Robot 6

Don’t send me 12 pages of a 6 issue series

Well, what you’ve sent is fine, but a publisher can’t determine what they’re getting from this sort of package. Surely you know how hard it is to break in to comics, and, yet, how easy it is at the same time. Do the work, put it out, and people may not like your work; they may not buy it, but at least they know you can do it. Which is important.

I never go through the whole steps of the process for folks who send me stuff blind, but I feel a bit badly we had some crossed signals over the holidays, so I’m going to outline how REDACTED might be the next WATCHMEN but I would never know it based on your email and 12 page pdf.

Firstly, in your cover letter, you say you think the story might be best served by a six issue miniseries. If each issue is a color cover with B&W interiors and, say, a 24 page count and, optimistically, a 3000 copy print run (based on the current climate and the fact that you are unknowns), you’re looking at a publisher committing $30,000 to your printing bill alone. Six full-page PREVIEWS ads will top $7000, and throw in another three grand to round it off for production costs and shipping charges and whatnot, and that’s an outlay of forty grand. Just ballpark, but close enough. If the cover price is $2.95 a unit, and you sell to Diamond at 60% off, you get $1.18 a unit. That means you have to sell an average of around 5600 copies an issue just to break even on expenses before the creators start making money. That’s just unrealistic in this economic environment, where Marvel, Dark Horse, DC, and Image account for 92% of the sales of comics and every single other publisher in the back of PREVIEWS carves up that 8%. It’s just not going to happen.

So.

What do you do now? You can keep soliciting the thoughts of other publishers; you can have a few beers and curse my name. You can believe me or not; me… I didn’t believe all the rejection slips I got from people telling me ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE: LIVE FROM THE MOON wouldn’t sell and that there was no audience for that sort of thing, and we’ve got Year’s Best Science Fiction and Best Publisher and real-world press up the wazoo for it. Does that mean those other folks were wrong? Well, no. They were right for how they saw it at the time. But I had a completed work, ready to go, and I thought I could entertain folks and market it to those under-served, and everyone who told me no made me more resolved that I was right.

And, you know, it turned out I was and there were some folks wanting to read science fiction graphic novels and some creators wanting to do whatever they wanted and I was only too happy to point out to those paying attention the quality work. And I ended up not being Kurt Vonnegut like I intended but Stan Lee or Roger Corman. And, you know; I’m fine with that.

But the way I see it, you’re going to have to do the same thing. If you have a story to tell, and a burning desire to have an audience see your work, you’re either going to have to be related to Paul Levitz, or you’re going to have to do it yourself until they offer you a chance to write KAMANDI based on the strength of your indie-darling reputation.

But either way, keep at it. If you love comics as much as I do, you’ll always find a way to make your own.

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Just a minor point about market share. These are numbers for 2008 as reported at The Beat.

http://pwbeat.publishersweekly.com/blog/2009/01/13/diamonds-top-ten-for-2008/

Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image sell 85.86% of the units sold, and account for 80.97% of the dollars made.

In any case, the deck is certainly stacked against the smaller publishers.

So, yeah, that’s Diamond share; not book trade, as well. But throw in IDW, too, if you think the percentages are the point. I’m saying, the poor guy is trying to put a book out where he’s not Alan Moore and the deck is stacked (roughly, now) 9 to 1 against.

18000 copies in B&W cost you $30,000?! That seem way way too high! Better get quotes from other printers.

Other than that what is the point of your article exactly? You tell the guy he should send you the WHOLE book for you to be able to make a judgment (and thankfully not every publisher out there is like you) and then you explain with strange numbers that anyway his book would never be successful. Am I getting that right?

What is exactly your advice? You say ‘Do the work, put it out’, does that means you are advising him to self-publish? Or are you just saying ‘don’t try to publish comics’?

It’s all very confused and very confusing.

Hi Larry,
Sorry I don’t understand either. Could you say what it was you did differently to what the “6-issue” person was proposing. That’d be helpful as well as interesting I think. Thanks.
G

To come back with some numbers even Kablam charges 1.54 per comic for a B&W run of 3000 (that would be $27720 for 18k copies) and Kablam is VERY expensive as printers go. Plus no publisher would ever pay for the entire series printing run beforehand (they would get profit back from Diamond by the time Issue 3 is out if the book is monthly), so that $30,000 is even more misleading.
Also in my experience most publishers break even at 2,500 copies sold not 5,600 like you said.
Your figures seem very inflated for some reason.

This is an extremely effective article that cuts right to the point of the problem. We have stories, we want to see them in the comic stores, but how do we get them there? The scenario he outlines seems like the way to go: design a preview and try to get some momentum – but he is saying that a publisher cannot make an effective decision on that alone. How do they know how long it took you to get that little preview? How many people are involved with the project? If they see a completed book they can make an informed decision to drop thousands (and I know there is a discussion about numbers) into it. I also think that they want a relationship with an effective creator/writer/artist that they can have a future with. Most of us are so wrapped up in our little book and the prospect of seeing it with an “i” in the corner that we can’t look at things objectively. Does that mean we should quit and give up? Absolutely not – it means that we need to step back and make sure we understand the market and where we stand. We must do the work (the whole work) and then sell it and ourselves (the Stan Lee part).

Jeremy, allow me to say something..
The job of a creator is to create.
The job of a publisher is to publish.
Now I understand that a creator should be aware of what a publisher usually puts out before submitting, but asking a creator to really know the market is unfair. It’s the job of the publisher to know the market and to inform the creator of what are the necessities of that market. If a 6 issues miniseries has very little chance to work then the publisher should tell the creator to change it to 4 issues or 3, rather than just rejecting it outright because the creator doesn’t know the market.
What is the role of the publisher after all?
As for completing a whole series before submitting it, no publishers ask for it (outside of AIT I presume). And not a lot of people want to invest so much time (and even money) into something that has no commercial potential. Because pitching to the publisher is also the way for a creator to gage if a book has any potential. That is the same thing as a Hollywood pitch.
So let’s have the creators create, and let’s have the publishers publish and everything will be clearer.

Hey, Greg: “Could you say what it was you did differently to what the “6-issue” person was proposing.” I had written and paid Matt Smith and Charlie Adlard to draw my five issue series ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE and sent the 110 pages around to publishers until Gun Dog Comics first published it way back in 1998. If you complete your work, someone somewhere will publish it. If you do 12 pages of a six-issue series, they can be the most amazing 12 pages in the world, and the rest of it could suck, and the publisher would never know until it’s too late.

Jeremy: “Does that mean we should quit and give up? Absolutely not – it means that we need to step back and make sure we understand the market and where we stand. We must do the work (the whole work) and then sell it and ourselves (the Stan Lee part).” Exactly!

JM: “And not a lot of people want to invest so much time (and even money) into something that has no commercial potential.” If the creator doesn’t believe in his story to invest so much time and money, why should the publisher?

Thanks Larry,
Understand completely now. If you believe your work is good you should have the faith to complete it off your own back. I agree.

Well that’s the whole point: a publisher should be able to tell a creator that he/she is doing something that has potential or not after seeing 12 pages (or 5 like most publishers do). It’s hard for a creator to see commercial potential, but it should be easy for a publisher to do so.

I think the whole idea of this article is: do not submit your book to Larry Young, and find some other way to publish it.

As a creator myself, I don’t think it’s all that difficult a thing to see the commercial value in an idea; comics is a commercial art, after all!

But thanks for your views, JM. That’s what makes comics so interesting to me, personally; the varied experiences of the audience and the points of view of all the folks in the chain from having an idea to giving you change from your purchase at the comic shop.

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