Robot 6

The perils of self-publishing

sammy_bk2_coverZak Sally’s announcement that his latest Sammy the Mouse book is ready for purchase also includes some commentary about his experience with publishing the first book himself:

printing it was a nightmare. at the end of that process, i had to face the fact that the 5 months of frustration and banging my head against the wall of the “steep learning curve of being an offset printer” was all time taken away from the primary goal, which is MAKING the COMICS. and it was too much; both the time and the frustration.

This volume will be published by Uncivilized Books, which spares Sally the hassle of getting it printed while allowing him to sell it directly to consumers, which is the part he likes about self-publishing.

It’s a point that anyone considering funding their next book through Kickstarter would do well to consider. It has always seemed illogical to me to have every creator handling their own print run of 5,000 books individually — for one thing, not everyone is good at it, as Sally can attest. Beyond that, though, one of the most valuable functions a publisher can serve is streamlining the less creative parts of the process. Book production is a tricky business, and publishers have experienced people who know how to navigate the fairly technical process; a creator taking a book to the printer for the first time is likely to make mistakes and waste a lot of time. What’s more, an individual creator is never going to be able to negotiate a better price than a publisher who sends a continuous stream of business to the printer.

That’s why I find it disturbing to read Kickstarter campaigns in which the creators have a publisher but are funding the printing and production themselves. First of all, the publisher is outsourcing costs to the creators, which isn’t right, but more importantly, it isn’t efficient.

While I’m on this topic, let me add another valuable service that publishers offer: editing. This is something a creator cannot do alone — every book benefits from the attention of a professional editor, sometimes in a big way (when the editor gets involved from the beginning and helps shape the story) and sometimes in a small way, by catching typos and continuity errors. As a former editor myself, I am exasperated by the number of self-published comics I see, including virtually everything on Kickstarter, that have simple grammar and spelling errors that a good editor would catch in a second.

In comics, we admire the artisanal creator who crafts his or her comics by hand, photocopies them, staples them, and sells them at a table in Artists Alley. Once you move on to the next level, though, it’s better to bring in a professional publisher, for your readers’s sake as well as your own.

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It’s worth noting that there are midpoints–independent publishing professionals* and collectives who offer most of the services a publisher would (editing, print-buying, design, distribution, marketing, &c.) on an à la carte basis. This doesn’t solve the problem of cost, but it does allow self-publishers access to the services that are priorities for them (and a good independent publishing professional will, at least, help them prioritize those to work within their budget).

*Full disclosure: I’m one of them.

I draw webcomics that, I would like to self-publish someday. I don’t think I have any interest in sending it to a publisher, though. My stories are very personal & based on my own experiences.

Publishers are businesses. Most publishers that publish comics just want to create franchises that, will sell because, the print industry is extremely tough these days. Bookstore’s are decreasing & closing down. I think I would rather be in charge of distribution rather than, worry about whether Barnes & Noble will want to stock my book.

This feels kind of disingenuous. I’ve done one self-published graphic novel via KS, and I’ll be doing another in a couple months. I hate having to spend time learning the whole process, but I have no other option. I’ve tried to interest a bunch of publishers in my work, and gotten responses ranging from utter silence to “this is great but not for us”.

So either I can screw my courage to the sticking point and make some mistakes while learning the process of printing and shipping a few hundred books, or I can… what? Sit on my thumbs waiting for a publisher to decide they’re interested in a dense GN about a queer robot lady with reality troubles? I’m pretty sure at this point I’ll be waiting a long time for that to happen.

Also, if you’re publishing a print collection of a webcomic, you can’t really have an editor edit your stuff up-front (unless you’re doing something in a very last-century way, or have an artist-and-writer team where the writer actually has written the entire script up-front and no deviations happen AT ALL).

Fortunately, if you have any amount of readership there’s Internet commenters who make damned sure you know about every little grammar, spelling, and continuity foible within minutes of publication.

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