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February 11, 2009 1:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I effectively self-publish my comic book?

So, my friend and I have been drawing comics for some time. We've even published one on Lulu, and Lulu is a really cool thing, but not really what we need.

For one, it's too expensive. It's sort of modeled for people to buy the books online, which no one does as near as I can tell. There is only one quantity price break, so 100 books cost a little less than $700 to print. This makes them too pricey to sell even trying to break even (profit is not important). It's been a while since I did any heavy research, but I recall that the next best option was some company where I could get them for 3 bucks or so, but I'd have to order, like, thousands.

I wouldn't be opposed to the possibility of being picked up for distribution, but I know that Diamond is cutting way back, and not even promoting their independents right now. My main concern here is creative control, plus the appeal of this thing might me local (college arts town that likes to support its own). Seems unlikely to me.

Also, this thing is in color, which makes it that much more expensive. On Lulu, even if it's b&w it's only a buck or two cheaper. If b&w was substantially cheaper elsewhere, that might be an option, though. Another thing I've thought about is the kind of paper. You can't print on comic book-type paper on lulu, but then nowadays a lot of comics are on regular color glossy paper.

I've seen some similar questions from before on here, but I'm still kind of swamped by the whole thing.

Oh, and I've got nothing against web comics, but... I dunno... nothing beats a hard copy from the artist.

Any suggestions? Did I leave anything out?
posted by cmoj to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Is the point to sell, sell, sell, or build up a fan base? (that is, which is more important in the short term?)

If it's the latter - and if recouping cost isn't a big issue -- you could go the DIY route and distribute at any one of the annual zine festivals in New York, Portland, Atlanta. That way you could get a mailing list started, without sinking in a lot of up-front costs
(I don't actually know what this would cost -- but printing / xeroxing yourself and distributing would be cheaper than going with a professional printer, and it would be a good way to get your name out, without having to bank on recouping a lot of up-front costs).
posted by puckish at 2:21 PM on February 11, 2009

A friend of mine uses Comixpress, which offers quantity discounts, and price breaks for including an ad for them. You can price a job here. I just tried a 24-page standard-size comic with a color exterior cover, black and white insides, and an ad on the back page. $160 for a print run of 100.
posted by Zed at 2:23 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

After a lot of discussion around the the Diamond move, it seems like the sensible thing to do is post to the web on a regular basis to build a following, then collect and sell your comics in trades once the economies of scale work well enough to warrant a physical product.
posted by Oktober at 2:24 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a graphic designer. Sounds like the key is going to be getting your cost per piece down low enough to make your book affordable and give you a profit.

Printing always works out to a cost/quantity equation. The more you print, the cheaper they get.

~ Any sort of "offset" printing (ie. regular presses and plates) will probably be too expensive at the quantities you want to get started with. If you were printing 1000 or more, it might be a way to go.

~ Digital printing (think fancy giant laser printers), is good for short run stuff. But the per piece price is high. Off hand, I'd say you'd end up spending way to much per book to make it worthwhile.

~ There's usually no way around the price/quantity/color equation. But... here's a thought. Given desktop printer technology today, you might be able to invest in a reasonably priced laser printer (inkjet would be way too expensive), that prints 11 x 17", and REALLY self publish these books. You could get a pulpy comic book type paper. Less-than-perfect quality is not really an issue - comic books were originally printed on cheap paper with rough printing processes, so it's part of the genre. Not sure what the numbers on that would look like, but might be a possibility. Especially early on, until you build a real following and start to up your quantities.
posted by ecorrocio at 2:41 PM on February 11, 2009

My instinct (and I have to point out right away that this is a subject I have read about and observed with keen interest, but not personally experienced) is that if you aren't taking up the challenge of selling thousands, you probably can't afford to self-publish a color comic book.

(actually I think if you were willing to hustle hard and the material is good you could move a color book for $10 a pop - it's a rip, but what are moms for? You and your friend would each have to move just 35 to friends, family sympathetic Mefite Projects perusers to break even on the $700 run). I guess I'm kind of assuming a graphic novel type deal, if you're talking about just a normal comic issue you might expect to pay $3-5 for at most those numbers are obviously bunk.

Here's a mixed-media-model: The creator of Templar, Arizona developed and online fan base, had a lucky break (getting a shout-out from Penny Arcade due to a meeting at a convention), and launched a pre-sale campaign. She's prepping for her third print volume now and I believe had to do a reprint on the first already. I'm happy to prepay (on the implicit understanding that it could end up being a rip-off) for a print version of a webcomic by a true independent whose work I've been enjoying online, and apparently I'm not the only one. She's charging $15 for 100+ pages of a sepia-toned softcover print with color cover.

Speaking of that convention meeting where she caught Jerry Holkins eye: I don't think a thing can be a success (on the "worth a conventional print-run" scale) without serious get out there sort of promotion. It is apparently pretty drastically unlikely to make this kind of thing happen out just dicking around with viral promotions out of your apartment in your underwear. I wish it weren't so, my Secret Society is going nowhere! Successful self publishers are out there hustling wherever the core fanbase gathers (I gather starting out a lot of people do stuff like begging a corner of some better established artists' table at a show: you have to know the players to get in the game).

My favorite essayists on self-publishing: 1: Dave Sim (Note particularly explicit self-publishing stuff in the last two collections of essays plus the odds and ends at the bottom - the pretty old school - then again he's keeping a pretty weird book in publication so far with national distribution long after almost everyone has dismissed his relevance). 2: Jim Munroe, sci-fi novelist who is on his second experiment as a comics writer/collaborator (and had done a bunch of experimental film and text game and miscellaneous stuff as well).

Mefi's own jpburns is a comic artist who has self-published. His last Project post didn't get much voting love but I bought one, it was pretty good. So you might hit him up for input. And make sure you post it as a project if you print it.
posted by nanojath at 2:52 PM on February 11, 2009

I gotta say, webcomics are the way to go. Get your readership and fans built up--THEN get into physical publish works.I buy the occasional random hard copy, but most of my comic book money goes toward the hard copies of comics I know I'm going to like because I've read the webcomic for a few weeks.
posted by eralclare at 3:41 PM on February 11, 2009

As others have said, I'd urge you to rethink the comic being in color. If it's essential to the story you're telling, that's one thing, but if it's in color "just because" it's probably going to be to your advantage to go to B&W.

If you don't like what ComiXpress has to offer, I think building an online audience is probably the best idea. This may involve redoing your comic a little (at least, in my opinion, reading traditional comic book pages online isn't the most pleasant experience) but it would be a quick way to start finding an audience. (You can also try submitting it to Zuda, although I'd read the submission agreement carefully to make sure it's for you.)

There are also Xeric Grants. While they don't help with the actual printing process, if accepted, they do provide money to offset the cost of self-publishing.

I don't know what the subject matter of your comic is, and while, like everyone else, the comic book and publishing industry has taken a hit, several smaller publishers still seek submissions (although not everyone takes unsolicited ones). You could also try finding an agent -- lots of traditional book publishers are happily pushing graphic novels now. I don't have any advice on how to do that, though. And this may not apply if you're doing a superhero comic.

Also find creators you admire and ask them questions. For the most part, comic book people are really awesome and nice and supportive of each other (it's possibly not representative of everyone/everywhere, but I think most of the exhibitors who go to Small Press Expo just go to catch up with their friends. If they sell stuff, that's a bonus).

It's quite possible that little of this information is helpful to you. I am not a published comic book creator (nor do I make comics). But I think some of this may point you in the right direction. Good luck.
posted by darksong at 3:48 PM on February 11, 2009

I have some experience as a small press publisher, and I have to say, this book was immensely helpful to me when I was getting started. Some of the info on marketing is pretty hokey and doesn't really apply to comics, and the advice on typesetting/layout is downright bad, but the chapters relating to the nuts and bolts of actually getting a book printed are absolutely worth the purchase price.

If you really want to self-publish, be ready to learn as much as you can about every aspect of the industry, and to invest a significant chunk of your own money, not just on the books themselves, but on competent, trustworthy editing and design. Never, ever, ever trust your friends and family when they tell you your book looks great. Get brutal, experienced professionals to help you.

As others have said, a webcomic is a great way to get started. Especially if you want to do a color book, which is going to cost a lot more to produce. A great-looking color webcomic will draw readers like flies to honey, building up your customer base before you ever have to invest a dime. And knowing how many fans you've already got will help you figure out things like size of print runs and where to advertise. A few comics I enjoy that follow this web-to-print model are Girl Genius, Order of the Stick, and Gunnerkrigg Court. Don't ever underestimate the power of pretty pictures to attract an audience online.

It's actually not that hard to get a good deal on printing; you just need to know exactly what you want, and cast your net wide. The book I mentioned above will tell you how to prepare a request for quotation, and how to find printers. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of printers out there to choose from, and every one has its own specialty and pricing structure. You will get vastly different prices depending on who you're talking to. I've gotten prices ranging from under $2 to around $25 a copy for the exact same book with the exact same specs. One thing you might want to do is find a nearby comic convention and wander around the booths looking for books similar to the one you want to do in size, length, paper type, etc., then ask the creator what printers they recommend.

A couple of well-known comics printers that I have personal experience with:

Lebonfon Printing: Their pricing is great, and while their service wasn't the speediest I've ever seen, I felt they were the best I've seen at giving me exactly what I asked for. They're in Canada, so you'll be paying out the ear for shipping, but even with that figured in, they come up cheaper than a lot of US options.

Brenner Printing: They're recognized in the industry as one of the main go-to guys for comic printing, and they know their stuff. If you want a "standard" book, they'll know exactly how to do it, and they'll do it fast and right. I found them a little on the pricey side, but most agree they're worth the price.

Oh, and one final bit of advice: never ever sign off on color work based on a digital proof. No matter how good it looks on your computer screen, it could look like a mud-and-puke sundae when it's printed, and you'll be out whatever you paid for the printing because you gave it the okay. Get a hardcopy proof, on the same paper the final product will be printed on. This applies everywhere, but goes double--quadruple--for overseas printers.
posted by tomatofruit at 5:03 PM on February 11, 2009

Response by poster: Comixpress is a hell of a lot better than Lulu for this, thanks.

Lots of great advice here. Some of this, along with that Scott McCloud talk on TED is making me reconsider what I can do on the web.

I won't mark answers because there's good advice everywhere.

I do want to comment on the fact that a lot of this seems to be more about breaking into the industry. That's not really what I'm after per se... If I could print these cheap enough with high enough quality and get local advertising or something (working on that) I'd give them away for free. Also, I call these comics for lack of a better term. They're graphic relate to comic tradition, but I've found that someone who would refer to themselves as a "comics person" is unlikely to be into this. There's no story, and few pieces go over one page, and few make very much linear sense. I realize that there are others with weirder tastes in comics, but I don't know if there are publishers who lean toward the unconventional or not.
posted by cmoj at 10:44 AM on February 12, 2009

Response by poster: Also,

Never, ever, ever trust your friends and family when they tell you your book looks great.

I've never actually heard someone say this (er... seen... type). Possibly the best the best advice for everything, ever.
posted by cmoj at 10:46 AM on February 12, 2009

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