Comic Non-Sans: Self-Publishing

This is the opposite of what you want.

I’m starting to think it’s really not fair of me to start columns talking about things I hate.  But it’s me.  I can’t help it.  And to be honest, thinking about something that bugs me is often what gets my little brain ticking over into something resembling cleverness.  Thus.

I know that people don’t stop by my table at cons just to buy something any more than they do for anyone else.  Some are just window-shopping, some are utterly bored, some are looking for NarutoxSasuke fanart, and some … well, I’m not sure how to feel about this last.

At least once per con where I get a table, someone picks up a book, turns it over, flips through it, looks fantastically eager, then looks up with big shiny eyes and says, “How did you get published??”

All right.  I’ll play Nice Webcomicker for a moment and say I can totally understand this from a new artist’s perspective.  They’ve got someone right here to tell them how it’s done.  Fortunately, some printers out there must have seen this happening and decided to make it easier for people with the drive, the desire, and (most importantly) the dollars.  So if you find yourself in this position, here are some dos and don’ts … and I promise you they won’t all be sarky.

DO shop around. There are more and more places to get this sort of thing done independently … certainly more than when I started.  My publisher went through Lightning Source at the start — and may well still — which is fine if you’ve got someone who knows their stuff keeping an eye on everything.  I’ve also heard good things about Lulu, but will admit to never having worked with them.  Lately, though, Ka-Blam is the go-to since they’ve gotten wise and started printing full-sized graphic novels, hardcovers, and more stuff than most people will ever avail themselves of.   They can be pricey on a deadline, though, as I’ve learned firsthand.

DON’T try for go-betweens. I can’t speak for other webcomickers, but one of the most annoying things I’ve ever had done to me (repeatedly) is people asking if I could tell my publishers to start printing their stuff as well.  Don’t do this, guys.  Really.  Yes, it’s important to “sell yourself” because in webcomics no one else will, but there’s a line between self-promotion and just being a dick.

DO keep hi-res copies of your comics. Another thing I learned the hard way, though admittedly in 2001 I was a college sophomore drawing stuff for two girls in my astronomy class and had no intention of going into print.  Even if this isn’t the first thing on your mind, it behooves one to keep copies of at least 300 dpi of each page somewhere safe.  And try to make them in accepted print dimensions, or at least convertible to such.

DON’T over-order, especially if you’re bloody poor. Again, I learned this the hard way.  Never overestimate yourself — very few printers nowadays have a minimum order.  Unfortunately, it takes one print run or one con to learn what your average sales will be, but I’ve found myself in positions where (I’m embarrassed to say) I couldn’t shift stock.  My first run of my first book was 50.  I could easily take it down to 20 or 25 and be safe for a con or two without struggling to break even.  Your mileage may vary, and once you start selling better, you can take more risks with order size.  Now, if you’re grossly overburdened with cash, do as you please.

DO have extra content. Even if you have devoted readers, you’ve gotta give them some reason to pick up your books.  I’ve seen people who do this by killing off their archives as they go into print, and that’s just a bit dickish (as well as compromising people who discovered you later in the game and thus losing possible readers).  Throw in character designs, extra stories, whatever.

DON’T overprice/underprice. You want to at least break even; it’s only fair to yourself.  It’s tough to find that magic number where you’ll be fair to yourself without scaring people away and being accused of overcharging.  Personally (and again, your mileage may very), I look ahead to what I want to print next, and try to charge enough to break even on this run while scraping together a bit for the next.  It’s not particularly easy, but it’s been helpful.

And finally, DO be honest with yourself. Are you trying to offer something extra to your readers?  Do you believe this is something they’ll want to carry with them?  Are you making an effort to expand into other areas?  Or do you just want to see something you made on your bookshelf between Scott Pilgrim and Skip Beat? I’m not saying that as a jab; those are all perfectly legit reasons, but they all take different approaches.  Nowadays you can totally print out five issues of something for you and your friends, just as you can print out a thousand of something for a convention or expo.  Just don’t lie to yourself about which one you’re most interested in doing.

Oh, one other thing. DO make the cover really freaking awesome. Just saying.

Posted on September 21, 2010 at 13:14 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Webcomics · Tagged with: ,