Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Adventures in Self-Publishing
For those interested in publishing their own creations
I have received a good chunk of positive feedback regarding the book, which makes me very happy, to those who bought 'Pistolas' and/or previous books, hold on to them things because I'm not reprinting them, I'm retiring all the books as soon as they sell out, perhaps I'll reprint them in different formats using less expensive materials later on, down the road. Who knows. I'm doing a retrospective in cahoots with Image, due Spring 2007 I'll use some of those images for sure.
A couple of individuals interested in self-publishing, emailed me some questions regarding the format, materials used, price and so forth. One email asked for advice on how to self-publish a professional-looking sketchbook. I will attempt to answer them to the best of my ability.
The size: The format I used this time around seems a bit arbitrary, but it's not, (for me anyway) most of the drawings chosen for the book shared similar atributes so I chose a size and orientation that would best fit the drawings, I've already published two 11x17 inch sketchbooks(#3 & #4) so I didn't want to repeat, besides, this book I wanted bound on the left side, not on the top, so a 10x14 inch format seemed ideal. Not too small and not too big.
Materials, price, advice, etc.: I had a long talk with a publisher friend of mine, who gave me some tips on how to publish a successful book (financial success that is), publishers -not unlike bakers or condom makers- have formulas they use, to make sure the books they launch generate a profit, one would think that, if the public is not interested whatsoever in mediocre efforts, none of these formulas would matter much, (his books are of excellent quality btw, but the artists' styles are very similar, so much so one can't tell who does what, that's my opinion) but these formulas DO work and this is, in no small part, due to the fact that the general public is retarded and they can't tell a piece of shit from a piece of chocolate. After all, publishing is a business and no one wants to be in business to lose money, so formulas rule!.
The 60% Rule
This is how I understand it, feel free to correct me at any time: distributors such as Diamond (the defacto leader in comics distribution) get the book from you at 60% off the cover price; yes, you heard right, only 40% for you. This seems extremely disproportionate, particularly since you pay for the manufacturing and shipping of the books, right?
Well, the thing is, the distributor usually buys your book and then advertises it, promotes it, takes orders, sells it and ships it to the individual retailers, sometimes at a small discount, sometimes at a big discount and sometimes at an even bigger discount (unless you've worked out a different arrangement), Since the distributor warehouses your books and has to deal with the order-taking, invoicing and collecting from the many individual retailers who order 2, 3, 5 or 8 copies once in a while, his/her cut is justified, the one who takes the lion's share, seems to be the retailer, but then again, he/she takes a chance on a product which may or may not sell and occupies valuable shelf space, retailers are justifiably rewarded for that leap of faith, if your book bombs, they're stuck with it. When you price your book you have to take into consideration this 60% plus your expenses in getting the book printed and shipped. If your book costs you 7 dollars each and you price it at $20, you're only making 1 buck per book, if the book costs you $15 and you price it at $30 you've lost 3 dollars. This of course does not apply at all when you sell directly to the consumer, but realistically speaking, how many units can you move on your own?
The distributor has the power to reach many retailers and put the book within the grasp of thousands of potential buyers, hence the pricing dilemma. Bud Plant (a popular comic book catalogue retailer) falls in the category of a distributor, in my opinion, although he really is the retailer but the fact that he pays only 40% of the retail price makes him 'special'. He has to do this because he offers so many discounts (sometimes 20% off some books and usually free shipping) if your book doesn't move, he's forced to lower the price until it's gone, warehouse space is at a premium when you carry such a huge inventory which gets updated on a daily basis. many creators gladly give Bud Plant that 60% off the cover price (often times losing money on the deal) because of Bud's massive audience and customer loyalty, they feel Bud can help promote the book and that can't hurt. Bud Plant is actually a person btw, a really nice person, fair and well-respected in the comics industry, if he "Recommends" your book, chances are his customers might give you a chance.
The Secret Formula
My friend is very kind (just in case he's reading this :), he shared an industry formula with me and while I appreciated whole-heartedly his eagerness to help me become a household name and thanked him profusely for his wisdom, at the same time I was telling myself: "I know he means well but I'm not that desperate to make a quick buck and since I don't give two shits whether the general public knows my name or likes my work, why on earth would I do the same type of book everyone else is doing?" why not stick to my plan and keep doing the kinds of books I would want to buy?" The kind of stuff I'm passionate about. His rationale made sense, "The more exposure, the more likely the chances of people with similar sensitivity finding your stuff". But my rationale made even more sense to me, "be true to yourself and do what you love doing, fuck people!". I know, it sounds gay but whatev.
I don't want 96 pages cluttered with stuff from cover to cover, no matter how nice the art is, just look at those horribly designed Chip Kidd books and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about, talk about over endulgence!! every inch of the page filled with inconsequential notes and scribbles, some of the best drawings reproduced tiny and overcrowded or half-hidden, your eye doesn't know where to go, you flip through the books without a single image making a lasting impression on you. But now you know why they do what they do, the masses out there, couldn't care less for a well-designed, well-put together book, all they care about is content, glitter and lights flashing, the more shit you cram into 24, 36, 48, 64, 72 or 96 pages the better chances you'll have of selling your precious baby to more people.
I detest 'cookie-cutter' shit in life just as much as in art. I think my publisher friend honestly thought I was misinformed about the process and the business of publishing, he said "The way you make your books, you can only sell them at conventions and on line" the truth is, that's what I wanted to do from day one, I may or may not outgrow that audience someday, I'll worry about that later. The thing is I've known all along that retailers and dopey consumers don't care for my stuff one bit, because I do everything that goes against a successful mass retail business. The books are way too expensive to be mass produced (with the current specs), they're awkward & bulky for stores to put on shelves, I don't do this to purposely sabotage my livelyhood or to send a message, I just want to have fun and do something that pleases me, first and foremost. If anybody would come to a publisher with an idea such as this' Pistolas' book, he/she would be shot on sight. The main reason why I self-publish is because I don't want to be told what to do and no self-respected publisher in business today would ever say yes to my ridiculous ideas.
Through my own personal experiences, both, at conventions and speaking with retailers and distributors, I have found that there is a place to make an honest living producing funky products, eye candy that's fun to have around and explore, some people do like quality (not many but enough to keep you in "business") true, I'm not a millionaire from my self publishing efforts but then again that's not my goal, if my income depended solely on my self-publishing ventures I would be looking at formulas myself.
Perception Vs. Reality
In a perfect world, when you publish your book, you want it to be successful, not just profitable but you want it also to be something you can be proud of, you want to sell it to the world, you put all your passion, talent, energy and resources into something you consider worth acquiring and you think everyone is going to love it, you want to sell it at a reasonable price, so hopefully the masses could afford it and buy it.
In reality you will encounter many conditions in the marketplace that will go against everything you want to accomplish; the most important issue is "PERCEPTION". The general public's perception that is.
When people walk into a 'Barnes & Noble" or "Borders" store (here in the west) or any other mass retail bookstore, they see tons of beautifully printed books, some real high quality, hard cover, full-color thick volumes offered at bargain prices, just last week I went to "The Strand" and saw Andres Serrano's "America and other work" selling for 29 bucks, if you ever see this book you'll understand what I'm saying here, 11.5 x 14.5 inches, hard cover cloth bound and embossed, with a full color dust jacket, 386 full-color pages, printed on a gorgeous stock in Italy, nearly 9 lbs of amazing works, a truly beautiful (and massive) volume. This book retailed at $60 when it was first released, I'm willing to bet my mother-in-law's moustache & neatly-trimmed beard that it cost the publisher under $5 per copy to produce, even if they sell it for less than ten dollars, they'd still be making a profit.
When people see your self-published book they can't help but to compare it to what they are used to seeing at the stores, they don't know that those other books are printed by huge companies in the zillions, therefore they cost nearly nothing to produce and can be discounted and sometimes given away, at no loss whatsoever to the publisher and retailer. That is the biggest obstacle to clear, you can't explain to the general public that your printing costs are higher because you're a self-publisher and printing a small run costs a fortune, and frankly, the public doesn't need to know and couldn't care less, they just want to get "the most" for their money.
When you toss your book out there, you are competing against giant publishing companies whether you want it or not, your book is out there next to this other fellow's book printed by SQP or some other high volume-low-class publisher, your book may be black and white (because that's all you could afford) or full color (at a tremendous cost and sacrifice to you) 64 pages of your very best work, well-designed and nicely put together it retails for $19.95 (you're nearly taking a loss but you're thinking "it's worth it because I'm getting my name out there") , his tacky book is 80 plus pages, chock full of images in full-color from cover to cover (including the inside front and back covers) priced at $14.95, guess who's book the average consumer is going to buy?.
You Vs. Joe Public
You have to make an important decision early in the game: do I make a book for the masses or for myself, is that simple! ask yourself the following questions and answer honestly:
1) "Does my stuff have a strong mass appeal?" you might just be one of the lucky few who are true to themselves while capturing the general public's imagination, god bless you! Game over, you win!
2) "Am I doing this just for the money?" if yes, "How low am I willing to go for a fast buck".
3) "Am I doing this just to satisfy my massive ego, just to have a book made regardless of potential financial loss?" (that would be me :) if the answer is yes, "How much money am I willing to lose" and "How many boxes of unsold books can my garage hold"
(if your stuff is passionless, tacky and mediocre, if you have low standards and measure the success of everything in life according to how much money it apparently generates, there is no decision to make, go for it! the masses await)
Take into consideration that if you had made a living and a name for yourself drawing popular licensed cartoon/comic characters, you'll have copyrights issues to deal with if you're planning to put your books in the stores, permissions must be obtained from the rightful copyright owners before you spend tons of your hard-earned money on printing your masterpiece, that's a whole mess worth another post. The lawyers for DC or Marvel won't bother you if you print a kinko's limited edition convention sketch but they will go after you for anything bigger, you can bet on that. Remember, the general public wants popular characters (which you don't own) they don't give a shit about your artsy, fartsy pretensions.
Kinko's Vs. Off-Set
Back in 2002 I approached my friend Mike Manley at the San Diego Comicon ( I didn't know him back then) since he edited Draw! magazine I thought he could help me publish my first book so I asked, little did I know he had nothing to do with the publishing end of Draw!, that is taken care of by Tomorrows Publishing, he replied: "Go to Kinko's, that's where I print my sketchbooks", at first i thought he was joking, in disbelief, I took one good look at those 'ash-can' kinko's booklets and I said to myself "Fuck that!". I stopped by every table at the Con that year, most everyone from amateur to seasoned veteran in the field of comics had a Kinko's book for sale on top of their respective tables; lesson number one in how cheap, low-class and fucked up that comics industry is, I wondered why no one but a handful of professionals did anything remotely different than a crappy kinko's pamphlet.
At first I thought: "Wow, these motherfuckers are making so much money drawing comics and they won't even spend a couple of bucks on a nice offset printed color book!! What a bunch of low-life-scum-sucking pigs!!. . . . Shiiit!" But later I realized it was way deeper than that. I have dealt with those issues in past posts so I won't get into that crap now, but you get the point.
Do You want a lesson in economics, my son? the Kinko's booklet costs less than a buck to produce, it retails for $10 at the conventions, easy and light to ship, nothing but pure profit!! and even if you give it to a distributor you make a considerable profit. Doesn't it make perfect sense? it does! if what you want is a quick buck! . . . I look at it this way, if you make the exact same size book in full color offset press, hard cover, quality paper, each book would cost you approx. 3 bucks, you price it at $15 (a reasonable price for a book of this quality) instead of $10, you end up making about the same profit selling direct and slightly less if distributed, providing a far superior product and best of all: you don't look like a cheap bastard, sure it does require an investment on your part but isn't your work worth it? or maybe you also think your work is shit and it doesn't bother you that is ill-conceived and poorly printed. Some argue (with just reason) that the Kinko's book is a life saver, something you can put together quickly and inexpensively for the fans, that's true sometimes, but more often than not, people have no taste.
I believe that the original idea had a lot of merit, that is to make an inexpensive "Convention Sketchbook", a little keepsake printed just for
a particular event, in which case the low quality (and low price) was well-justified. But you know how things work in the land of milk and honey, low standards, greed and fanboy degenerates fucked it up for the rest of us.
In short, if you're an artist wishing to self-publish your efforts and want to be financially successful at it, don't call me, call Kinko's; I'm on an ego trip, without rhyme or reason. However, send me an email if you need an inexpensive, great quality offset printer, and some free advice, it truly is more affordable than you think and extremely rewarding, no matter how many books I have already published and regardless of whether I make or lose money, it never ceases to amaze me seeing my drawings printed in book format.
I know a few individuals who may be able to help you take that first step towards the joys of self-publishing, oh, and don't worry, I won't charge you a commission fee . Who knows? maybe you'll join me at the next convention. :)
Edit: I added some other pertinent info and bile for those interested.