NYCC 2018: The New Comics Publishing Frontier With ComiXology Originals

by James Ferguson

ComiXology held this panel to highlight the Originals line of comics available to read for free for Amazon Prime, ComiXology Unlimited, and Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Some teasers were shown for upcoming titles like Fair Trade and The Dark. The panels was moderated by Matt Kolowski and Kiwi from ComiXology. Panelists included Ivan Salazar, PR & Events Coordinator at ComiXology,, Camilla Zhang (Kickstarter), Kel McDonald (The Stone King), Eryk Donovan (Fair Trade), and Elsa Charretier (Superfreaks).

The panel polled the audience, asking how many people are creators looking to get their work published. Kolowski asked the panelists how they determine the best platform. Zhang said that Kickstarter is for people who are tired of waiting. They don’t have to go through the whole process of submitting and waiting days to hear an answer or even no answer. It’s for self-starters and entrepreneurs who don’t mind taking on additional work. They’re hungry enough to put something out there fearlessly.

Charretier added that she went through the process of submissions with a number of French publishers. It’s not always that they don’t want it. It’s that your book might not fit in with their publishing line up at the time. She ended up on Kickstarter and successfully funded a campaign.

Donovan chimed in that there was a time before Kickstarter was really embraced by the comics community. A few years ago there would be maybe 20 comics projects, but now there are 150 at any given time. It can be easy to get overwhelmed or lost in the shuffle there. You have to think about what makes your project stand out.

McDonald said that most comics Kickstarter campaigns run in March or October. Color books run in March to take advantage of tax money. Black-and-white runs later due to costs. December is a pretty quiet time. She’s run 15 Kickstarter campaigns, so she certainly knows what she’s doing.

Salazar chimed in to talk about the ComiXology Submit program. It’s intended for creators that have already completed their project and are looking for a platform. All you need is a finished high resolution PDF with at least 8 pages. ComiXology is a very large market with over 100,000 books and you’re competing with the likes of DC and Marvel, however if you have a social media presence, it allows you to send people where they can get your work at any time.

Donovan added to this, pointing out that you’re always going to be competing with the other publishers so you have to do the research to get ready for it.

Kolowski asked what the panelists do to make your project stand out. Charretier said that you should be doing that before launching the project. You should have your social media strategy ready and be patient. Don’t buy followers!

McDonald said you should know your audience. She bought Facebook ads to promote a Kickstarter campaign for a werewolf anthology. They worked because she targeted people that liked werewolves who don’t like horror. That kind of targeting is important for getting the word out for your project.

Zhang said she’s asked this a lot from creators. She even has a presentation she gives on the subject. It boils down to the need to be able to talk about your project in simple, clear terms. It’s the only way you’ll get your message to the audience. You should know who else is doing something similar to you. “I can tell you right now. I see so many vikings projects on Kickstarter.”

The panel was opened up to Q&A. A fan asked if it’s better to launch a Kickstarter before you’re finished or wait until you’re done with the project before launching. Zhang said that you can do either, but it comes down for your audience. Some will start out with a single issue floppy, with new campaigns for each issue and eventually a collected version. It depends on the project and the person.

McDonald has run Kickstarter campaigns for both finished projects and those in works. She only did the latter after working in the industry for a few years so she knew exactly how long it would take to finish. Donovan added to this, pointing out that having the bulk of the comic finished will instill a level of confidence in backers that the project will be completed.

A fan asked Zhang how a Kickstarter campaign is selected as a loved project. She said there’s a blog post on the site that outlines this topic. She reminded the audience that Kickstarter is not a publisher and they don’t take submissions. Some of it comes down to good imagery. She expressed frustration at comics projects that only feature one image. That’s just not enough.

Another fan asked if there’s any data about how many kids were reading on ComiXology. Salazar said they don’t have anything specific at this time. He thinks parents are using the platform and they get books to share with their kids. He added that they get a lot of requests from libraries as a number of kids are reading comics and graphic novels there.

The next question related to finding the audience and where they are. Salazar recommended Comichron, but it would require a lot of digging. It goes back years but it might only tell you on a subset of the market. McDonald pointed out that the direct market doesn’t cover any ComiXology stuff.

A fan asked if there is any correlation related to sales of digital comics that come with DRM-free back-ups. Salazar said they haven’t seen anything specific at this time.

Another audience member asked about editing and if the panelists tap into their personal network for help. McDonald says she mainly does this when a Kickstarter project needs a boost. If she doesn’t reach 1/3 of her funding goal within the first 3 days, she starts pushing harder.

Someone asked about the best social media strategy when promoting comics projects. Salazar said that each network will kind of tell you what kind of content to post. For example, Instagram is ideal for photos. McDonald added that it should be genuine, not just promotional posts. Zhang said that you should use the platform that you’re the most comfortable with. It should be a mix of personal and promotional information. Do not be shy!

Salazar shared a story he heard from an artist recently who had never tried Inktober. He got twice as many likes when starting this than ever before. There are a lot of people both in and out of comics that are looking at that right now, so it helps promote the artist’s work.

Another fan asked if it’s recommended to use a personal social media account for promotional purposes or to make a separate account for artwork. It comes down to personal preferences and how much you want to share with the public.

A new creator said he just launched his first Kickstarter campaign recently and he’s getting messages from a number of strange places asking to pay to promote his project. He didn’t even finish the question before everyone on the panel started shaking their heads. Don’t go in for those. McDonald pointed out that he just spoke about the project in front of a group of people and didn’t mention the name. It’s called Jesus Christ Superhero.

Zhang suggested exploring the creator dashboard more, specifically custom referral tags that will allow creators to track response based on different posts. Another recommendation was to generate pre-written posts for backers to share.

A fan asked about researching audience insights. McDonald pointed out that although the “It’s This Meets That” idea is a cliché, it works. It’s a way to create a venn diagram of an audience of people that like both of those things.

A creator that has a book on ComiXology Submit asked how titles are selected for indie book sales on the platform. Salazar suggested to reach out to them. ComiXology may seem like a giant thing, but there are still people behind it. The worst that could happen is that there are no promotions going on at the moment.

The final question was related to print sales vs digital. Salazar feels that physical comics and books will never go away. There are some publishers that are releasing amazing, prestige versions of comics. Some customers will buy single issues in digital and collected editions in print.

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