Earlier this summer Sam Humphries and Steven Sanders teamed up on a self-published one-shot called Our Love Is Real. Available digitally and at a handful of shops, the book sold out of its print run in a day, with a second printing selling out within a week. And earlier this month we learned that the little science fiction comic that could was picked up by Image Comics, who will publish it in November.
But just because the book's been picked up by a larger publisher doesn't mean that Humphries is taking a break from getting it into people's hands. I spoke with him about the comic's success and a fancy new pre-order app he's developed that'll help connect fans with retailers who can sell them a copy.
JK: Congrats on the Image deal-- how did you come to work with them?
Sam: Once Our Love Is Real came out, it made a lot of sense for both sides. They wanted to be a part of the book, and we reached a point where we couldn't go much further via self-publishing.
JK: Working with Image obviously brings wider distribution through Diamond, with the potential to reach a lot more shops than you could on your own. What are you doing to make it easy for people to request the book from their retailer?
Sam: There's is an experiment I'm pretty excited about -- we've developed a pre-order app for Our Love Is Real, which can be found online at: http://bit.ly/OLIRpreorder. Pre-order online, and pick up at a comic store near you.
It's one link where anyone who is curious about Our Love Is Real can pre-order the comic online, immediately and easily. They can either pick it up at a comic store in their area, or have it delivered via mail order. If they choose delivery, we send them to our mail order partners at Things From Another World, who can ship the book anywhere around the globe.
If they choose to pick it up from a comic book store, they enter their information, and choose from a menu of over 75 retailers in the U.S., Canada, and the UK who are ready and waiting to order the comic. When they hit send, that pre-order is emailed directly to the retailer, and a reminder email is sent to the reader.
The system of pre-ordering in the direct market has a lot of benefits, but it is murder when it comes to marketing. It is such a buzz kill. No one wants to do it. It's a convoluted, counter-intuitive process -- not just for new or casual readers, but for the Wednesday crowd, too.
Trying to explain the multi-step pre-order process, trying to motivate people to actually go do it -- so much hinges on these important pre-order numbers, yet there's so many points of failure. It's an uphill climb for the reader who just wants to order an interesting comic like any other piece of entertainment in their lives.
So we're trying to improve the experience with the pre-order app. Make it easier for readers to act on their excitement. Make it easier for them to connect with a comic book store in their area. Make it easier to drive sales directly to retailers. And make it easier for us to market the damn thing. One link, two minutes, and you've pre-ordered the book. Done. We've gone from a process that gives everyone a headache to something you can fit in a tweet.
Will anyone use it? We'll see...
JK: When you use the pre-order app, you can either put in the email address of a local shop, or you can pick from a pre-determined list of "over 75 retailers." How did you assemble this menu of comic book stores?
Sam: The old-fashioned way -- reaching out store by store, via phone calls and emails, and asking them if they wanted to participate. Some I found by reputation, some by recommendation, and a lot through the ComicsPRO Find a Store service. I paid attention to everyone's Facebook statuses to see where they shop. A handful of retailers I knew, but most were cold calls.
It's impossible to put together a list of retailers that covers everyone, all of the time -- but if you focus on major markets, you can do a decent job of covering most of the people, a lot of the time.
Sometimes direct market retailers are painted as reluctant to embrace change, but this is a new idea and the response was almost entirely positive. We only got one straight-up "no thank you." Over 75 great stores and we're adding more every day.
JK: You've kind of got a cool little success story here, in that you went out and self-published a book, ended up doing multiple printings and eventually landed at Image with it. Before ending up at Image, though, how successful was the book, both in terms of print sales and digital sales?
Sam: Between the three printings there were 900 copies total. We sold 800, plus or minus a handful. (The rest were given away, damaged, kidnapped by ghosts, etc.)
That's extremely successful -- by our standards. By Marvel and DC's standards, it's not even a grape at a food fight. But the great thing about self-publishing is you can play by your own rules and aim for your own targets.
Digital sales have been strong as well, as might be expected for a book that was available in nine retail locations.
JK: What kinds of things did you do to get the word out about the book? And what was the hook (or even hooks) that you think really helped drive interest?
Sam: It's pretty provocative comic, which makes it easy to write about in an interesting way, and interesting to read and talk about. The speculators jumped on the collectable nature of the book, and the resulting one-day sell out added a lot of buzz online and in stores. Ultimately, you gotta back up your hype, and thankfully the book was well-received, and not dismissed as a joke, as it easily could have been. I think those three "hooks" worked together to generate a lot of attention for a pervy little indie comic.
None of this really went "according to plan" -- you can't really engineer it that way. All you can do is define your goals, steal some creative strategies, and work your ass off. Stack the deck in your favor and hope it works out for the best.
JK: You went through multiple covers on each printing. What cover are you planning to use for the Image release?
Sam: We're going back to the OG first print cover with the zoosexual and his lover -- but now with the Image "I." I think the mineralsexual cover is my personal favorite of Steven's renderings, but the dog cover is certainly the funniest.
JK: Is a sequel in the works yet? What else are you working on?
Sam: A sequel...wouldn't that be something? If pre-orders are strong enough, who knows? So (you knew this was coming) pre-order online now with the Our Love Is Real pre-order app! http://bit.ly/OLIRpreorder
I'm also working on a new book for release in December that I'm keeping under wraps for now. There aren't any dogs in it.