Author Spotlight: John Mundt – Comic Book Author

This month’s author spotlight features John Mundt, the author of comic books as well as short stories featuring his comic character, Monkey. He published his four issues of The Adventures of Monkey comic books over two decades ago, so he has seen the book marketing landscape change greatly. In addition to having his comic books, John also used his publishing efforts as ways to establish himself as a comic book creator, stating, “In comics, as in many other creative enterprises, the best way to show that you can do something is to have already done it.”

John started with a written marketing plan in the year leading up to his first publication and has been revising it ever since. He said, “I wrote it all out, especially my plan to maximize my meager budget (maybe $400?) by getting as much free press/promotion as possible, based primarily on personal appearances. At the time, there were many specialty comic book stores, most of which would freely host – and often advertise for – me at a comics signing event for a percentage of my sales made that day.” The first change he made was to “to offer to make an in-store appearance, complete with sketches and giveaways for attendees, for a standard number of books purchased in advance. With guaranteed sales, I could plot actual ‘tours,’ like my Mighty Monkeyssippi Tour, which started in Bemidji, Minnesota, and followed the Mississippi, store by store, all the way down to Dubuque, Iowa. An ‘event’ made advertising easier and press coverage somewhat more ‘legit.’”

John also uses regular press releases to promote his events. He said, “For other marketing (and, remember, this was pre-internet), I had a mailing list, cultivated from my in-store appearances (I literally had a sign-up book on the table next to my comics), and a newsletter! Everyone who signed up got at least one newsletter, and early sign-ups got annual holiday cards as well (usually with some mention of the most recent or soon-to-be-released product).”

John occasionally used paid advertising, mostly to industry and trade publications aimed at comic book shop owners, with “obvious, but not dramatic” results. He said, “When I’ve placed ads for direct sales or to advertise a personal appearance, I’ve felt like I was just throwing money away.  The best ‘paid’ ads that I’ve utilized have been to create and place actual semi-collectible ‘items,’ such as bookmarks, trading cards, and coupons, into the hands of potential readers,” such as giving convention attendees goody bags and leaving them behind after personal appearances.

When asked how book marketing has changed since his first publication, John said, “Things have definitely changed since I first published. In the late 1990s, the comics market – which had grown bloated by investment mentality and manipulation of the false goalpost of ‘market share’ – collapsed. That, coupled with the growth of internet retail sites, like Amazon and eBay, also killed the once thriving network of comics shops. So, my comfortable marketing plans (wherein I was once on a first name basis with dozens of comics shop owners, national distributors, and comics convention organizers) were suddenly moot. I now mostly hand-sell my books at personal appearances.”

Though marketing his books has become easier over the years with “tricks” he’s learned, John still feels basically uncomfortable with what he says “feels like very public begging.” He explained, “In a perfect world, I would create my comics, show them to passersby, and politely accept questions, comments, or even sales from whoever offered them. That, of course, isn’t the best way. I don’t know what ‘the best way’ is, I guess, but I know it’s not passive. More than just a way to sell, I think the state of my marketing becomes a measure of the value of my work (it stands to reason that the more enthusiastic I am about what I do, the more others will want to share in that feeling by obtaining my work…or at least they’ll be curious enough to check it out).”

When asked what has surprised him about book marketing, John said, “The biggest surprise has been that it is much more work to market a comic book than it is to publish, or even create it.  Marketing never ends.  It may ebb, it may take a hiatus, but it never really stops.  And it is always changing.  And it can be frustrating.  And I still do it.  I’ve experienced numerous – and humorous – failures along the way.  If I’ve had any success, I credit naïve persistence.”

His humor is clearly evident in this list of his chronological marketing strategies:

  1. If I Make It, They Will Come: doesn’t work, they didn’t come
  2. Traveling Salesman: works, but no guarantee of sales, so you’d better hustle if you want to pay for gas, food, etc.
  3. Buy Something, Get Something: that presale plan worked pretty well, with the hardest part being the logistical and sales legwork beforehand
  4. Cultivating a Reader Database: the newsletters, mailings, and reward system I used – and still use somewhat – created a core group of “fans,” upon which I could rely
  5. Contests and Coupons and Swag – Oh My!: worked surprisingly well, but was costly, especially in ordering minimums and shipping charges
  6. I’m John Mundt, Esq., And You Can Too: I “morphed” my personal appearance plans to include workshops and lectures…which works very well, especially since I often get paid before I even sell a single comic
  7. Have Marker, Will Travel: another version of the personal appearance, this as a guest or featured artist…which is often more work but has side benefits of helping hone my skills while also doing real-time market research
  8. Online Storefront: works only slightly better than If I Make It, They Will Come
  9. Quirky Curiosity: just being “weird” is part of the plan now, so I end up selling my comics in oddball, otherwise unrelated locales, like coffee shops, libraries, gaming stores, and museums…which is kind of hit-and-miss

John still uses elements of all these strategies when it’s appropriate. For social media, he mostly uses Facebook to stay connected and network but has plans to sell through social media, stating, “ I do, however, have plans.  Evil plans.  Well, not ‘evil,’ I guess.  Just regular plans that include the social media promotion of a new, graphic novel style comic to be released in the near future.  Stay tuned!”

His advice to an author who is about to publish and enter the book marketing world is, “Be ready to change.  Like, all the time.  Your audience, and opportunities, may surprise you, and take you down a road – both creatively and in regards to marketing – that you hadn’t even considered.  Never pigeonhole yourself.  Oh, and find ways to share with potential readers whatever made your work exciting enough to create in the first place.  Enthusiasm sells.”

When asked if he had anything else to say about writing, being an author, or book marketing, John said, “Nope. I’ve heard or read so many crummy, contradictory, or self-aggrandizing author statements and ‘advice’ through the years that I just can’t do it with a clear conscience.  I’ll just suggest that, if you have ever wanted to write, you should.  Follow your passion.”

Learn more about John at his website at johnmundtesquire.com, which has “lots of different features, including a step-by-step process page, a blog, interviews, a story in progress, behind the scenes stuff, and more.”

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