CBSI Writer Wars Round 2 : So you want to be a (SPEC) superstar? by A Paul Myers
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We all have to start somewhere. I got into comic speculation because I needed to find a way to support my growing habit. Conventions had become expensive, and artists became rock stars, charging Big Bucks for 20 seconds and a scribble. But I wasn’t willing to give it up. So, I started buying the most popular convention exclusives I could afford and selling them online that same afternoon. I quickly discovered I could sell things I didn’t want and make enough money to buy the things that I did. And cover the cost of my ticket. A speculator was born.
The following is an overview of my personal process and philosophy. But first, there is something you should know about me. I always seem to have a personal soundtrack running in my head. So, as a bonus, I will be sharing some of the songs that reinforce my process while speculating.
On New Comic Day and at Conventions, I start with my pump-up music…
Mental Playlist: “(Rock) Superstar,” Cypress Hill
These Books are Not For You
Comics are fun. And when it comes to my personal collection, there are no rules. But, when it’s time to speculate? I’ve gotta win. Which means I can’t let a cool cover or concept drive me to buy something I can’t flip for a worthwhile profit. The racks are filled with books of massive print runs and multiple covers that have received an enormous amount of marketing hype. Weddings, Fantastic Relaunches, and Dramatic Returns come to mind. Unless I’m targeting a rare variant and can get it at a good price, then it’s time to cue up some classic Pearl Jam.
Mental Playlist: “Not for You,” Pearl Jam
Just What I Needed
So, what makes for a good spec environment for Modern Comics? For me it’s the following:
- Knowledge is power. Work begins long before Wednesday. Do I know anything about this book? The creative team? Has there been any excitement about the title or issue?
- Building relationships. I get to know the shop owners and managers. They may have read the books. They also place orders months in advance, so chances are they know stuff.
- Reading Previews. A lot can be gleaned about upcoming twists and story lines and reveals in Previews and Advance Solicitations from publishers.
- Following CBSI and Variety. Variety and CBSI report on upcoming movie and TV deals so we can snap up those dollar bin books and amaze our friends and family.
- Getting a Pull Box with a Discount. Most shops offer a 20-30% discount for pre-ordering 60 days in advance. That provides some extra breathing room for profit and mistakes. And it guarantees I actually get a copy when book sales spike thanks to surprise superhero nudity. If your shop won’t offer a discount, get a pull box online and supplement with your local shop.
- Learning to Read. I try to get a local reading. What’s going on in the shop? What’s the buzz? What are people buying and talking about? What is down to two copies on the shelf? I thumb through those books. What does my gut tell me?
- Exercising Patience. While getting that local reading, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy. People are making a dash for that variant? Fear of Missing Out can lead to overpaying for a book. Can I get this for less somewhere else? Or by waiting a couple of weeks? Is there any meat left on the bones? Modern books often see quick heat and cool off just as fast. Remember to factor in auction fees, shipping supplies and costs, gas to the post office, and your time. Overpaying for a book will guarantee speculation disaster.
- Practice Makes Perfect. Small wins lead to big wins. I continue to gain confidence and my subconscious builds up a library of data that actually informs that “gut feeling.” See Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink to learn what really goes into those quick gut-level assessments.
Playlist: “Just What I Needed,” The Cars
A lot of modern comics have a very short spec life. They flip fast. Unless my gut tells me to hold something, I try to sell while there is interest. Experience tells me that interest usually wanes. Sometimes I sell earlier than the peak pricing, but so what? There are exceptions, but taking the bird in hand is certainly better than being stuck with a book for a loss later.
Playlist: “Right Now,” Van Halen
Know when to Hold ‘em
A large part of being successful at the speculation game depends on the ability to predict the future. And that means storage. I keep a number of short boxes in my collection, organized by category:
- Personal Collection
- Long Hold
- Short Hold
- Preparing for CGC
- Sell Now
Don’t be afraid to fill up hold boxes when you can get a good deal, have a great lead, or a hunch. Just be sure to thumb through that box from time to time. Sometimes, I forget I have a particular issue and I miss the peak selling window. Don’t be like me.
Playlist: “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers
Know when to Fold ‘em
Despite my research and best efforts, sometimes that hunch is just not going to pan out. The market zigged when I zagged. It is tempting to convince myself that it’s going to get better. Things will improve if I wait long enough. While that may be true, it’s usually best to just cut my losses and sell that failed spec at a discount and at least recoup some cash. That 400% return I got on my last win will help balance out the occasional misstep. I’m looking at you ASM 798-800. Learn what you can and move on.
Playlist: “Let it Go,” Frozen Soundtrack
On to the Next One
So, that’s my basic process in a nutshell. It’s all about knowledge, access, buying low, selling high, and trying to keep emotion from influencing my spec decisions. We’ve all heard about supply and demand. In our case, I find the winning formula is:
Scarcity + Desirability + Price + Condition = A Good Spec
In the future, we will take a look at personal stories of wins and losses and advanced speculation techniques like pressing, CGC slabbing, mastering eBay, and more! Until then…
Playlist: “On to the Next One,” Jay Z
A. Paul Myers is many things – an artist, photographer, writer, web and graphic designer, film-junkie, constant reader, haiku poet, and Polaroid & vinyl enthusiast.