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B&N Week 45: Self-Publishing Week 3

| November 1, 2011 | 0 Comments

Every time I turn around, it’s Tuesday. Wasn’t it Tuesday just yesterday? Feels like it. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I get to spend some quality time with you. Not a bad deal, if I do say so myself.

With that said, it’s time for some more Bolts & Nuts! We’re still talking about self-publishing, and we’re going to be here for a little bit longer.

Hopefully, you’ve been SAVING YOUR MONEY, because we’re going to talk about creating for a little bit. I’m not going to talk numbers here, I’m just going to give an overview of a workflow. Next week, we’re going to look more closely at some numbers. I think you need this first in order to understand that better. You’ll see.

Okay, you’ve got Asshat Comics up and running! You’ve decided to do a couple of limited series to start you off, six issues apiece. Why six issues? Because the overlap will keep you covered for a year. The best way to stay relevant, to stay in the public’s eye, is to publish and continue to publish.

Asshat Comics is proud to present The Amazing Beano! Beano is a story about a anthropomorphic bean and his quest to stay unboiled. It’s entertaining family fare, and you only want to produce six issues of it. The second series is Jesus Christ: Vampire. The title says it all. The name Asshat allows you flexibility like you wouldn’t believe, so you’re able to get away with a lot in both series.

Since you’ve been saving your money, you have work started on Beano. The artist [co-creator] is hard at work, and has the first issue in the can. You’ve been promoting the book. [We’ll talk about that next week.] Issue 2 is now in the can. Issue 3 is now in the can. Issue 4 is now done. You now contact Diamond to see if they’ll carry it. They say yes, much to your amazement, and they ask all the usual questions: format, frequency, and the like. Solicitations go out for the first issue. Issue five is done, and then issue six. Issue one goes for sale, and you’ve still been working the system, doing interviews, hitting up news sites, beating the drum to get yourself noticed.

Now that the first issue is out, YOU CANNOT STOP. This is the most dangerous part for you right here, because you can either make it or break it. YOU CANNOT STOP. If you want to be seen as a viable publisher, you MUST publish the rest of the series, and you must do it ON TIME.

Here’s my philosophy about solicitations, issues in the can, and the length of series you want to produce.

I don’t care how much money you have saved up, and I don’t care how stable your artist is, you don’t want to do solicitations with anything less than four entire issues in the can. If it’s a limited series, if it’s a one shot, if it’s an ongoing series, you want to have as many issues in the can as possible before you solicit. The reason for this is because YOU MUST SHIP ON TIME, EVERY TIME. (Sounds important.) You have no idea, but I’m going to tell you.

You’ve done all this work to make yourself look viable, right? You’ve got the public interested in Beano, you’ve got retailers ordering your book [no matter what anyone says, in the direct market, retailers are your first customers], and you think you’ve got a minor hit on your hands. What you have to do now is reward them and yourself with consistency. You MUST ship ON TIME, EVERY TIME, in order to stay viable.

The retailers need money. They get that money from selling products. (Duh…) If they don’t have product to sell, how are they going to make money? (…) The retailer NEEDS your product. If you don’t produce ON TIME, they’re going to go someplace else to get the product to sell, and just like not paying your artists, you’ve got a reputation of not being dependable.

(Wait! That’s not fair! Marvel and DC are late all the time!) You’re right, and I hate to say it, but they’re in a position to do that. They try not to do it, but if Amazing Spidey doesn’t ship when it’s supposed to, then it’s late. No real harm, right? Buyers will just get it when it comes out. They’ll wait. But…look at the debacle that happened when they were in the middle of an event, and the main story shipped late, causing a holdup in every title in the line. If you think the readers were unhappy, how do you think the retailers felt?

As a publisher, your biggest, best advocate is NOT the reading public. It’s the retailer. They’re your first line. They’re the ones who have to place the orders. There are some retailers that don’t order indie books, even after the public has requested a copy. This is a reality you have to get used to. But for those that do, you want to reward them [and yourself] by continuing to publish, continuing to ship ON TIME.

Here’s what happens. Beano is on the second issue on the shelves. Remember, it’s six issues. With issue 2 out, on the shelves, it’s in the public’s mind, just by being there. The customer loved the first issue, and was looking for issue 2. Well, there it is, when it was supposed to be. Now, the customer asks to have it added to their pull list. This does a couple of things for you. First, it adds more guaranteed sales for issue 6, but also possibly gives you reorders for issues 3-5. This is a good thing all the way around.

However, if you do not publish ON TIME, your spot on the shelf and in the public’s mind is nowhere. This means you’ve lost sales. This puts your entire operation in jeopardy, the entirety of Asshat. Because you didn’t ship on time. This is why publishing ON TIME, EVERY TIME is of critical importance.

As for Marvel/DC, if you want to make a name for yourself, you have to do it BETTER than them. It’s as simple as that. You have to do it better than everyone else for years in order to be seen as both viable and reliable.

The creators of the indie book Super Human Resources has done it right. They’ve beat the drum, gotten all kinds of interest in their book, and ALL FOUR ISSUES ARE IN THE CAN AND IN THE HANDS OF DIAMOND. If there are any problems with missed ship dates, it will be on the distributor, not the creators.

But as I said earlier, you want to have as many issues in the can as possible. If it’s a limited series, I would suggest having no less than four in the can. You can always have more, but I wouldn’t have less. Honestly, depending on the length of it, I would suggest having the entire thing done before soliciting that first issue. Six issues or less? Complete them all first. This will guarantee that you will not miss a ship date.

Now, if you have an ongoing series, you want to have no less than six issues in the can. (Steven, this doesn’t sound feasible. I think you’re out of your gourd.) Remember when I said self-publishing would be hard? This is where it’s at. This is your gut check. This is where you get to see what you’re made of. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, wouldn’t they? (I don’t like it.) You don’t have to. I’m not asking you to. I’m just telling you what you need to do in order to be a reliable publisher.

Now, with all the issues of Beano in the can, there is no rest for the wicked. Don’t forget, it’s roughly four months from initial contact to having your first issue on the stands. It goes down to three months after that. So, let’s follow the timeline. You’ve got four issues in the can when you first contact Diamond, right? So those four issues are accounted for. Let’s say it takes a month for your team to do an issue. Issues five and six are done as Diamond reviews and then starts the solicitation process. That’s two months, right? You now have to start that second series. Hopefully, it’s already written. But those issues have to be in the can before you start the solicitation process, right? And this time around, it should be a month shorter, because you have that relationship with Diamond now.

So what are you doing? You’re killing your artist in order to get four issues in the can before solicitations are necessary. They’re not happy about it, but they’re doing the work. [Either that, or you have another artist already working on JC:V.] They get three issues in the can and are working on the fourth by the time solicitation time comes around. Because it’s three months ahead, you’re soliciting for Jesus Christ: Vampire at the same time that the third issue of Beano is on the stands.

This is a lot of time and effort, and I don’t want you to do it. (Wha?) Nope. I don’t want you to do this. Getting into monthly comics in today’s climate is suicide. You’d be either stupid, high, or needing mental help to throw your hat into that ring right now. (But you just-) I know I just spent three pages on it. I’m telling you not to do this for a very simple reason.

There’s a better way.

You publish on the web. (I knew there was something you weren’t saying!) You caught me. But everything I said about publishing on time, every time, remains the same. That’s the only way to do it.

Publishing on the web cuts down on your out of pocket expenses immensely. (Steven, when are you going to do something on webcomics, anyway?) [Soon enough. There are other things to do, first. It’s coming, never fear.] However, you must do one of two things when you publish on the web: you must publish frequently, or you must give the readers a lot of content for when you do publish. You trade a lot of content for frequency, or vice versa. Just remember when you publish, you have to do it on time. (Sounds like a mantra with you or something.) You have no idea.

Warren Ellis, genius, madman, Englishman [which really says it all], published sixt pages of Freakangels every Friday. That’s a lot of content. Six pages a week? That’s huge! Sure, there are some skip weeks, but it’s still a lot of content.

Take this column for another example. I’ve been doing it every week for over seven months, and I haven’t missed a week yet. No matter your frequency, you want to have the buffer, just as you would with traditional publishing. The bigger the buffer, the more you’ll be able to do.

For this column, I’m about three weeks ahead. For The Proving Grounds, I’m about two, and will be extending that out. In both cases, the only thing I need to do is basically put them up for your reading pleasure. This lets me do the paid editing comic creating, and spend time with my family and work out and whatever else I need to do.

This is called discipline, folks. Self-discipline is something you need in order to be a successful creator and publisher. If you don’t have it, you better get it, or you’re not going to make it. Yes, I schedule the column out a few weeks at a time, but they still need to be written and posted. Self-discipline. Again, if you don’t have it, you’re not going to make it in this medium.

When you publish, you’re going to need to do the same thing. You want to keep readers? You need to publish ON TIME, EVERY TIME. (Think you’ve said it enough?) Don’t know. You got it yet? (Don’t know…) Fine. You MUST publish ON TIME, EVERY TIME. (Every time?) No, not every time. EVERY TIME. (Oh, EVERY TIME.) Exactly.

Now, since we’re talking about actual production, I want to take a little time to talk about quality.

Quality is subjective, people. Wanna know how I know? Rob Liefeld. [See how I did that?] Some people love his art, some people want to amputate his hands. (Kinda deep, that.) [Isn’t it?] There is very little middle ground when it comes to this artist. A perfect nightmare for some people would be Liefeld and Chuck Austen, and for others, it would be a wet dream. (Which camp are you in?) [Doesn’t matter, but if you go back and re-read, or if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see what side of the fence I’m on when it comes to these creators.]

A ‘quality’ book is one where the production values are top notch. This goes for every step of the process. The basic things are writing and pencils. The harder things are inks, colors, and letters. When it comes to comics, there needs to be a delicate balance. Bad art can turn a great story into a mediocre one, and good art can turn a bad story into a mediocre one. See what I’m saying?

Artwork can make or break a book, no matter the writing. Artwork is going to affect the outcome of the book. Your artist is there to -ahem- draw people to the story, because no matter what happens, they’re going to look at the art first. Readers will then stay for the story, if it draws them in enough.

If you skimp on your creative team, you’re cheating yourself and hurting your chances of being successful. I’m not telling you to go out and spend a mint to get this done, but I’m telling you that if you don’t have a quality art team, you need to get one. If you get a quality art team, the worst case scenario is that your writing brings them down. (Thanks…jerk.) The best case scenario is that there’s a synthesis of harmony going on, a work of beauty is created, and sells like gangbusters.

More than likely, though, is that you’ll do middle of the road type of stuff. And that’s decent, too. There’s no shame in being middle of the road. Just remember that it’s crowded there. If you don’t understand it now, you will later, believe me.

That’s about it for this week. Your homework for this week is to SAVE YOUR MONEY. You’ll know when it’s time to spend.

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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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