Flight Plan: Or, What’s This About Pre-Ordering?
Okay. Deep breath.
I’ve gone on at some length here and at other places about how–well, I said our system was broken, is broken, but that’s more incendiary verbiage than I ought to have chosen, so let’s go with “how our system works against itself” or “has some kinks to pound out” or–oh, this one’s pretty accurate actually–is experiencing a period of uncomfortable transition. There are much smarter folks than myself analyzing and discussing it on a daily basis. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, a good place to start might be Fred Van Lente’s Comic Book History of Comics or the Awl article that published excerpts just the other day.
Baaaasically, it comes down to this: most comics are still sold through specialty retailers who, unlike traditional bookstores, are not able to return unsold stock. They have limited budgets, limited shelf space and new comics come out every Wednesday! So they have to be very selective about what they buy and in what quantity. They each have their own complicated algorithms for how they place their orders, but it essentially comes down to their needing to buy what they’re pretty sure they can sell. There’s no McDonalds of comic book stores — most of these shops are “mom & pop” businesses being run by people who love the form. They’re not in a position to put their necks on the line every week. For the most part, they have to play it safe.
Safe tends to mean the top selling titles (A-list heroes, A-list creators) get ordered in quantity and everything else (“the midlist”) is ordered sparingly if it’s ordered at all. (Remember: they can’t order everything. They just don’t have room–in the store or in the budget.)
Publishers, in turn, use the order numbers from retailers to determine whether a book is going to continue, and for how long. Remember: these books are not returnable, so from the publisher’s perspective, each order is a sale. As such, they can have their sales figures on a particular issue before the book ever hits the racks. That’s how a book can get cancelled before it ever comes out. And folks, that happens. Not infrequently.
Right here I could bore you with how publishers seem to be reacting to the buying habits of the retailers by publishing more of the A-list titles we talked about before (and or “double shipping” them, which means putting out two issues in one month) and really pruning back the midlist. Can’t blame them, really. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work, right? Right. Okay, I’m going to move on rather than opine on why I think this is a mistake and how it’s resulting in a pruning of readership as well. Honestly, I don’t have an MBA and I’m not in charge of any of these companies. My opinion on this particular issue doesn’t matter all that much and I could well be wrong.
However! I do have a horse in this race. Several, actually. And the best tool I know of to combat the ouroboros of it all is the pre-order.
When you pre-order a comic with your local shop, you are registering your intent to buy said comic. If the shop knows you’re going to buy, well then, that’s a no-brainer sale for them, isn’t it? Most stores will reward a guaranteed purchase with a discount. And at some stores the discounts get deeper if you subscribe to (“pull”) a title, and deeper still if you pull multiple titles. If they get enough pre-orders on a book, the book has “buzz” and they may take a chance and order a few extra copies for the shelf as well. Orders numbers go up, customer is happy, publisher is happy, book exists for at least another month. Everybody wins!
So now we know why. Let’s talk how. For the purpose of this instruction set, I’m going to assume you’re brand new to this whole process. In fact, I’m kind of writing this for my mom and her friends. (Hi, mom. Hi, mom’s friends.) I’m also going to assume that you want to pre-order my book. This process is the same across the board, but, hey, this is my site, I’ve got two kids and let’s not fool anyone here, this activism is borne entirely from a desire to keep Captain Marvel (and Ghost and whatever else I’m writing) coming out every month.
- Print out this form.
- Fill the form out.
- In box 3: The first three books are all CAPTAIN MARVEL #1. That means they’re all the same book. They just have different covers (“variant covers”). (Mom, you want the first one.) Put the number of copies you want in the little box by the title. Unless you’re a big Adi Granov fan (you’ve got great taste, by the by!) or an Amazing Spider-Man collector, you’re just going to want to put a “1″ in the first box and not bother with the variant covers. I include them because it’s pretty cool that we’re getting variants and hey, I’m not going to tell you how to spend your money. List price on CAPTAIN MARVEL is $2.99.
- Still in box 3: see the listing for AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #9? That’s part one of a two issue story I’ve written wherein Captain Marvel teams up with Spider-Man in a high-flying adventure over Boston. If you’re a big Carol Danvers fan, you might want to pick that one up too. If so, put a “1″ in that box. If not, let’s move on to box 4. List price on AVENGING SPIDER-MAN 9 is $3.99.
- In box 4: check this box only if you want to put in a standing order for CAPTAIN MARVEL. That means, you’d like to commit to buying our book every month. Most retailers will offer you a discount in exchange for this commitment and allow you to cancel at any time. If you have one or more standing orders with a shop, it’s called having a “pull” or a “pull box.” In order to open a pull, you may be asked to fill out a different form specific to that store, or to supply a credit card. But maybe not. It varies store to store. Just ask!
- In box 5: I’ve left room here in case you want to add other books to your preorder. Consider, for instance, Gambit #1 or Hawkeye #1, both of which are also launching this summer and both of which are being put together by pretty swell folks. (Mom, Hawkeye #1 is Matt’s book. You’re going to want to order that too.) If I may be so bold, I also have a supernatural mystery book coming out from Dark Horse called Ghost. The series proper won’t start until October, but you can preorder the anthology that the first installment will appear in by writing “Dark Horse Presents #13″ in this spot. Don’t worry about the “Diamond codes.” Your retailer will look them up. I only included them for CAPTAIN MARVEL to make their lives easier.
- In box 6: put your name, email address and phone number. You’ve done that a million times, yeah?
- Find your local comic book store. This link makes it pretty easy. Just enter your zip code and you’re golden. (If you’re not in the US or Canada, I’m going to be of little help on this one but if anyone wants to comment below with tips for finding shops outside the US/Canada, I will cut and paste into this article later.)
- Drop by. Most stores are going to be delighted to see you–why wouldn’t they be? You’re a new customer! 
- Hand them the form and start a conversation!
- Welcome to our world. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below. I’ll use them to update this post and hopefully get everything covered.
 You should be able to click on the link and print directly from there, or right click to download and print.
 Dark Horse Presents is a very high end and dense anthology, as such it’s a bit pricier than your standard “pamphlet” comic. It’s beautifully bound, is on great stock, with quality covers and runs $7.99.
 IF THE STORE IS NOT HAPPY TO SEE YOU, LEAVE. Most comic book stores are fabulous places that will want to make you feel welcome and bring you into the fold. If you experience anything less, leave. Give your business to a good shop, or if there are no other options in your area, go online. I happen to know that you can pre-order CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 for $1.94 all this month at TFAW.com. Westfield Comics has it for $2.39. Midtown Comics has it for the unbelievable price of $1.49! I don’t know offhand what the shipping fees are for those sites, but I suspect they’re nominal. A brick and mortar store is ideal because it fosters community and it’s fun. But it’s not the only way to go. And there’s no reason in the world for you to be treated like anything less than the gem that you are, so if your local isn’t welcoming to you, walk away.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got for the moment. It’s time for me to go pick up my kids and go on a date with my husband to see Avengers! So excited. I’ll update this as I find typos and whatnot.
Oh and hey — tomorrow’s FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! Happy Free Comic Book Day, everyone!!
Pre-Order Post Addendums!
As predicted, I’ve learned a few things since I made this post. Here they are, as I understand them. Anybody who wants to correct me, please jump right in.
- It may not be possible to pre-order the Captain Marvel issues with the variant covers. I guess they’re shipped out in ratios…? So, assuming I understand this correctly–which is a HUGE leap honestly, if a store orders (and this is an example, I don’t know what the ratios are for our variants) 20 copies of the McGuinness cover, they can then add 1 of the Granov version to the order… and that rarity is what makes the variants appeal to collectors. My guess is that if you had your heart set on one of the variants then you’re already a collector and you probably understand all this variant business better than I do. If that’s not the case, but you still want a variant. Talk to your retailer. If they’re not receptive, drop me a line — here or on Twitter — and I’ll put you in touch with one of my favorite retailers. We’ll try to get you hooked up.
- I’m told many stores have a minimum numbers of titles that you must subscribe to in order to open a pull box. I imagine that’s to deal with limited space…? I’m not sure. Regardless, if you want to subscribe to just CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 and your store doesn’t offer that option it looks like you have that option on TFAW.com. Detailed instructions are available in that link. (I italicized that sentence fragment because while I couldn’t find anything on the TFAW site that mentioned a minimum, I also didn’t find anything that expressly said there wasn’t a minimum. I’ve got an inquiry in.) I was surprised to see that MidtownComics.com has a 10 title minimum for their subscription service. I’m guessing there must be costs involved that I’m not aware of…? I always want to better understand the business, so if any retailers out there want to educate me, please do! 
- And finally (so far!) this gentleman informs me that the Pre-Order cut off for CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 is May 18! He also very sweetly put the Previews  Pre-Order Form up on Google Docs as an editable .pdf. You can absolutely use that instead of the form we put up.
 I have to say I’m kind of heartbroken at the notion that it might be difficult for a new reader to subscribe to a single title. It seems… like an additional barrier to new readership at a time when we desperately need to be growing out audience. Did you know that Marvel offers subscriptions directly through their site? They do! And there doesn’t appear to be a minimum. Unfortunately, they only offer a limited number of titles and it doesn’t look like CAPTAIN MARVEL is one of them. Wah wah. Maybe they’ll add it later. I’ll kept an eye out.
 “Previews” is the comic book industry’s catalog. Previews is published every month and is literally a catalog of all the comics (and statues and magazines and whatnot) that will be available for distribution to your local comic book shop from the distributer “Diamond” three months from the date on the catalog. Got that? Readers can use the Previews catalog pre-order form to order titles (or toys or whatever) through their retailer–not through Previews. That’s a little different than how we tend to think of catalogs working. I just wrote a whole big thing using the Victoria’s Secret catalog as an analogy, but the whole thing seemed overcomplicated so I deleted it. Previews also has a website and a users’ guide.
SECOND ADDENDUM (5/7/2012)
Got this lovely email back from TFAW on the issue of subscription minimums:
Dear Kelly Sue,
Thank you for contacting us. We do not have a set minimum or maximum for the subscriptions on our site, so you are more than welcome to subscribe to as many or as few as you would like! You can find complete information on the subscription process on our site, including step by step instructions on getting one set up, at the following location in our help pages: http://www.tfaw.com/Help/Subscriptions___133
I hope that this information has been helpful for you. Please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns that I can assist you with at this time. Thank you, and have a great day!
TFAW Customer Service