Talking About Self-Publishing

In lieu of politics

I’d really rather talk about politics today. About how we narrowly avoided civil war just a few weeks ago. About how saying black lives matter and fascism is bad shouldn’t be these controversial statements. But I won’t. Mainly because that’s outside the purview of this newsletter, but also because I know that the best way to improve the world is to improve myself. To grow in the love and service of Christ.

Now that I’ve effectively alienated both my conservative and liberal readership, let’s talk about writing and story. Specifically how to self-publish a graphic novel. Or rather, how not to.

Currently, I have a hundred-some-page graphic novel that is available for publication. I composed the thing alone, with very little feedback from anyone. My reasoning behind this was simple: I didn’t care whether or not anyone read it. I just wanted to write and draw my comic. That was all I focused on for about a ten year period, since moving back in with my parents in 2010. I focused on other things too, which is why drawing a five-page comic took 10 years, but you get what I mean. Bubblegum-Man was at first never intended for a wide audience.

Then slowly, I toyed with the idea of printing a few of the issues through Ka-Blam. For those of you unfamiliar, Ka-Blam is a print on-demand service which offers a very reasonable price for people to print their own comics. Print on-demand is inherently different from vanity press. Ka-Blam is not a vanity press. Vanity presses are money sinks wherein con artists trick authors into parting with all their money for the vague promise of attaining Official Published Authorship. Often, the vanity press never publishes any of the author’s work but does abscond with a hefty chunk of the author’s money. But while Ka-Blam does offer a way for comic creators to get paid through IndyPlanet, I was under no illusions that this was the way for Bubblegum-Man to reach a wide audience. For goodness sakes, the colors are done in colored pencil. We’re not talking high-quality here.

Those of you who know anything about publishing are already groaning at my naiveté. Let’s tally off the mistakes I’ve made so far:

  1. Taking too long to write and draw a five-issue story. For a professional, this process really shouldn’t take longer than about a year.

  2. Publishing hard copy through a print on-demand service vs. a small press. The difference here is that a print on-demand service doesn’t market your work, doesn’t put it in book stores, doesn’t offer any kind of editing service, nothing. You give them money, they print your story. That’s it. Very similar to vanity press, except for the aforementioned shiftiness of vanity presses in general. A small press, while carrying a heavy risk of rejection, would at least have allowed me the possibility of profiting somewhat from my work. Why didn’t I choose a small press? Quite simply, fear. I was afraid that my comic was not of a high enough quality to be deemed eligible for publication by any serious small press. As a result, I effectively “gave way” rights to first printing and probably some others.

    See, in traditional publishing, the way authors make money isn’t really selling books. It’s selling rights. An author sells various types of rights (first printing, first American serial, etc.) in exchange for cold hard cash. Yes, we receive royalties when the book is bought, but that’s after the publisher makes their money. The more rights you have to sell, the more potential money can be made by both you and the publisher off your work. Publishers make money by exploiting your rights to publish in a variety of markets. Got no rights to sell? Good luck finding a publisher.

    Giving away rights for no compensation is almost the worst thing you can do as an author. It’s like opening a fruit stand, then chucking your apples at passersby rather than trying to sell them. At best, you’ve given away merchandise. At worst, you’ve made yourself less valuable to the marketplace. You’re that weirdo chucking fruit at people.

    What all this means in layman’s terms is that because I was afraid, I gave away rights to my comic which otherwise could have been sold, making it less likely for any small press to pick me up in the future.

I began my foray into the comics world online, publishing Bubblegum-Man on its official website, which has yet to break triple digits in terms of page views. Mistake number 3: While it is recommended to do some market research, you should definitely NOT invest a ton of money in a project if there doesn’t appear to be any interest. There was not, yet I still shelled out the cash for art supplies, spent time in cafes typing up scripts, and spent more money for short print runs. On the upside, Bubblegum-Man has gained some traction on Webtoon and Tapas of late, but as the current run is ending/has ended, I expect this interest to wane quickly. The comic did well as a daily, which surprised me, but there still hasn’t been enough interest really to justify a traditional (1000+ copies) print run.

Because you know that’s the number I’d really have to hit, over a thousand copies sold, before I begin to see real profit from this. I assume.

Mistake number 4: Not doing the math.

I really have no idea how many copies of Bubblegum-Man I’d need to sell to recoup my losses at this point. I’d have to add up everything I’ve spent on art supplies, lunches, notebooks, pads, printing through Ka-Blam, and postage, among other things I don’t remember. Then figure out what my best profit margin would be. I’m not great at finances, so I’d probably mess this up.

On the upside, not making any real profit means I don’t have to pay tax on it.

I’m not sharing all this with you to talk down to myself. Rather, I’m hoping to learn from my mistakes and encourage you to do the same. The biggest takeaway you should get from this is to avoid making decisions based on fear. If fear is your primary motivator for any course of action, it’s probably not the best course of action to take. I’ve found this to be true in almost every case. Fear is a terrible advisor. It will counsel you toward failure, monotony, and defeat every time. That’s its purpose. Because to our caveman brain, adventure means the possibility of death, and death makes it more difficult to spread our genetic material and propagate the species. Fear is designed to keep you alive as long as possible, so that you may be fruitful and multiply. This is useful when it comes to deciding whether or not to charge a saber-toothed tiger, not so much when making business decisions.

Make no mistake, to our caveman brain, professional failure is as threatening as organ failure. Fear cannot differentiate between acceptable risk and fatal risk. All it sees is risk. Listen to fear at your peril. It’s designed to keep you free from danger, but following its advice, paradoxically, can be the most dangerous thing you ever do.

That was mistake number 5. I didn’t really publish Bubblegum-Man this way out of passion or a sense of fun or adventure. That was part of it, to be sure. But a large part was fear. Fear of rejection. Feeling like my art wasn’t good enough. And true, my art is not of professional quality. But I’ve since learned that professional quality is somewhat of a relative standard, especially where art is concerned. My art is not that bad. My colors are inconsistent, due to the limitations of colored pencil. That could easily be fixed with a computer. I have not pursued this course of action. Why?

Fear. Fear of what? The possibility of professional failure, which my caveman brain equates to physical death.

The only antidote to fear is truth. Realize the truth of who and what you are. Look at your work in the light of truth and judge it fairly. Look at yourself and judge with mercy because why shouldn’t you? Truth will set you free from fear and guide you to success.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see how I can still sell Bubblegum-Man to a small press.