The hard road to self-publishing is not for the meek. It’s not for the timid. Hell, it’s probably seen more failures than successes—even at the big publishers. In my research I’ve learned a few things, some of it I was able to heed, some of it not and some I learned too late.
First thing I learned…Kickstarter is a great platform. BUT…Kickstarter is not a business model for self-publishing. Sure it’s seed money to kick things off, but if you’re not producing enough material to create a backlist (a bevy of books that you can sell over time) or fanbase following, you’re probably like me, too busy making the next BIG thing.
I published my graphic novel BRAUN, a sci-fi adventure with a cute heroine and her robot protector this past year. I spent a lot of time crafting a product that I absolutely loved and believed would sell in the marketplace. Through necessity I’ve always been self-sufficient. In that, I’ve done the writing, illustrating and designing of every page. It required tons of scanning, layout, copy writing, and trying my best to be objective enough to take my own art direction. And I can’t tell you how many covers and logos I thumbnailed and roughed out throughout the entire process—literally hundreds and hundreds.
Obviously there’s a business side to creating art. I focused the first six months of 2016 launching a soft-sell Youtube channel called The Process where I showed inking videos and production videos of the characters I’d hope to Kickstart that November. By the end of the campaign, very generous friends funded it and quite a few strangers as well. Not many, but many with deep pockets, so I kept the print run low (500ct).
But there is another side of the business, one that I’ve heard bemoaned by many independent filmmakers— the big “D”.
Distribution can make or break any venture. In publishing, I hadn’t realized getting input from the distributor was kind of a big deal. I naively thought, if you create a great-looking product, provide value for money, that it would be accepted no questions asked. You know, like that whole “Field of Dreams’ thing? Not so much. They know their customers better than you do, they have a vested interest in getting your product out of their warehouses and making money.
I filled out the paperwork for Diamond distribution, the only distributor of comics in North America. I answered all the questions of how many followers I had on all my social media accounts (yeah, for real). What was the book about and all the production notes that went into it as well as when it would be available. I sent off my two copies and in a few weeks the book was rejected. Here’s what rejection looks like:
I originally, requested 55% discount, mainly because I didn’t know what freight shipping books would cost. Which means I’d get 45% of the cover price. After it was rejected I asked if 60% would have made a difference?
“Yes, the 60% discount is really only one piece of the larger puzzle,” said the acquisitions guy, “No matter how good the book is, $40 is a scary number for most comic shop retailers and they tend to reserve that kind of money for $40 books from publishers they already are familiar with. Every new publisher joining Previews already has a difficult challenge getting sales on their $3.99 comic.”
So a month later in the Diamond Previews catalog to my surprise I see this:
It’s even about a robot! Crazy, huh? A few months later I see the soft-cover book in the store. It’s the dimensions of a comic at about 200 pages I’d guess. Outside of the content, as a product, it’s certainly nothing special. But what it has going for it, is that it’s not a standalone graphic novel. It’s been serialized over the years through various comic companies and they’ve crafted a long term fanbase that would help support it. To Diamond, it was probably an easy sell and justifiable in cost…but still $40 for softcover!?!
I also approached IPG an independent book distributor. And no dice. Nada. I looked into Amazon, and what’s interesting about them, is through their Amazon Advantage program ($99 annual fee) they requested 9 books at roughly $161.00 (retail is roughly $360). I’d have to sell at least 3 of those books to cover the annual fee, pay for shipping the books to their distribution house in Wisconsin and hope they all sell or else, I’ll have to pay for shipping back to me. I didn’t fulfill the request within the allotted time so they re-requested only 7 for roughly $127.00. For now, I’m still looking at other options. For the hassle, I can sell more books by hand at shows, make more money and actually meet the customer buying it. Which for me is the ultimate reward.
The “infrequency” of producing graphic novels certainly does not help. I go away for several years and come back with a full-grown baby. Will you take my baby? No, they will not. Even after producing several books, they will not. It’s not like writing a novel, where it takes a shorter period of time and a book comes out every year or every several years and your agent and publisher are there to welcome you with open arms. Heck, I’m not sure it’s ever like that.
Getting published is one thing, staying published is entirely another. The margins are quite thin for many involved. You’re only as good as your last work. Did it sell? Okay, but did it sell well enough? That is the key here. Only a few have lottery money to do the work they want. Much of it is hard work, skill, luck, more hard work and perseverance. Oh…and marketing.
Marketing is an ugly whorish beast, and I mean that in the best possible way. I’ve done a lot of my own research for it and for someone who is more introverted, it’s the complete opposite of that. Being clever and skilled and outgoing is essential. What’s tough, is if you’re not very good at it you probably need to hire someone. But in comics, again, the margins are thin. Marketing results are not quantifiable or measurable. You don’t know if it’s good money after bad. To me it’s all a gamble.
Plugging your book through the noise machine of social media outlets is about all anyone seems to have these days. You may notice authors following you for some reason, at least for a little while and then disappear from your follower list. Check out their followers and you’ll see that many are fishing for follow-backs. Publishers and distributors care about these numbers. It’s not even the quality of the followers. It’s about the numbers. I’m foolish enough to spend time curating these things and blocking ad-based irrelevant followers. Though, I’ve cut back as of late. More time spent creating less on curating!
Seeking out reviews and interviews has been a journey as well. I’m sending physical copies of my book to people whom, in all honesty I don’t believe I’ll hear anything from. And I’m mostly right. Setting up podcasts, or website interviews, again, very few takers. I get it, I’m not very well-known for what I do, I’m not a draw, my work hasn’t set the world on fire…yet. The ones I get, I’m grateful for and I let them know it.
Being talented, kind, studious, and persevering is not enough. Knowing people helps some—I’ve learned a ton from friends who time and again have succeeded at this. Having worked on higher profile characters most definitely would have helped, if nothing more than to gain a larger following. But even that…who knows? There’s also a certain amount of luck that, much like marketing, is nebulous.
For the most part, I’ve been lucky. I created the book I wanted and got it into people’s hands who wanted it. But we creative types, well, we may do it mostly for ourselves, but we are more pleased when there are a lot of people to share it with.
In closing here’s a nice piece that was put up recently on my Booklife page from Publishers Weekly:
“Painstaking, expensive production makes this lively dystopian story stand out from the crowd. Corporations are the real candidates for political office in Decca City; between elections, they maneuver to steal power by attacking one another. Cute and curvaceous redhead Maven and her best friend, Braun, an empathetic and super-competent robot, are minding their own business of harvesting parts from superfluous robots until their friendly employer suffers a hostile takeover by the Axiom Company. As it turns out, Braun is more than a simple robot: he holds secrets that Axiom’s top management craves, and the intrigue involves Maven and her family too. White’s script is above average, allowing for some character development and giving the story plenty of room to sprawl out. His artwork effectively fills the pages with dynamic energy. The most impressive thing about the book is how exceptional the coloring and printing are; its looks outshine the competent writing.” (BookLife)
I hope you realize by now that this is a bittersweet tale and I’m thankful for how it mostly turned out.
It’s just one of many DIY experiences that I’m sure you’ve come across. In fact, there may be a lot of similarities between them. Take note, learn from our successes and mistakes, but realize that your own successes and mistakes will most likely be different.
Some people are great at business, some people are great at marketing or art. Rarely are they great at everything, but I’ve seen it…or at least from the audience side of things. Maybe those people suck at something else. God, I hope so. 🙂
I firmly believe you have to give up something to gain something. It’s the universal science of equal and opposite forces. If you can give up less than you gain, I think that’s the best any of us can hope for.
P.S. For those generous enough to read this use coupon code 2706 for an additional $10 off BRAUN: TECHTONIC SHIFT as well as FREE SHIPPING until DECEMBER 31st.