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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:




STRANGEWAYS: MURDER MOON is out now. Now. Nevermind that I thought it was going to be this week, and then this column would have been more “on the eve of” instead of “after the blessed event.” But whatever. There’s some things that you can’t exert any control over, even if you’d like to. And anguishing over them is just going to be a waste of energy, but I suppose I can’t tell you what to do, right?

Though it was kind of sad/funny when I scanned the shipping lists over at The Savage Critic, as I often do on a Monday night. My eye caught on something right around the end. I stopped and rescanned the list. Yup. Not a misprint. STRANGEWAYS MURDER MOON OGN, coming out 3/19, not 3/26. I’d have been a lot more at peace with it if all the review copies had gone out before that. As it was, I’d gotten a handful out, mostly to folks who’d reviewed the first issue back when the book had been solicited by Speakeasy Comics. And Publisher’s Weekly, who had been sent a galley a couple of months back. If anything, I figured that one would be late, since they usually work on a three month lead-time, but apparently a miracle occurred and they got it on an eight week turnaround.

The review is mostly good, though there’s a major point that they took to task, that I disagree with, kinda strongly really. But again, it’s one of those things that you can’t change by whining about, so you have to take it and move on. Even with that contention, they seemed to like it well enough. Not sure if the review is online and I’m not clear on the propriety of reproducing it so I’ll leave that an exercise for the reader. And really, PW is going to be looking at things differently than the comics press overall. Which is good, because I’m looking for a wider audience for STRANGEWAYS, wider than the traditional DM comic store, that is.

Back on track, though. So I saw the shipping list, saw that the book was shipping early and did what I could with it. I gathered up more readers to send it to review, including some straight-up horror and western outlets. Remember, gotta work outside the traditional marketplace. Of course, I still have to steer these readers towards DM stores, assuming there’s DM stores conveniently located to them. This is not a given. Failing that, it’s often more convenient to steer them to mail-order retailers. I’m not hooked up with Amazon yet, nor Baker and Taylor (the bookstore distribution network, one of several, I’ll add.) This has to get remedied, but it wasn’t something that could happen until I had books in hand. So yeah, that’s something else to throw into the giant hopper full of “Things I really need to do,” along with “commence negative feedback in conjunction with my son’s use of the Wii” and “figure out why I can’t tell my four-year-old to do anything without getting a giggle or a raspberry in return.” Four-year-olds are hardcore.

Once all that stuff got out, it was off to educate some local retailers about the book. True, I’d hit a few of them back around the original solicit period, but now it was time for some follow-up. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing is more effective for getting attention for your book than to walk into the comics emporium of your choice, find the manager, introduce yourself and hand them a book of your making.

It helps if the book looks professional and there’s content to back that up. I’ll just assume you have that going for you (and that’s the easy part!) Of course, STRANGEWAYS has a cover by Steve Lieber, so it’s going to look good on its face. The insides look pretty sharp, too. I like to think that the 144-page length of the work helps give it a feeling of substance when picked up and looked over. If folks don’t think they’re going to get a deal when they pick the book up, then you’re going to be fighting uphill to make that sale.

All the managers I spoke to on the first leg of my trip (during a weekday, when managers are usually in; not so for my second leg – more on that later), accepted the book gratefully and were happy to answer questions about the store and clients (not to mention accept the promotional ashcans and flats I’d made up). Going in person can not be beat for making a connection. Phone, internet, mail, whatever, I’d done all of those and gotten very little if any feedback. But you go in person and you’re tougher to brush off.

And let’s be clear. I enjoy going in and talking shop. I’m not so wild about making sales. Yes, the two go hand in hand, and I’m learning to get past my own personal reluctance to push my own work, but still, it’s not even second or third nature to me. For some stores, this was their first look at my work. This is the risk you run from being in the back of the catalog. There’s a lot of publishers out there with a lot of books in one section of PREVIEWS that ends up looking more like the classified ads instead of the colorful, content-filled front half of the book.

It was tough to gauge whether or not the insert that I’d had circulated to all the Diamond accounts had much of an impact. You can’t always talk to the person who’s opening the invoices to find out if the big red wolf on the cover sticks in their mind or not. But I have to figure that it helped push orders. I keep telling myself that.

The stores that had ordered the book previously were reporting pretty good sales. Yes, this was an unscientific poll at best. But for instance, I went to one local store (Empire’s Comics Vault in the Arden Arcade area of Sacramento – Hi, Ben!) and saw a lone copy of STRANGEWAYS out on the table Friday, when I could get out. I figured, “Hey, they ordered a copy ‘cause I come in here occasionally, that was nice of them.” I asked if there’d been any interest in the book and Ben the manager said “We got four in.” So that was a nice little pick-me-up. It’s not crazy sales and I’ll have to announce an immediate reprint (believe me). But it does mean that folks are connecting with the book (and that it’s being ordered in quantity so that people can even have a chance to connect with the book.) I’ll take my victories where I can get them.

There’s only so many stores in Sacramento, though. I was going to have to start expanding my territory. So that’s precisely what I did on Saturday. Now I know why those traveling salesmen in the movies always look dog-tired, even when they’re trying to spark that sparkle in their eyes as they display the latest in vacuum-o-matic technology to the farmer’s wife. So, early-ish Saturday morning, I headed out to the wilds of…San Jose.

Okay, not so wild. But they’ve got a good store there in Hijinx Comics, where they really emphasize the trade format, and have a nicely-laid-out place that uses the store’s limited space wisely. Unfortunately, the manager wasn’t in at the moment and I had to settle for leaving some PR and a copy of the book for him to review later. Like I said, not everyone is insane and works on a Saturday. Like me.

Oh, and word to the wise. Don’t pay for copies at the corner liquor store. I won’t embarrass myself by telling you how much I paid for 20 photocopied pages.

Made my way up to Lee’s Comics in Mountain View, once I figured out how to get there. The confluence of the 680/101/280/etc kinda throw me off. Unfortunately, Lee’s shares a parking lot with Costco, which means that there were too many people there doing stupid things with their cars and driving me into a total frenzy. I had the windows rolled-up so I could shout at them at full volume, like a gonzo reporter hopped up on Dunkin’ Donuts and Turkish coffee. It didn’t do anything for my temper.

Another Saturday at another store where the manager doesn’t work Saturdays. Drop off the stuff with a smile and move on. More to do. Next stop? Comics Conspiracy in Sunnyvale. I’ve known Ryan since I lurked at Millarworld (yeah, back when Graeme did too, that long ago), so it was good to drop in and get a book in his hands. He directed me to a couple more local comic stores, Illusive Comics and Heroes Comics.

You guessed it, no managers at either one. So much for the personal connection, but I gave it a solid shot. Brendan, the guy behind the counter at Heroes, seemed pretty interested in the book, though. And given that Heroes focused more on the old-school stuff, there was a chance of connecting with some Warren/horror mag fans there, who might be more interested in a black and white offering.

Pro tip: if you want to get to the east bay from Campbell, CA, then you don’t want to take the 280. It’s a lovely, lovely drive, through bucolic rolling green hills, but it just puts you in downtown SF eventually, and that means crossing the bridge twice to get to Oakland and back. Not the worst time I’ve had. The weather was beautiful, so it was a chance to get some fresh air and sing along with Radio Birdman on the iPod.

Made it to Dr. Comics and Mr. Games in downtown Oakland, where a friend had spotted a copy of STRANGEWAYS earlier in the week, so I figured I should show them some appreciation. And I actually got to meet the manager on a Saturday. Neat. But Mike has a grip like steel, so watch that handshake. Good store, too. I once picked up a copy of FLEX MENTALLO #3 there for four bucks. Four bucks!

Last stop in the East Bay was Comic Relief in Berkeley. I tried to make the iPhone cough up directions there, but gave up and just found Telegraph and headed south. Of course, I forgot that Telegraph leads you right through the heart of the merchant district. Slow traffic, but lots of good-smelling food.

Made it to Comic Relief to pass off some books, though they already knew well about the book, but still, give thanks where its earned, right? I even made it across the bridge in time to beat traffic and hit Comix Experience and drop off a couple more copies (and note that they still had one on the shelves).

Last stop, the Isotope and more drops. Oh yeah, and picking up a copy of NEMESIS THE WARLOCK v.2. Then meet up with friend Ian for some dinner before the Whitney Matheson (of PopCandy over at USA Today)/Tim Sale (you all know who he is) meet-up that night at the Isotope. I never do all that well with crowds, particularly after I’ve been driving all day and doing the shake and howdy thing in addition. And oh yeah, trying to park in Hayes Valley on a Saturday night. Rage eventually erodes to humiliating despair under those conditions. I played wallflower mostly, sipping some really good single-malt that I forgot the name of, but did get a chance to practice my social skills.

Lord knows I need it.

See you in a fortnight. I’ll try not to skip out on you nice folks again, but there are times it’s just better that way.

Matt Maxwell

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