Written by Rachel Beck
“[Kids] will come up to my table and they’re drawn to the images but they just don’t know the story that surrounds it,” Alexis Fajardo, creator of the narrative comic Kid Beowulf recounts. “Often times the parents are even less educated. They think, ‘Beowulf kind of sounds familiar. I think I skipped it in high school.’ It’s kind of a hazy recollection.”
Once you’ve finally brought your story into creation and wiped the blood, sweat and tears off of your desk, a critical transition takes place. Before, you were a creator of art and stories. Now, like it or not, you’re in sales if you ever want to see any income from your countless hours of work. Fajardo has been down that road and he was kind of enough to share his insights with us.
First, the big question: do you go through a traditional publisher or self publish? Fajardo has walked both those paths. He landed a publishing deal for the first three books of Kid Beowulf, but 150 pages into book three, the publisher’s parent company went out of business, taking Kid Beowulf with them. Fajardo bought back the rights from the publisher and pitched the book to other publishers, but eventually turned to Kickstarter.
“I thought, ‘Well, it’s all or nothing,’” Fajardo remembers. “I had the book done; all I needed was the collateral to get the book printed.” The Kickstarter was successful and the third book made it out into the world.
“I think Kickstarter’s a great venue and I think you’re going to see more and more people turn to that,” says Fajardo. Even so, he still has some mixed feelings about being his own publisher. “I have a lot of friends who have been published through Kickstarter,” he reflects, “And it’s a place that I would certainly consider going back to. I’m still on the fence about self-publishing because it’s just so much work.”
Still, there are some advantages. “The amount of control that you get when you’re a self-publisher is terrific,” Fajardo explains. “Having been with a traditional publisher, I know that there’s not going to be a publisher that’s going to promote the work the way that you want them to, to the extent that you want them to. They have a hundred other authors that they have to feed. The amount of promoting for Kid B. when I had a publisher is really no different than what I was doing without one. I’m always going to the shows, I’m always kind of trying to sell it to everybody who’ll listen.”
The Internet is also changing the face of comics and how independents can promote themselves. “I’m actually shifting from the traditional print model,” says Fajardo. “Prior to the Kickstarter, what I would do is I would hole up for a year and a half and do the book and then publish it. That was sort of the way you did books, but I’m seeing a lot of friends who are doing things as a web comic, building up an audience. Then when they’ve given all that content away for free, they then go back to that audience and say, ‘Well, we want to do a print version. Here’s the Kickstarter. Will you help fund it?’ That’s kind of what I’m doing with my web comic. I’m colorizing the first book, I’m releasing it online for free in episodic installments and I’m hoping to build up a whole new fan base by releasing the first trilogy that way… Hopefully when I turn to Kickstarter again, I can have enough of an audience that I can publish a full-color hardback edition of book one.”
For tackling Kickstarter, Fajardo advises:
– Finish the product ahead of time. There’s nothing more frustrating for supporters than a late or faulty product.
– Back a few Kickstarters. See how they function from the consumer end and examine at their reward tiers to determine whether they are worth the price.
– Do your homework. Learn from those who have already attempted a Kickstarter successfully. Fajardo strong recommends “Funding the Dream” by Richard Bliss.
– Focus on Monday through Thursday. Online funding dries up by Friday, so fill the weekend with live appearances and guest signings at libraries or comic book stores.
– Persistence is king. “For 30 days you have to be belligerent and annoy everybody just to reach your goal,” Fajardo says, “I think if you can do that, you’ll make it.”
Conventions are traditional method for connecting with comic book audiences, and Fajardo has seen his fair share. “Conventions have been great. I love going to them and I’ve been doing it… wow… going on, 15 – 20 years. I’ve learned a lot in that time.”
Fahardo’s pro-tips for convention goers:
– Be confident in your product. Recognize that it’s your job to push it, so have a one-sentence pitch ready. You only have a few seconds to convince people that you’re worth their time.
– Awareness trumps sales. Conventions are as much about sales as they are spreading the word and networking.
– Set up an attractive table. Exciting aesthetics and legible logos help you stand out from the crowd. Don’t make passersby work to see you.
– Be pleasant and engaging. “People are just as nervous as you are behind the table,” Fajardo says, “They’re overwhelmed.”
Fajardo says he’s still building his audience. “Every convention I go to, the majority of the people I come across have never heard of my work. It’s 90% hand-sales and pitching. I try to do at least seven to ten shows a year.”
It’s also important to stray a little bit off the beaten track to find that audience. Fajardo says he used to do almost exclusively comic book shows, but now he’s finding that more literary-oriented conventions get good traction, especially with teachers and librarians.
Sometimes a little luck doesn’t hurt either. Fajardo was just debuting his first book of Kid Beowulf in 2007 when the Neil Gaiman-Robert Zemeckis film Beowulf came out at ComicCon. “They did all the promotion and I just kind of rode that wave. I think I sold through all my books that weekend,” Fajardo laughs. “It was great.”
As a parting piece of advice for other storytellers, Fajardo adds:
“Remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Have a big library of the stuff that inspires you, and when you get frustrated at the drawing board, and you can’t scratch out another panel, just turn around and look at someone else’s work, see how they did it, and realize they were in the same position you are. Then, go back and draw.”