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‘Smut Peddler’ Editor Spike Trotman On Breaking $80,000 In Five Days [Interview]

Smut Peddler 2014, Jemma Salume

In 2012, the first volume of Smut Peddler, the “ladycentric, sex-positive erotic comics” anthology with a roster of female creators ,was crowd-funded on Kickstarter, racking up a grand total of $83,000 after a month of funding. With that kind of success, and with reader interest only growing over the past two years, a sequel is pretty much inevitable. Last week, the second volume launched on Kickstarter and met its predecessor’s total in just five days, taking in over $80,000 with 25 days left to go, and passing the money that was raised on to the creators as a bonus to their page rate.

To find out more, I spoke to Smut Peddler editor Spike Trotman about the difficulties of putting together an erotic comic and getting it out to readers, why porn isn’t always the answer to how to make a quick buck, and how one contributor’s teenage fan-fiction gave a boost to the funding just after it launched.

 

 

ComicsAlliance: The first Smut Peddler was obviously very successful.

Spike Trotman: Yes, it was.

CA: Was there always a plan to do a sequel if it did well, or was this something that just came around after you got that first $80,000?

ST: I knew Smut Peddler was going to be successful the first time around, in 2012, because I believed in it and I wouldn’t be trying to organize the antholgy if I didn’t think anyone would want it. I just didn’t know that it was going to do $83,000. And of course, when that happens, of course there’s going to be a sequel. You’d be a fool not to do a sequel at that point. People were asking for a sequel while the first Smut Peddler was funding.

It was one of those things where I was doing it because I felt comics like that needed to exist, and nobody was, for lack of a better term, midwifing them into the world. I felt that was one of the things, that I could do that, and of course I was completely wrong. My editorial abilities back then were very, very neonatal, they were very low-level. I’ve since leveled up, I like to think, but it was one of those things where I felt like I was looking at the FedEx arrow for the first time: “I see this and nobody else does, and I don’t know why.”

So even if it had only been moderately successful, like instead of $80,000, if it had only done $50,000, I would’ve still done it again. My threshold for “will I do a Kickstarter project again,” especially if it’s collaborative, because that’s a lot of work, is around $50,000. It blasted past that.

CA: I noticed that in the description of the current Kickstarter, you mentioned that Smut Peddler 2012 made “over $80,000.” As of right now, Smut Peddler 2014 is at $83,000, after only five days.

ST: Yep. It’s about to make in a week and a day what the last Smut Peddler project made in a month.

CA: Why do you think that is? Is it just people coming around to it? I know that I missed the first one, so when I backed for this one, I went for the level where you get both books. Is there a lot of that, just new readers jumping in? Positive word of mouth?

ST: It’s had two years to make its way around and promote itself just through existing. People have heard me talk about it for two years, and since it’s an anthology, the people involved have had two years to sell it to their fans. As a result, it’s kind of had a chance to take root in people’s minds, and its’ become a thing they’ve heard of, which is very valuable.

Anyone will tell you, anyone who’s done a con, that if somebody walks by your table and they look at your sign, look at your table, look at you and say “I’ve heard of this,” that’s your in. That’s your chance. I think Smut Peddler has had two years to become people’s “oh, I’ve heard of this.” That’s very valuable.

 

Smut Peddler 2014 by Jemma Salume

 

CA: “I’ve heard of this… pornography.”

ST: “I’ve heard of these dirty comics you do.”

CA: I guess it’s difficult to ask “why do you think it’s a success,” because “people on the Internet like porn” is not really a groundbreaking revelation.

ST: You know what? I get that a lot. I’m very excited about Smut Peddler, it’s doing very well, I freak out about it to my friends, and I get a lot of “well, it’s porn.” I do agree to a certain level that’s going to have a certain influence, but there are plenty of pornographic Kickstarters or kickstarters with adult content that don’t make their goal. There are Kickstarters with adult content that fail miserably. It’s not just by virtue of being porn that it’s succeeding. I’ve seen projects with adult content just crater, and I’ve had projects that have nothing to do with porn — I did Poorcraft and Sleep of Reason, and those more than doubled their goal. Those didn’t have any boobs or weiners or anything in them, so I’m not really willing to accept that “well, it’s porn” is the be-all and end-all of Smut Peddler’s success.

Maybe I’d be willing to budge for “well, it’s good porn.” I like to think so, anyway.

CA: I’ve spoken to comics creators, mostly Colleen Coover because I’m a big fan of Small Favors, about how there’s so much difficulty in doing erotic comics through traditional means.

ST: Oh, yeah.

CA: It’s hard to get into stores with them through Diamond [Note: Diamond Comic Distributors supplies virtually all comics to retailers]. So was that one of the motivations behind Smut Peddler from the beginning, that Kickstarter was the only way to really do it and get people involved in buying it?

ST: I do distribute through Diamond, but Diamond has always been a secondary goal of mine. My primary goal whenever I do a Smut Peddler anthology is just to get the book to exist, because I know I can get rid of these books just fine by myself.

When it comes out, I talk to Diamond. I have a representative over there, and they tell me “well, we can put you in Previews Adult and everything, but don’t expect a lot,” and then the orders come in, no, it’s actually bigger than I usually anticipate, and I’m perfectly happy with that. But I don’t feel like fulfilling a Diamond order is crossing the finish line for me.

CA: You sell a lot at conventions, too. What’s that experience like? Is it just another item on the table?

ST: I have to be a little more conscientious of people who are walking back and forth in front of the table, for very basic “I don’t feel like going to jail” reasons. If there’s a little kid whose eyes are going back and forth across the table, I focus in on them, make sure they keep walking and don’t touch anything. But selling to adults? It’s like selling ice water in Hell.

I go to cons and there have been times when four people have been trying to buy a Smut Peddler off me at once. It’s very easy to sell, and I have a running deal with participants in my anthologies. After they get their comp copies and their page rates and their bonuses, they can come to me and buy copies of the book as long as the print run lasts at 50% off of the cover price, and I’ve had people buy them 40 at a time off of me. They know those books will move.

CA: The current one has gotten $20,000 a day.

ST: Yeah, that’s not bad.

CA: You met your goal in five hours.

ST: I remember because the record previously, for Smut Peddler 2012 was that it was funded in 19 hours, and I thought that was a big deal. I was very impressed with that.

CA: How much of that do you think is directly because Kate Leth was giving backers her fanfiction.net account from when she was a teenager? [Laughs]

ST: I actually know exactly how much of it is from that! If you’ve run a Kickstarter, they have a really nice dashboard system that tells you where pledges are coming from. It not only tells you they’re coming from Tumblr, but it tells you which Tumblr they were on. So from the look of things, 31 people came from Kate. So 31 people now know about Kate Leth’s fanfic.

 

Smut Peddler story by Kate Leth

 

CA: After that came in and she was talking about it on Twitter, and people like me decided “Sure, let’s read this Lucius Malfoy/Hermione slash fiction because that’s what we do on a Monday afternoon,” did you go down the list of contributors and go “hey, who else wrote fanfic? Who’s got it out there?”

ST: That thing with Kate was a stroke of genius that she was entirely responsible for, but when the Kickstarter launched, I did a couple of things. One of the things I did was make a Tumblr post, and I made a bunch of banners and images. I had the leader board sized image, the skyscraper image, all the standard advertising banner images. I put them in an email and put together a nice big 700 pixel-wide image, put that in an email, and sent it out to the Smut Peddler mailing list.

I just said “Okay, if you don’t have time to make graphics, here’s graphics, if you don’t have time to make a Tumblr post, here’s one that you can just reblog. Please promote this book, it will directly affect how much money you make. Everybody should pull together in the same direction, and while you can reblog the Tumblr post I’ve already made, I think it would be more effective if you personally appealed to your fans. ‘Hey, that anthology I’m in just came out, and I’d really like it if you backed it, because Mama needs a new computer!’ That would be more helpful than just reblogging something I’ve written that’s very excited and very promotional, but not personal the way you speaking to your fans would be.”

CA: That’s one of the things that was really interesting for me, which is that you have some stretch goals like spot gloss on the cover and posters, but your main incentive for backers to keep pushing it higher past the stretch goal is that the more money you raise, the more money goes directly to the creators.

 

Smut Peddler poster by Erica Henderson

 

ST: Exactly. I like the idea that somebody can walk away from a small press, independent anthology with thousands of dollars at the end of the day. If you submit a 20-page story to Smut Peddler, there’s a $50 page rate, but if we crest $115,000 in funding, everyone gets a $1,000 bonus on top of that. I got a weird satisfaction out of it last time around, because people would be tweeting “I got a new office chair with my Smut Peddler bonus, now my back won’t hurt!” “I got a new video card with my Smut Peddler bonus! Thank you, everyone!” That’s direct evidence that people are benefiting significantly from being involved in this little indie anthology. That warms the cockles of my heart.

CA: You’ve done four Kickstarters, and you’ve backed a bunch. How do you feel that affects it when the incentive to give money isn’t the backer getting more in return? I covered the Order of the Stick Kickstarter, which made a million dollars, and there was always some new thing being added. It was all stuff that was going to the reader, but with this, you really just get one thing. It’s just one book that just gets a little nicer as you go on.

ST: It gets a little nicer and people involved get more money, and maybe at infrequent intervals, there’s some extra bonus going on. I’ve found it hasn’t really affected much, because again, when you go to the dashboard behind the project, it tells you the most popular pledge levels. The one thing keeping me sane is that out of the 2,431 backers currently backing Smut Peddler 2014, about 900 of them only want PDFs. No shipping involved. That’s a huge relief.

The most popular backer level always has been and always will be someone who just wants the book. They don’t want anything else, they don’t want anything fancy. They don’t want to be thanked in the book, they don’t want to be on the cover, they just want a book and that’s it. I’m okay with that. It’s a nice, uncomplicated backer level. So while it’s nice to have this project and this bonanza where every $20,000 everyone gets keychains, and then everyone gets keychains and a poster and this and that, at the end of the day, it’s still kind of me alone in a room over here. Adding too much stuff would drive me completely insane.

CA: It seems like one of those rare stories where it’s just really pleasant.

ST: [Laughs]

CA: People want the book, and they’re willing to keep giving money so that people can get more for creating it. It’s more than justifying its own existence. But let’s talk about the content. I’m obviously looking forward to Erica Henderson’s story, but did you have a favorite, as a reader?

ST: Jess Fink always writes really great, really engaging porn in my experience, so her story is awesome. I’m looking forward to people’s reaction to Jess’s story. I think Leia Weathington writes some really good porn, and while you don’t have to have read Smut Peddler 2012 to enjoy what she wrote for 2014, she has done what’s tantamount to a sequel, with characters that appeared in 2012. Trudy Cooper did a short that’s really cute — you know right away that it’s the person who did Oglaf. Liza Petruzzo did a short called “Clay” that’s very strange, very unique. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I really like it.

 

Smut Peddler story by Liza Petruzzo

 

I just want to get this book in people’s hands and hear what people think of it. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

CA: I guess the standard question at this point, once you get above a certain dollar amount, is what advice do you have for people launching a Kickstarter? Aside from getting 20 people out there doing high quality work and being involved in promoting it.

ST: I’m actually writing and drawing a minicomic right now, I’m on Page 15 as we speak, about how to run a comic Kickstarter and not screw it up. A lot of it’s focusing on the goal amount, because oh my God, if you don’t get that right you can absolutely destroy your life.

Make something you want. Make something you personally want, stop trying to figure Kickstarter out, stop trying to game it, stop trying to hit it and make the money come out like it’s a malfunctioning vending machine and the Skittles are caught on the top rack and you think you can rock it the right way you can get a free meal. Make something people want. If you’re organizing an anthology, for the love of God, keep a list of understudies, because someone will drop out. And promote — promote, promote, promote. I was talking to a friend recently and he was decrying the fact that “marketing” is this dirty word. There are still people out there that function under this delusion that art is too pure to be subjected to something as gauche and crass as marketing. Every artist you’ve ever heard of was a master of self-promotion! You think Salvador Dali was like that when no one was watching? No. Everybody you know about who was considered a great in the art world promoted themselves aggressively, jealously, competitively. Get the word out.

Establish an audience before you do the Kickstarter, if you can. Don’t go in cold as a fresh graduate of an art school of your choice asking for $20,000 and then wonder why no one has any faith in you, because why should they? You’re completely new and who knows if you’re even going to fulfill. A lot of people are especially skeptical now, the shine is off of Kickstarter. People are more cynical, they’re not willing to throw $50 behind everything they see that’s some kid with a dream. You have to prove your worth before they’re willing to back you, and you do that by making stuff people want to see.

 

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