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Friday, March 2, 2012

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing 1: Showing Up is Not Enough

February 1 marked the one year anniversary of the official release of the first volume of "The Brutal Blade of Bruno the Bandit" and, aside from the limited edition of that book, the end of AIM Comics's first year of self-publishing. 
If nothing else, it's been an education.  I've learned a lot about the mechanics of publishing, from formatting the books to meeting the technical requirements of the different stores, distributing, advertising and all the other aspects of trying to run this like a business. 
When I first had the idea to repackage the Bruno the Bandit comic strips and sell them in this fashion, I definitely thought it would be simpler and quicker to get the books out there.  I enjoy doing the work, mind you, but finding the time to get it done is sometimes more of a chore than it should be.  But that's life, isn't it?

I also thought, quite frankly, that it would be more profitable.  If I've learned nothing else in this first year, it's that the profitability I saw in the venture was based on a false assumption. 
At the time, I looked at my own browsing and reading habits on sites like Wowio and Drivethru Comics, and saw that I enjoyed checking out quirky self-published books, one shots, anthologies and collections of material.  My library, both real and digital, is like a cabinet of curiosities, with samplings from authors and artists famous and unheard of, all acquired because I saw something in them that amused or interested me. 
I assumed that many of the other readers frequenting these services were open to the same thing.  Digital comic stores seem to be built on the diversity of material they have on offer, and I thought that their customers would be looking for that diversity and that, due to the low cost of the products, they would be more open to trying something new than traditional comic book distribution channels.

In short, I assumed that all I had to do was show up to the marketplace with what I think is a decent product and I would attract enough readers, if only through their random sampling habits, to make this thing make money. 

Not that I didn't put any sales effort in.  I advertised through Project Wonderful, hitting some of the finer webcomic and gaming based websites.  I promoted the books in forums, blogs and generally anywhere on the web I could get away with, short of being labelled a spammer.  AIM Comics has a Facebook page (updated less frequently than this site, believe it or not) and a Twitter feed (followed mostly by bots), and a Scribd account.  I've done news releases, held contests and done cross-promotion with other sites.  Not to mention having a physical presence at Hal-Con 2011 with banners literally a-flying.  So, I've certainly done the legwork, but it really hasn't paid off like I've expected. 

Not that I'm giving up.  As I said in a previous post, I'm in this for the long haul, mainly because I've got nothing but time to lose, and I still see the potential for a lot of gain.  However, as the title of this post says, showing up is not enough.  It's clear to me that I've got to do more to promote the imprint and the books if I expect to ever see any kind of real returns from this. 
As I write this, Volume 3 of "Brutal Blade" is still coming together (remember that time issue I mentioned earlier?)  I've got a really good cover artist lined up, and some of Ian's best work to include in the collection.  My own book "The Journals of Simon Pariah" is creeping towards completion, and I've got other projects waiting in the wings to make it to my drawing table.  So I think it's going to be a good year, creatively.

Problem is, I'm kind of stumped promotionally.  All the sources I've read on marketing this kind of product tell me the same thing, and very little of it is new.  What I need is ideas on where and how to best promote our work to make the readers sit up and notice.  I know nothing's ever guaranteed when it comes to marketing, but there's got to be something that will work better than what I've done so far.

If you, dear reader, have any suggestions, any ideas at all on how to help promote AIM Comics, I'd love to hear them.  Comment here or email me and share your wisdom.  I may or may not take your idea and run with it, but either way, I'd love to hear from you.

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