Have you ever made your way to a comic book shop only to find the comic you’ve been looking for is sold out? You’ll know that it can be incredibly annoying – especially if you’ve been waiting months to read it. Luckily, there’s a way you can guarantee yourself a copy. That solution is preordering.
This guide goes through the ins and outs of preordering, covering everything from how to do it to when it’s possible to make that preorder. With this knowledge, you’ll never miss out on a comic/graphic novel again.
Table of contents
- What is preordering?
- The current environment
- Why you should preorder comics and graphic novels
- How to preorder upcoming comics and graphic novels
- When can you preorder comics and graphic novels?
- Have you thought about a pull list?
- The tl;dr version
What is preordering?
Preordering is essentially placing an order for an item before it’s available for purchase. In the context of this article, it’s placing an order for a comic or graphic novel before it is released to reserve yourself a copy.
The current environment
Before we dive into how to preorder, it’s worth understanding the underlying factors that make preordering essential. As you’ll soon see, there are many elements at play that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Ordering behaviour of retailers
A perennial factor for comic and graphic novel availability is retailer ordering behaviour and the patterns a comic book shop follows when ordering a product.
This is different for each store, with its own macro and micro factors and ethos for ordering. However, some factors that could be in play are:
- How previous issues of a comic book have performed. Did they sell well or poorly?
- Is the comic highly anticipated?
- How many existing preorders are there? It’s a good sign of demand if many customers have preordered an item.
- Do retailers have confidence that they will be able to sell all of the comics they ordered?
Based on these considerations, retailers decide how many copies they order of each comic and graphic novel.
A comic book store tends to know how many copies of a popular title – such as Batman or Amazing Spider-Man – they need to order. They’ll order enough for the pull list customers and additional for the shelf. For comics from small publishers or lesser-known creators, a store may only get enough for the preorder customers and one or two copies for the self. Ordering more may be too risky, as these comics could go unsold.
Even when retailers think they’ve figured out the supply side of the equation, they can get caught out if a comic becomes unexpectedly popular. This is often due to a small or unknown comic getting rave reviews or strong word of mouth. The demand outstrips the supply, with stores not having enough copies for every customer who wants one.
The other side of the coin is speculation. This is the act of buying a comic with the hope that it’ll go up in value at a later date or flipped on eBay for a premium. While comics speculation was at its most prevalent in the early 1990s, elements of this have returned in more sophisticated ways.
If speculators have deemed a comic to be hot – usually due to a first appearance, character death, or cover gimmick – they’ll snap up as many copies as possible. Unfortunately, this can mean that legitimate readers miss out, especially if they cannot get to the comic shop on release day.
Low print runs
Working off the demand factor, comics that have low demand generally have a small print run. This is because a publisher will only print enough copies to satisfy retailer orders and some additional for reorders and/or damages. Printing too many extra comics is a risk for a publisher as they can go unsold and take up inventory space.
The great book shortage
In the latter half of 2021, it was apparent that there was a massive book shortage. Not enough paper, rising demand for reading materials, booked-out printers, and a failing supply chain all hit at once to create a big headache for the publishing industry.
With demand up and supplies down, it’s been hard for publishers to keep many releases in stock. This has been very apparent with manga, where streaming anime and the pandemic have driven many popular titles to go out of print.
Vox has an excellent piece that explains the book shortage in greater detail if you want to know more.
Second printings are not always an available
Before the “great book shortage”, second printings were common practice when an in-demand comic sold out quickly. However, at the time of writing, they’re not an option for publishers due to the points made in the above section: a shortage of paper, booked-out printers, and supply chain issues.
Publishers can account for the first printings as they’re locked in advance through their ongoing relationships with printers. However, the bespoke nature of second printings means they require allocation outside the regular printing engagements. Since the pandemic started, the turnaround time has blown out significantly. It used to be that a publisher could get an additional printing out in a few weeks. Now it can take a few months.
As a result, publishers have changed their thinking on additional printings. Most are being selective with what they reprint, favouring single issues that are hot in demand or trade paperbacks/graphic novels that have a long shelf life. Image Comics has gone as far as saying they will not be doing any second printings in the current climate.
Why you should preorder comics and graphic novels
As you can see from the above factors, there are many reasons you could miss out on buying a comic or graphic novel in the current climate. This makes preordering vital as you can guarantee a copy without going through the pain of tracking it down elsewhere or paying a premium on eBay.
It also helps a comic survive. Unfortunately, due to the nature of single issue comics, the initial order volume of a comic book is the barometer for success. Low orders on early issues mean a series could be prematurely cancelled or not receive a sequel.
The best way to support a comic or graphic novel is by preordering it.
How to preorder upcoming comics and graphic novels
So, how do you do preorder? As you’ll soon see, it’s quite easy. Here are three ways you can do it.
One of the easiest ways to preorder a comic or graphic novel is to simply ask.
If you can make it into the shop, all you need to do is go up to the desk and request to preorder your desired upcoming item. Alternatively, some stores allow preorders over the phone or email too.
Each comic shop handles preorders in slightly different ways, but most will require that you give them your contact details. This way, they can contact you if you haven’t picked up your preorder after a certain period.
For expensive items, some shops may require a deposit.
While many stores handle the preordering process themselves, plenty manage it through a third party. These allow customers to preorder upcoming comics and graphic novels through an online portal, which means you can do it anytime.
Preorder through an online retailer
Many online comics retailers accept preorders if you don’t have a shop nearby. This is similar to regular online shopping but for items that you may not be released for weeks or months.
When can you preorder comics and graphic novels?
There’s a window when you can preorder comics and/or graphic novels and be guaranteed a copy of your desired book. This is between when the book is solicited and the Final Order Cutoff (FOC) date.
The solicitation is the official catalogue listing of a comic book issue or graphic novel, which appear online and ordering catalogues such as Diamond’s Previews. Each listing gives retailers and readers details about the item, including creator credits, release dates, what the comic is about, and more.
Publishers will release the solicitation online in the second half of the month for books that will be released in three months’ time or more. For instance, comics scheduled for release in September will be announced in the second half of June. Graphic novels and trade paperbacks tend to be a bit further in advance. Something announced in June may not arrive in stores until October or November.
On the other side of all this is the Final Order Cutoff (FOC) date. This is the final date where retailers can finalise their orders on comics or graphic novels and guarantee they will be fulfilled by the publisher and distributor. Publishers use the ordering numbers at this date to establish the print run. Any additional orders made afterwards may not be fulfilled.
The FOC date falls approximately four weeks before the release date on a Monday. For some publishers, this may be sooner. For others, it might be longer. It’s also worth noting that single issues will have a shorter window between FOC and release date than graphic novels and trade paperbacks. This is because there are different printing requirements that will require far more notice.
However, there’s a caveat. Not every publisher participates in the FOC program. This means that some publishers will require final orders sooner.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to preorder your comics sooner rather than later.
Have you thought about a pull list?
You may want to consider a pull list if you are buying the same comics every month. A pull list is an ongoing arrangement with a comic book shop to reserve particular comics for you on an ongoing basis. It’s another way you can guarantee you don’t miss out on the comics you want.
I’ve written a comprehensive guide if you want to learn more about pull lists.
The tl;dr version
Didn’t read any of the above? Here are the essential things you need to know about preordering comics and graphic novels.
- Preordering allows you to secure a copy of a comic and/or graphic novel so you don’t miss out.
- There are many factors that mean that a comic book shop can run out of the book you want to buy. Much of this comes down to supply and demand issues, with some factors exacerbated by the pandemic.
- The best way to support a comic or graphic novel is by preordering it.
- So how do you preorder? The best thing to do is ask your local comic book shop to reserve you a copy. They might even use an online portal to manage your orders. Alternatively, many online stores allow preordering too.
- You preorder between when the comic is solicited and the Final Order Cutoff date. Although, it’s advised to order sooner rather than later to play it safe.
- Have you thought about getting a pull list?