes, keep reading.

 

  • Expose Yourself. If a story doesn’t expose a deep truth, it’s no good. A story can expose things you think, things you’re afraid to look at, or the truth about the world. But if it’s not scary to write it, to think that people would read it, then you haven’t dug down deep enough. After you expose yourself, you hide it. It’s a story, after all. You can hide anything behind characters, plot, and background. But your story should feel like an exposed nerve. You should feel like a truth-teller. Your readers should feel elated to have experienced such truth-telling.

 

  • No variations on existing comic book series. What’s a variation? What if Thor was a woman? What is Superman was also the smartest man on the planet? I could do a Batman that’s better than any Batman ever done! – Those things are variations. So, yes, no superheroes. But no other variations, either. No ‘this is my take on So and So’ or ‘this is how I would have done That Thing right’. We’re looking for truly original material.

 

  • All our stories have endings. You need to have a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It can take 4 issues or 12 or 50. But we only accept stories that have the arc most basic to all stories: A beginning, a middle, and an end. A series that lasts forever? Not here.

 

  • Characters should have depth. All your characters should be real and three-dimensional in their depth. If they only serve a purpose for another character, you’ve built the story wrong. Every character is the lead in his/her own story. Every character is different. Every character has depth. Every character is a real, live human being (even aliens, monsters, vampires, or robots). No one is one-dimensional, or even two-dimensional. Every character has contradictions. Every character has flaws. Every character has weaknesses. Every. Damn. One.

 

  • If you write a line you’ve heard/seen/read before, erase and rewrite. To write for New Worlds Comics, you have to be original. Being original means finding a way to be you, and there is only one you. If a line comes out of you that you’ve seen before, then you didn’t dig deep enough into yourself to find how you would act/talk in that same position, if you were that character. You are different from everyone else around you. Writers who use lines they’ve heard before are lazy.

 

  • Your first 5 pages should be the essence of your entire series. The first 5 pages (usually the first page) should include the following elements that ANY good literature has: 1) A hint of the basic conflict of the series. 2) A hint of the basic philosophical theme of the series. 3) A clear feeling of what genre the story is in. 4) A clear feeling of the emotional core the story is about. 5) The most subliminal of hints about where this story will end. – Don’t do this technically. Find the beginning of the story that encompasses all your story. Oh, yeah, and one last thing: 6) Your beginning should suck the readers right in. Reading your beginning should make it impossible to stop reading the book.

 

  • Don’t drag things out. Every panel and every page must have a clear purpose that advances the plot and is worthy unto itself. If you create a panel or a page whose only reason for existence is that they pay off later, erase them. Build the story so that every second feels good for the reader, as if it is the reason for the story. And then surprise your readers. Another example: If your readers have to ‘wait’ for the ‘big ending’ or a big moment that really pays off, don’t send your script. Readers should never wait through something bad or boring. Make every second worth it, and then have something that pays off all those great moments!

 

  • Assume the reader is smarter than you. So many twists, turns, progress of characters, and dialogue are bad in stories because the writer assumes the reader doesn’t know something or hasn’t thought of something, even though the reader saw it coming ages ago. The readers of today have read/seen/watched thousands of comic books, movies, TV show and (some of them) books. Assume your readers are smarter than you and push yourself to find twists and turns that people smarter than you would never see coming.

 

  • Use both storytelling channels. One of the first things you learn in theater is that the text people say and the physical actions they perform can’t be the same. It’s the same here. Use your words to describe/tell/say something that is not what the readers are seeing. You have two different storytelling channels: the visual and the textual. Don’t make them tell the same story. Make each tell a different story. You can use the tension between them to add interest, understanding, or to make a point. These two together will form your story. Using two channels to tell the same story makes a story shallow. Using each of them to tell a different story in each panel gives the story depth. Come on, it’s a tool, it’s right there – don’t waste it!

 

  • Be cinematic. Okay, this one is not a Comics 2.0 criteria. This is a preference. It is my solution to the question: What can comic books do that film or prose can’t do better? The New Worlds Comics solution is: Be cinematic in a way even the screen can’t. Write your film for Spielberg, Nolan, Cameron, etc. but you have a wider canvas: You can use 12 issues or 50 issues or 100 issues to tell your cinematic story. You can write a series of 15 or 30 movies that are all one big story, for example. (That’s our Lost in Dreams series,  btw.) And you can do it for a much lower budget than them, and much faster! Yours and the artist’s salaries do not amount to 800 million dollars!

 

Do you feel your writing answers this criteria? Let me know in the comments! And when submissions are open, send them!

Lastly. Do you want to know what Comics 2.0 looks like? Do you want to see why our writng guidelines are so strict? Click here to email us and you’ll get a free PDF copy of Wynter #1, a Comics 2.0 book!

Are Indie Comics Worth the Effort?

A fan on our Twitter page asked for an “honest, detailed account of the financial/emotional/time liabilities involved” in creating indie comics.

You ask, I answer!

The Financial Cost

Here’s the bottom line: You cannot expect to publish an indie comic book, out of the blue, and succeed financially. It doesn’t matter that your book is God’s gift to comic books. It doesn’t even matter that everybody who reads it likes it.

It’s just not going to happen, because comics fans are very wary of new things.

So, unless you are a known name or have a known name working for you, unless you have a known brand you’re working on or for, expect to sink money into your comic until it succeeds.

You’re going to have to work on building communities of fans across the world from scratch:

  • You’ll have to find people across the world willing to pick up a comic they’ve never heard of.
  • Of those, you’ll have to find people who love it so much they’ll evangelize the comic.
  • You can’t let your evangelists run dry with inactivity. You have to find ways to keep them interested and active.
  • You have to keep producing new issues to prove you can sustain quality, to give the fans more of what they like, to have new things to talk about, and to show that you’re a serious publisher worthy of attention.
  • You’l probably do all that on various social networks. So you have to know how Twitter is different from Facebook, how that’s different from Tumblr or Reddit or what have you. You’ll actually have to do some reserach to discover how best to phrase things in each of these to get the best results.
  • You have to make your comic books secondary in the conversation. If you sell, sell, sell, no one will buy. You have to build trust. You have to trust that if people trust you, they will eventually buy (but not now).

Only when you reach a community big enough will you be able to break even.

By that time, at least a year would have passed, if not two or three or four. And you’ve paid for the new issues and everyone’s hard work during all that time.

Which brings us to the next issue:

The Time Cost

The least above of things you need to do is so great! You need to do those on a daily basis!

You probably have keep on working in a ‘real job’ while you’re doing this. You probably have to keep on writing or doing art or editing future issues of your comic books, which is another time-consuming job.

You’re basically doing three full-time jobs that are not earning you money, while having to support yourself with your ‘real’ full-time job.

Which brings us to the next issue:

The Emotional Cost

Look at the huge list of stuff you have to do above. And I haven’t mentioned sending your comics for reviews, trying to get blog/press coverage, or going to cons.

Do you understand what it takes? Do you think you have that?

What’s the emotional toll? Well, I can only answer for myself, of course.

I’ve been writing for more than twenty years. My first play was shown in a festival 23 years ago. My first story was published 20 years ago. My first book was published 13 years ago. My first script was commissioned 10 years ago.

During all that time, I strived on the one hand to create true art. And at the same time, I went out of my way to create things that couldn’t be marketed in any way.

If I published one SF book for adults, the next one was for teenagers. If a drama I’d written appeared on the stage, the next one would be a comedy for children. So fans that that I gathered in one project would be lost in the other.

I did this over and over and over again, in many different ways, for more than twenty years.

I’ve been on the fringe for for over 20 years, and I kept putting myself there as I created art.

But now I’ve figured out how not to do that, while keeping my artistic integrity.

I’ve created New Worlds Comics as a place for me, and others, to have artistic integrity while doing things right.

So here I am. And emotional cost, time cost, and financial cost – I’m just not going to stop doing it. Stopping is not an option. I get up every day and I do this.

And I’m not. Going. To stop.

 

What about you? Please share with us in the comments!

The Comic Book Business Plan

A reader asked me on Twitter what the business plan is for indie comic book publishers.

You want an indie comic book business plan? You got it!

 

The Original Business Plan

The original business plan was very simple. These were our assumptions:

  • We’d create top-quality comic books.
  • We would only be digital. Thus saving the massive cost of printing and distribution.
  • Comic book fans are thirsty for top-notch comic books. They’d be happy to find new ones. And once they do, they’ll spread it virally through the forums, the Twitters, and the Facebooks.

That was the idea. Since we were only paying the artists (I employed myself as a writer, at least at first, since I would work for free and I have 20 years’ experience writing science fiction), we didn’t really need a lot of sales to break even.

It looked like this business plan couldn’t fail.

Guess what happened?

 

The Tribbles with Trials and Tribulations

  • The Test: We placed ads on CBR, one of the most popular comic book websites. The results: 14 visitors a day from CBR. Conclusion: Comics fans are wary of new things. Until we grow bigger, ads are out.
  • The Test: Our comic books were reviewed by dozens of websites. One of our titles, Wynter, was hailed across the board as “The best sci-fi comic book on the shelves today.” The Results: No additional sales as results of good reviews. Conclusion: Positive reviews do not increase sales. (I’ve had the same experience with online marketing campaigns of my books.)
  • The Test: We tried working with two popular comic book websites, offering their readers to send an email to get a free PDF of Wynter #1. The results: Very weak. Conclusion: Comics fans are wary of new things.
  • The Test: It’s been shown that if you give something to people for free and then let them pay however much they want, they pay more, not less, than you would have gotten originally. We tried putting our Wynter for free at the website, as a test, allowing people to choose how much they pay after they read it. The results: Very weak number of downloads. Conclusion: Not sure.
  • The Test: We were approached by a major Hollywood studio regarding Wynter, as well as by a smaller production company. The results: The studio thought about it and passed, the production company is still in play. We’ll only be able to see the results of this on sales after signing an option deal, and, even better, after having a Wynter TV show on the air. Conclusion: Don’t give up on Wynter. Ever.
Don't lie down and take it. Wynter.

Don’t lie down and take it. Wynter.

The Latest Business Plan

As you can see, when something didn’t work, we pivoted. There were only two constants: 1) We ain’t stopping; and 2) Wynter always makes waves with people who read it.

Our current business plan is based on what we’ve learned since we launched.

One of the major things we’ve learned is that Wynter is consistently perceived by readers as the best sci-fi comic book out today.

Conclusion: Get as many eyes on Wynter as possible. There are millions our there who would love Wynter if they read it: science fiction fans, Warren Ellis fans, Garth Ennis fans, Christopher Nolan fans, Spielberg fans, etc. Wynter knocks people to the floor. Start-ups talk about unfair advantages. What we’ve learned is that Wynter is our unfair advantage.

Plan of action: We’ve got quite a few of those. The first one is already in action: Our old and new Twitter followers get a free Wynter #1 send directly to their email.

We’ve had 2,000 new Twitter followers since we started two weeks ago. Ten percent took us up on it. And this has translated into testimonials, recommendations, and sales.

Conclusion: Keep going! Get Wynter to be seen by thousands, then tens of thousands, then hopefully hundreds of thousands.

Is that a business plan? If we’ve got hundreds of thousands of devoted fans, it doesn’t matter what our business plan is – we’ll be a success.

Wynter. Our ace in the hole.

Wynter. Our ace in the hole.