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B&N Week 43: Self-Publishing Pt 1

| October 18, 2011 | 0 Comments

 

If you’re not looking forward to Tuesday, then you’re not having much fun. I don’t know about you, but I’m having a blast. And it’s Tuesday! C’mon! And when you throw in some Bolts & Nuts, it can’t be beat!

So let’s get started!

I figure that it’s time to start talking about self-publishing for a while. I’ve said a lot, and more than likely have skirted around the issue, but it’s time to bring it to the fore, yes? Yes. So, let’s get started.

First, I have to be up front. If you think writing is hard, self-publishing is worse. There are so many things you don’t know, and things you don’t know that you don’t know that it’s staggering. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to take it nice and slow. I’m not going to hit every aspect, but we’re going to talk about a lot of them.

Before you decide to do anything remotely close to self-publishing, the first thing you have to decide is if this is something you really want to do. Self-publishing is NOT something you can do half-assed. Not if you want to make a name for yourself and your company. If you do it half-assed, you might as well not do it at all. You’re going into business for yourself, and if the rewards don’t outweigh the headaches, why even do it? Once you understand that this is a business endeavor, there are certain things you should do to make it the best one you can, as well as protect it.

Before making anything resembling a final decision, you need to do research. Realize that you’re not going to do Marvel/DC numbers. Realize that you’re probably never going to reach those numbers. And before you ask, no, not ever. If there are Marvel/DC titles that struggle to stay in the top 300, what makes you think Pen-Man Comics is going to do better? It’s fine to dream, but you have to put in a lot of work to make it happen. Check out the numbers at ICV2 and really see what each title is doing every month. What you’re looking to find out is who is producing what, and in what numbers. When I say “who”, I mean the creative team [are they a known commodity like Joe Kelly?] and the publisher. The “what” is also multi-faceted. You’re looking for genre, format, and frequency. Combine these two and watch it for no less than three months so that you start to get a feel for who’s selling what and how they’re doing. Especially look outside of the top 300, because this is where you’re going to be.

Also, understand that this is strictly Direct Market. Going outside of it is something totally different.

While you’re doing this studying, SAVE YOUR MONEY. We’re going to come back to this later. Not this week, but rest assured, we’ll be revisiting it. But save your money at every opportunity. It’s going to come in handy later.

The next thing to do is to think of a name. It should reflect who you are and your publishing philosophy. If you’re going to call yourself Hard Ass Comics, that’s going to set a tone you may not be happy with down the line. Your publishing name is going to be very important, and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. While you’re doing this brainstorming, write down all the names that appeal to you. After you do that, you have to do more research. (A lot of research going on, Steven.) You have no idea what you’re in for yet…

Sometimes, the name you want is taken. To be obvious, you’re not going to be able to name your company Marvel Comics. You may not be able to name it Comico, either. As a matter of fact, I’d shy away from any previously named comic book company, unless you have the money to also revive the characters. Even then, I’d shy away from it. You don’t want to get in the position that Valiant Intellectual Properties and Valiant Comics LLC was in. [Both tried to revive the Valiant universe, and went to court over it. That’s time and money better spent on other things.]

Now that you’ve settled on a name, you want to do a trademark and copyright search. Being cheap will have you doing it yourself and probably missing something. Paying out some money to a lawyer to do this research will keep you in the free and clear for Pen-Man Comics.

You’re going to be doing a LOT of work with a lawyer, so the best thing to do is to just knuckle down and get used to the idea of paying one. Once you get used to that idea, things will be much better for you all around. There are times when you can SAVE MONEY, and there’s a time when spending money is a better alternative.

A few words on copyrights and trademarks. A trademark [™] is something that protects the intellectual property of your concept, name, and logo. A copyright [©] protects the intellectual properties of your story, script, and visual representation. Spider-Man as a logo is ™ by Marvel Comics. Spider-Man as a comic book is © by Marvel Comics. The name Marvel Comics is also trademarked. See the difference? Good.

Now, doing it yourself is much cheaper than paying a lawyer, of course. You can use this new-fangled thing called the internet to at least get the forms to apply for a trademark [because we’re talking about protecting the name Pen-Man Comics for your company]. If there’s no other active trademark for that name, it will be registered to you, and you become the legal rights holder. Whee! What fun! However, if there’s already an active one, you’ve lost that money, because your application will become null and void. However, there are no refunds.

Why do I advocate a lawyer/law firm do this for you? Not only will it save you time [time that could be spent doing other things], but your search will not be as thorough. Let the lawyers do it, because it’s better to be safe and know you have the name than to have to change something midstream. Besides having it be embarrassing, you could also lose forward momentum or customers with a name change. Pay the lawyer.

The next thing we’re going to talk about is the structure of your company. Face it, you’re more than likely going to start out on the internet, hawking some sort of webcomic. Sure, you can do it the ultra-hard way and do print comics, but those of you who have been listening to me and doing your research have discovered that it’s easier to launch on the web, and are going that way. There are a few ways you can do this.

Right now, just starting up, the easiest thing to do is to be a sole proprietor. That means it’s just you. How does that feel? Great, right? When it comes to banking needs and income tax will be Kletus Jerkovitch DBA Pen-Man Comics. (DBA?) DBA is Yiddish for Doing Business As. [Okay, that’s a small lie. It’s not Yiddish.] For more on how to file for this and the other structures I’m going to go over, you can always call, write, or visit the IRS site.

When it comes to things such as liability, in a sole proprietorship, it’s all on you. You will be personally responsible for all losses the company incurs, or if the company is sued. Why? Because you are the company. In order to register a DBA, go down to your county clerk’s office. [I’m in the United States, so that’s what my focus is. For my international readers, you’re going to have a different setup. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to do your own research on how to do any of this, if it even applies to you.] Ask the clerk lots of questions, or ask the IRS. At the least, for separation, you’re going to have add the company name to your checking account, or open a separate one for the company under that name.

Next, we’re going to talk about partnerships. I don’t often recommend them, because people get silly as all hell when you add money/perceived fame to the mix. Here’s what a partner does for you: they invest in the company, and would like to have some sort of return or more on their investment, right? Well, let’s say the company incurs debt, or gets sued. As a partner, they’re responsible for that, too. All partners are legally liable for the company. So, if I were a partner with Kletus for Pen-Man Comics and in my role as partner I ended up calling someone an asshat, they would sue Pen-Man Comics. This leaves Kletus wide open for litigation because of my actions. Still having fun?

What happens if I’m a lazy bum, and Kletus thinks he’s doing all the work? I sit on my duff all day while Kletus goes out and beats the drum of the business, and then pat him on the head and rake in the money. You can bet your bottom dollar [or your top one, or the folded one in the middle] that Kletus isn’t going to be happy with me, and the partnership will dissolve faster than Pam Anderson’s sex appeal.

When you get a little bigger or add partners, I suggest forming a corporation. Corporations do great things for you as an individual.

First and foremost, corporations separate the business from you as an individual, both legally and financially. Back to Kletus and I. If I were to call someone an asshat in my role as an officer of Pen-Man Comics, the person would then sue Pen-Man Comics as an entity, leaving Kletus out of it. [There is also the possibility of being sued personally as well, but this still leaves Kletus out of it.]

Once you become incorporated, DO NOT MIX MONEY! Even though it’s yours, putting money in and taking it out on a whim can be considered to be embezzling. Don’t do it.

There are a few different ways to incorporate. Do the research on them to find out which one would best fit you once you reach that level. If you have a lawyer or an accountant [or both], they’ll let you know when you’ve reached the level where you need to protect yourself, and can guide you into the best way to protect yourself and your creations. This is why you’re paying them, so pay attention to what they say.

A lot of setup to sling some comics, right? Trust me, doing all of this now will save you tons of headaches later.

Back to copyrights for a little bit. I know some of you are going to ask about the Poor Man’s Copyright. First, what is it, and second, does it work?

A poor man’s copyright is the act of mailing your work to yourself, and never opening it. Ever. (Huh?) Okay. Take that script for Pen-Man Chronicles #1 and put it in an envelope. Seal it, and affix the correct amount of postage. Address that envelope to yourself, and then put it in the mail. When you get it back, you don’t open the mail, ever. (Ever?) Never ever. (Why not?)

The government has stamped the envelope when they canceled the stamps. [Do that research on your own.] That stamp has the date and time on it. Since the envelope now has the time and date on it from a government source, you have “proved” that you created the work within that timeframe. Simple, right? I’ve even read a book that advocates the use of this method.

I’m going to tell you right now, this doesn’t work. It’s extremely easy to beat this system. A simple way is to mail an empty, unsealed envelope to yourself, and then leave it. Stuff it with whatever you’re trying to protect later [like, whenever you wish, either two weeks or fifteen millenia from then], and presto change-o!–you have proof! And that’s one of the simple ways to do it. So, no, it doesn’t work, and there hasn’t been any case files or precedents that shows it does. Don’t be cheap. Pay the money for true protection.

Yes, it’s true that your ideas are protected as soon as you get them from your head and onto paper [or other media]. But if no one knows about it, how far do you think that protection is going to extend? Here’s an example: you’ve created the Wolverine, a ferocious, bad-ass character. You put him down on paper, and thus, he’s protected. You then find that Columbia Pictures is going to be doing a television show, ten movies, and a video game that puts World of Warcraft to shame. You’ve got the dated material in front of you, and you decide to sue! [Because you’re an American and that’s what we do now.] So you stroll into the courtroom, just knowing you’ve got right on your side and that the judge will see that, and across the short aisle, you see that Columbia has brought in a team of lawyers. On your side, it’s just you, a couple of pieces of lint, and silence. You lose, because you can’t prove your case, and the corporation protected their asset by filing the notice.

The moral? Protect yourself. Pay the money to get the research done and the papers filed, and you don’t have to worry about it.

That’s about it for this week, and this is just the start of a series about the subject. There may or may not be homework for all of these, so don’t be shocked if you don’t see any.

Your homework for this week, though, is twofold. First, decide if self-publishing is really something you want to do. Find the pros and cons for both and see if one outweighs the other. It shouldn’t be too difficult a decision, really. And if you decide to, the next thing to decide on is a name for the company. Remember, this is going to be identified with you, and you with it. It has to have meaning but also be sturdy enough to handle almost anything you throw at it. Asshat Comics probably won’t let you do a serious dissertation on the life and times of Pope John Paul II. I’m just saying.

And there’s the bell. See you next week!

 

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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