16Feb

Getting your comics into stores

So you’ve written, drawn, lettered, edited, and then self-published your own comic book.

Well done, that’s a fantastic achievement!

But the hardest part of the job is still ahead of you, and that’s getting it in front of a customer – either by getting a table at a convention, social media direct marketing, or getting it on sale at a shop.

For this article, I’ll be talking about getting retailers on board for selling your comics for you.

APPROACH

There are about 20 comic shops in Australia. While I encourage you to try and get your books into any other retail space (libraries, bookshops), this is the area I’m going to focus on for the purpose of this article.

(There are several websites and facebook groups that have a comprehensive list of these if you look for them – but it’s a changing landscape so not all of them are going to be up to date).

My approach to these stores, is to either email or contact them on social media, and quickly introduce myself and the books I make. I’ll ask them if they’ve had much success with stocking local comics, and if they’re up for a chat I’ll press them a bit on what might have helped to do so, for example posters or flyers they can display in the store. Then I’ll ask if I can send them an email with some details of my books and some PDF previews, and see if it’s something they might be interested in stocking.

I have a pre-prepared email for just this purpose, which goes into a little more detail about the range of Killeroo books, what order they go in, as well as wholesale and retail prices. I detail how many pages each book has, that they have black and white interiors, and how to order directly by replying to the email.

However, remember that comic shops can be busy at times, particularly when they’re processing the weekly shipment, so make sure you message them at a time when they’re less busy.

Be prepared for a “no thanks”, or even no response at all. It’s their store and they can run it however they want. They might have had a bad experience with local comics in the past, and they might not want to get burned again.

And THANK them for replying either way.

If they say YES…

…then you need to have all of the following sorted out.

You’ll need:

  • bubble wrap – LOTS of it
  • packing tape
  • thick cardboard
  • envelopes – plain and padded
  • kitchen scales – a MUST
  • express post bags
  • cutting mat
  • cutting blade
  • sticky tape
  • postage stamps and priority stickers

You can buy most of these from Officeworks, and they have some good savings available for bulk purchases – usually a discount price for 10 or more of each item.

TIP:
A good place to score some good quality thick cardboard is Bunnings – near the checkout they have a huge stack of boxes that customers can use to carry their purchases – so maybe buy a single bolt or something or they’ll probably chase you away!

WHOLESALE VS RETAIL PRICE

Something that can be a bit hard to get your head around at first, is calculating both a wholesale and retail price for your book.

This is a discount price (usually around 60% of retail) that enables the store to make their margin on selling your comic. For example, my GANGWARS books have a retail price of $12, and a wholesale price of $7.

You might think “but hey, you’re losing $5 of every sale!” – and you’d be right. This is the price I pay for getting my product on the shelf, where new customers might see it. There’s no point in making a comic and having it sit in a box in my house – I might sell a few copies online at $12, but I’m not building a very wide audience.

The trick is to get your books printed at a price that will still allow you to make a (smaller) profit on every book you sell to a retailer. This is how you come up with your retail price.

GST

Keep in mind that the retailer has to collect GST from every sale, so whatever your retail price is, they’ll have to subtract the GST from that.

So for an issue of KILLEROO: GANGWARS with a retail price of $12, a 10% GST (divide the total by 11) reduces the money the retailer gets by about $1.10. 

PACKING & SHIPPING

Have you ever ordered something on ebay like a valuable comic book, only to check the letterbox to see that it’s been bent and folded to fit by the postie?

You get really pissed off, right?

You should be pissed off – but not at the postie. They might have stuffed the package into the mailbox, but they shouldn’t have been able to. The package should have been packed to make it almost bulletproof (and postie-proof). That’s the fault of the Sender.

So why would you not take this into account when shipping your comics to a retailer?

I’ve heard some real horror stories of how some publishers ship their books – plain paper envelopes, cardboard boxes with no padding. The books arrive in shocking condition,

“Books arrived in an envelope, no cardboard, no bags, all bent. He didn’t offer a refund, I was too nice to demand one. Now I just won’t sell his books.”

It’s hard enough to get retailers to give your book a try, but for it to arrive damaged and unfit for sale is UNFORGIVABLE.

THROW IN SOME EXTRAS

If you have any prints, postcards, stickers, or anything like that that doesn’t weigh very much… I’ll even throw in some original sketches for a store re-order. It’s just a little bit of extra stuff that might help them sell the book, or give to their customers as a gift (which ends up being a free ad for your stuff!).

At the very least, include a thank you message for their support.

WEIGH IT!

Remember those kitchen scales? Put everything you’re going to post on that scale – the books, any extras, the bubble wrap (before you seal it) and any cardboard you’re going to use.

There’s 3 weights you want to stay under:

  • 250g
  • 500g
  • 3kg

The first is unlikely to apply if you’re shipping to a store, but the way Australia Post works isn’t really logical. For example, if you have a package of 900g, it’s cheaper to send TWO small parcels of 450g than just the one of 900g. It’s silly, but it’s a fact.

You’re more likely to be sending a package between 1kg and 3kg. Australia Post don’t have any weight options between 501g and 3kg – It’s how they make so much money from local publishers. Just make sure that your parcel is less than 3kg, because they’ll REALLY slug you if you go past that weight.

ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO AUSTRALIA POST?

I used to use Officeworks’ MAILMAN service a lot until recently, as they do have weight limits of less than 1kg, 2kg, 3kg and 5kg – but they changed their prices which makes this option less attractive. 

You could also use courier services like Sendle and others, but unless you ship a LOT of books, the price difference is minimal (or more expensive).

WRAP IT… WRAP IT GOOD!

When I’m sending books, I wrap them in bubble wrap – not once, but twice. Generally this creates a nice extra bit of padding on all sides, which protects the corners from being bent if the postie should drop the package.

Then I wrap it in cardboard, and make sure it’s as strongly sealed as it can be. Then I’ll either put it in a parcel post bag, or an express post bag, so you can track its shipping and make sure it gets delivered.

DO NOT BEND!!

It seems self-explanatory, but even when I make my packages virtually impossible to bend, I’ll still write this across the front of the envelope.

But if you think the postie is going to follow that instruction, you’re a moron. So writing that on a paper envelope with a comic inside and no padding or cardboard with it – you can’t claim this excuse for a disgruntled customer.

And even then, you can’t guarantee this won’t stop the postie from damaging the books – but you’ve at least done your best to prevent it.

SUBSIDISE YOUR SHIPPING

I do charge shipping for my orders to retailers, but it’s rarely for the full amount. I’ll generally cop around 25-33% of the cost where possible. Remember that every dollar of shipping cuts into the retailer’s profits per book, so if you can take on a bit of that cost, the retailer is going to appreciate that, and more likely to order from you again.

TIP:
Where possible, hand-deliver your book. If it’s a trip into the city for you, or maybe even an hours commute – it’s worth it to get to know your retailer face to face. It’s not difficult to organise to deliver all your items to multiple stores in one trip.

IN SUMMARY

So let’s break down the numbers for a single issue of GANGWARS, from the perspective of the retailer:

  • $12 retail sale
    – $7 (wholesale)
    – $1.10 (gst)
    – $1 (estimated % of shipping for order)
  • = $2.90 total profit

Now that’s the expected profit from a $12 book. If you run those same numbers for your $5 or $6 book, how do you think that works out?

When you look at these numbers, it’s amazing retailers stock local books at all, isn’t it.

Keep in mind that I’ve priced GANGWARS specifically to maximise retailer profit – there are some self-publishers who will ask the retailer to pay a wholesale price of $9 for their $10 book. And then wonder why they get turned down…

Darren Close is an Australian comics creator. He has primarily self-published comics about his character Killeroo for the last 20 years, most recently the GANGWARS series. He also founded the OzComics website, which later became a weekly drawing challenge on Facebook. He's currently the Managing Editor of AustralianComicsJournal.com

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