Welcome back to Warrior's Inn, a space on myspace and Blogger where creators and small press publishers can go to learn how others are breaking into the sequential art form known as comics!
Today begins this Fall's interview series with creators and indie comic folks like our first interviewee, Susan Soares of SJS Comic Promotions.
WIC: Hello Susan,
Lets get started, shall we?
You are different than others in this interview series, as in, you aren't a creator per say, rather you work for creators as a Promotions Consultant. Can you tell us exactly what that is?
SOARES: Sure. Basically I help creators get their properties noticed by the comic book reading public and beyond. Some of the services I provide include social networking management (ie Facebook), press release writing and distribution, book distribution for media coverage and reviews, as well as convention planning and advertising.
Depending on the needs of the client, I do pretty much anything that's necessary to increase their visibility and popularity.
WIC: It almost sounds like you're kinda like a comic creators agent. Would you consider that a fair assessment? What is the difference between say an agent and a promotions consultant like yourself?
SOARES: The movie industry is vastly different than the comic book industry, in my opinion. No I don't consider myself an agent. Agents represent people and their goal is to get their clients additional work. I am a publicist, to use a more mainstream title. My focus is to get the properties noticed, with the creators going along for the ride.
WIC: Do you consider your clients to be stars in their own right?
SOARES: And as far as my clients being stars, of course they are. My job is to make my clients appear and feel important, as they should be. A lot of sacrifice and hard work goes into the properties they create.
WIC: You are familiar with the sacrifice and hard work that goes into a comic. As the wife of a comic creator can you speak a little about the dedication that goes into creating a property and the sacrifices that come with entering the world of entertainment?
SOARES: My husband has been working on Sky Pirates of Valendor since 2006. He was first published in 2007 and began his miniseries in 2008. Since that time, we have put 1000's of miles on our car, spent 1000's of dollars in talent, printing, conventions and traveling costs. We work really hard because I'm a firm believer that if you do something where you invest money and time, you do it to all the way. We've had bumps in the road but we also just celebrated our debut appearance in Previews. While I know many creators have outside obligations that prevent them from spending the time and money we have, I firmly believe that Sky Pirates of Valendor is proof it can happen for any title. And that's why I created my company. Creators don't always have the time to properly promote their properties. That's what I'm here for.
WIC: It seems Diamond Comic Distributors have made it difficult for indie and small press publishers to keep their comics in Previews with their minimums and their piece of the cover price pie. Many indie creators ask how is it possible to profit, let alone get on the comic shop shelf with Diamond’s policies. What has your experience been with Diamond and when should a creator consider submitting to a distributor?
SOARES: For the indie creator, Diamond is for trade paperbacks. We did not solicit our single issues, nor will we. Under the advice and guidance of Sky Pirates' publishers,Free Lunch Comics, the story was structured in the format of a miniseries that was easily collected to a trade paperback. One continuous storyline that fits into one book is easier to market and the profit margin is greater. And the risk is less for the retailers than committing to a miniseries released in single issue that may not get completed or canceled due to low sales numbers.
WIC: Have you consider distributing with an indie friendly company like Haven Distributors in addition to Diamond?
SOARES: And no we are not considering any other distribution methods at this time. Haven, from what I see, is a very small operation that very few retailers know anything about. I think it's going to be a very slow process to incorporate new distributors into the industry. But for creators who can't afford a Diamond print run, I strongly recommend Lulu.com as it gets your graphic novel listed on a multitude of online bookstores, including Amazon. It's the best alternative for budget-restricted creators.
WIC: I want to get back to your website and what you do for your clients. On your Gallery page you share covers of your clients projects but you also have a couple video previews of those comics you promote. Similar to motion comics, the vids make use of voice acting and sound effects. Did your promotions company produce these?
SOARES: Despite the fact that I went to school for communications and that included video production, I can't do it professionally to save my life. The Sky Pirates trailer was created by the folks at comicbooktrailers.com. The DarkBrain trailer was created by Andrew Zar, publisher of DarkBrain.com. Two of my other clients have trailers in production that hopefully will be out soon.
WIC: How would one go about getting one of these made for their comic? And have you found them helpful in advertising a comic?
SOARES: If a creator wants a trailer made for their series, I would recommend reaching out to a videographer. There is software out there to do it yourself and I have created a couple ameteur videos for a friend but nothing at the quality you would want to promote a series. And yes I have found these to be very effective tools to promote comics. There are so many outlets to post these videos both on social networking sites and websites, the visibility is outrageous. One of DarkBrain.com's trailers has received almost 12,000 views on YouTube. Fans love to see the pages come to life with animation and sound, features you don't get from a printed comic book.
WIC: Can you tell us how DarkBrain's 12,000 views translates into sales?
SOARES: DarkBrain is a little bit different because it is a webcomic. All of their content is free to view at a PG-13 level. They offer a membership option for $4.99 a month or $24.95 for a six-month subscription that unlocks the option to choose whether content is viewed at a PG-13 or R-rated level, among other member-only benefits. Since we posted the various trailers and opened up all the content to be free, we've have had over 80,000 pageviews per day and we've sold more memberships than before we changed the model. My role with DarkBrain is slightly more intense than with my other clients. I am responsible for making marketing recommendations that influence and impact the overall success of the site. It has been very challenging as we are working with a model very different than any other webcomic out there, coupled with managing mature content.
WIC: As a web comic publisher I'm intrigued, I may have to talk to you more about this later but as an interviewer I'm going to choose to move on. Since we are talking about clients, you have a page where you post a list of your clients and contact info for them. Is this a list of past or present clients or a mixture of both?
SOARES: The list on my website is a current list. With the exception of Sky Pirates and some pro bono work I did previously, I only started taking on clients in April.
WIC: You also spoke about how busy DarkBrain keeps you, how do you manage all your clients and make room for more?
SOARES: As far as time is concerned, I currently do not have a day job so my clients are doing me a world of good right now. I'm one of those people who if I'm doing something I truly love, I breeze through the work. I'm still learning alot and have my busy days. But there are days where the pace is slower. All depends on what's going on. With New York Comic Con coming up, I expect to be busy in the next few weeks.
My goal is to build a full time career doing this, which is why I am still seeking to take on more clients. A few months ago, this was a stretch goal. As time goes on, it is becoming more of a reality.
WIC: Isn't that everyone's dream? To do the work that makes us happy? I've actually been pondering the idea that this recession we are in is going to turn out to be a blessing in disguise. As more and more of us find ourselves unemployed Americans are having to become more and more creative. We have to ask ourselves, how am I going to pay rent this month? That question turns into what skills do I have, what services can I offer? What can I do to earn a living? And look at us? Look at what Americans are doing? We are pulling up our big boy/girl pants respectively and doing what American’s do best; we are creating, innovating! 100 years ago there was a decade called the Roaring 20's, I have a sneaky suspicion we are on the verge of our own Roar! Don't you?
SOARES: I would agree. I have several friends who lost their jobs right around the time I did and they are pursuing freelance careers. It is nerve wracking because clients do come and go and some contracts are shorter than others. The greatest news I get to hear nowadays is that a client is going to renew their contract with me. But I find myself spending as much time looking for new clients as I do working for my existing ones.
WIC: Well let’s see if we can generate a few more clients for you by telling them what you offer. On your website you have started a blog called Promotionally Speaking. What are the goals you hope to achieve with this blog?
SOARES: Let me clarify that Promotionally Speaking actually started in 2008 on a Canadian-based publisher's website, Septagon Studios. After I lost my job in April of 2009, I lost my focus somewhat and struggled to find a way to rebuild my life. Well, I fell off the wagon with my articles.
With the development of my website, I decided to re-launch the blog. I plan to accomplish a number of things with the blog. One is to offer advice to creators based on the lessons I've learned. I don't claim to know everything but since we have been so aggressive, we've made some good and some not-so-good moves that I want to share with fellow creators.
I also plan to share some of the major press releases that I distribute from SJS Comic Promotions. And, lastly I would love to run an advice column with questions from creators.
WIC: Sounds similar to my goals with this blog. I strongly believe in collaboration of the arts. I've always been part of art forms that share resources and creativity, from playacting to film making to sequential art story telling. It is by far the most enjoyable thing about this career path.
Speaking of sharing I took a gander at the posts you have on your new page thus far and you mention some of the mistakes you've made, could you tell us about your biggest blunder as well as you best success?
SOARES: One of the biggest blunders I made was a very personal one and cost me a great deal. Without going into too much detail, I basically thought I could build my professional reputation and my client base by representing some of my friends who were creators. Going back to how aggressive Everett and I are with Sky Pirates, I tried to impose that aggressiveness with them. It cost me the opportunity to work with them and the aftermath of the situation cost me some friendships. It taught me however that it's ok for me to set standards on who I want to work with and if I feel a client doesn't match my views on comic creation, then it's ok to not work with them. It also taught me I can't change my clients. I can recommend and suggest changes and some will stick, and some won't. And most importantly, for me particularly, I can't represent my friends. I care too much and while I care about all my clients, friends hold a different rank.
My greatest success will always be Sky Pirates. My husband never wrote a comic before and in an instant, he was a
finalist in a competition for comic book creators. Then in another instant, we were picked up by Free Lunch Comics, whom we love dearly. And then in another blink of an eye, we were in Previews. That success and the reputation I built from that success helped build my client base and the courage to keep building my freelance career, despite the huge mistakes I made when I first tried to launch it.
WIC: Going back to your blog you expressed a commitment to finding answers or providing resources to the answers. How many times have you been called upon to go above and beyond to find an answer to a client’s question?
SOARES: With the exception of my work with DarkBrain, so far most of my clients have been the standard formula I'm used to. I most recently had to come up with a solution to a problem that affected a number of my clients, which is New York Comic Con. We all applied for Artist Alley tables and we all were declined. So I proposed to 6 of my clients that we share a Small Press Booth, which they agreed. We split the cost, which alone is lofty. And I will be hosting them under the SJS Comic Promotions name.
WIC: That's great. Thank you. That's all we gots for now. It's been great chatting with you!
SOARES: Thanks Ben.
Thanks for reading everyone. Be sure to stop by next week when we pick the brain of Elizabeth Guizzette as she Lures you Out for Cookies and Souls in the Famine Lands of her dreams. Till we meet again.