Stand-Alone Works Don’t Sell

Once again, Brian Hibbs’ latest column tells some hard truths. His store has been running out of space, so he decided to prune his stock to what had a good chance of selling. Please go read the whole thing, because I am very broadly summarizing here, but the lessons I took away from the piece are:

Shelf of graphic novels

Why should your graphic novel be included on the shelf?

There are too many graphic novels being published for anyone to carry everything. A good amount of these won’t sell (at least, in his market). As he says, “as more product is released, the harder each individual title is to sell.” In other words, the glut is not your friend. And really, I think we all knew this — being early to the market makes you stand out a lot more than coming into a crowded field and expecting the same success. Also see webcomics.

And here’s the scary part: Stand-alone books don’t sell. If it’s not part of a continuing series, or work by an author who’s still active in the field, then the chance of success plummets. Readers need a way to be convinced to buy, and being part of a known quantity is a huge help in getting them over that hump. In my opinion, there’s so much “new” distracting customers that unless you can make your work “new” in some way, you’re old news and not of much interest. Attention spans are tiny and raven-like in their desire for the shiny fresh. Few people want to buy into something that’s already dead.

Even if it is part of a continuing series, if there are too many of that series (see Batman or X-Men) or genre (zombies! stop doing zombie comics!), readers become jaded and burnt out. Yes, this is a hard balance to navigate.

Then Hibbs mentions what may be a more important factor for many of us: value. Not just price, which is important, but whether the material seems worth the cost. He goes on to say,

Now, frankly, I think that most of this seems pretty obvious and sensible — format your work like the rest of the work on the market, don’t try to ask too much of a premium, don’t oversaturate, keep the work in print, and actively marketed, and so on — but there are nearly 1000 books I’ve just removed from my shelves that say otherwise.

It’s a tough choice for publishers. You want to stand out, but you can’t be too different in format or expectations or cost. With so many choices out there, the question becomes “why should I buy your work when I already have others in that category/genre/type?” The more works you’re competing against, the harder it becomes for that answer to go in your favor.


2 Responses to “Stand-Alone Works Don’t Sell”

  1. Joshua Strasburg Says:

    Hey, those are my books in the photo. :) As sloppy as those shelves were, I miss them now that I no longer have room to display my comics at all.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for providing a photo that summed up the post! I’m working hard to avoid double-shelving, but it requires a lot of space.

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