| ethan feuer // fiction | comics | lit

semeurge: on self-publishing

um, it’s been said before, but self-publishing is a ton of work. i’m not going to go into explaining how the whole process works from start to finish (as it’s been done elsewhere and, no doubt, better), but i will walk you through all the mistakes i made how you can avoid (some of) them. all of the methodological (i.e. not factual) stuff below is just my opinion and i’m sure there are a million other super-awesome ways of doing things.

1. write your book before you do any drawing.
this may seem obvious, but i for one didn’t do it. it may be fun to start drawing right off the bat and not think about all that boring plot stuff. if you begin by drawing, you’ll find yourself wrapping a plot and cast of characters around your art. that works—about one in a hundred times. someone really smart once said something to the effect of ‘good art makes people come, good stories make them stay’. in other words, you should be perfect. so, you know, work on that. seriosuly, though, you’re best served by really sitting down and writing your characters and getting to know them really well before diving into anything more than sketches and concept art.

2. choose your format before you do any drawing.
in the same vein, once you’ve got your story figured out and maybe have some ideas of how you want it to look / feel in the reader’s hands, go ahead an make some formatting decisions. go forth and learn (if you don’t already know) what “bleed”, “slug”, and “trim” sizes are, set them, and stick to them. you’ll save yourself the headache of resizing all of your art eleven thousand times and you’ll avoid weird gutters and oddly uneven borders. while you’re at it, if you’re interested in traditional-style comics layout, pick your gutter sizes too (measure them!) and decide how much white space you want at the edge of the page.

3. get to know your technology.
you still aren’t ready to draw! put down that pen! just kidding. draw if you want, but you should definitely get to know your technology before you go too far. one key point is to decide if you are printing digitally or with an offset press. i know this may seem insane at this stage of the project, but there is actual real, human reasoning behind it. mainly, offset printing is capable of tremendously hugmongous resolution and digital, by and large, is not. digital is catching up, but offset is still significantly more awesome. either way, you’re going to want to scan your art at a bare minimum of 600dpi. but if you’re printing offset (and you’ve got a 2400dpi press that you’re paying cash money to use), you might as well scan at 1200 (or even 2400). a word, while we’re on the subject of dots per inch and lines per inch and halftoning and dot gain and all that crap: bit depth. okay, that’s two words. bit depth refers to the number of shades of gray (or color) which are used in the file. by and large, 8 bit grayscale is fine for most purposes, but you will see an uptick in quality at 16. color is another story. like resolution, bit depth is an exponential function and will increase your filesize commensurately. the other major criteria to keep in mind when deciding between offset and digital is print-run. offset only starts to become economical at around 500-1000 books. so if you only plan on printing 50 copies, make sure you plan accordingly.

4. thumbnails / storyboarding / etc
okay. you’ve got a “script” (kinda like a movie treatment), you know your characters, you know what you want to happen in the course of your story. you’re ready to draw….thumbnails. yep. if you don’t plan out what you’re going to do with the space on the page (often several or even dozens of pages at once), complete with dialog, you are going to end up with weird rhythm. even if you are mr. (or mz. or madame or whatevs) awesomepants, eventually you are going to end up with a dramatic moment half on one page and half on the other or a cliff-hanger that’s on the wrong side of your spread. oooonnnn the flipside, don’t get too structured. you want to know what happens but (at least for me), sometimes the best artwork that i do sort of “happens”–it just fills a space creatively. so it’s okay to plan, but it’s also okay to go off plan. especially if you can stay within your page-to-page boundaries (i.e. keep the right content on the right page or at least a multiple of the right page). while we’re on the subject, thumbnails or rewriting can be a great way to take a break from your artwork if you need to. alternate.

5. prepress and printing
if it is not white, printers (the machines, not the people) think it is some shade of gray. this is important because all those little pencil lines that you thought you erased are actually still there and will print disturbingly dark. go magic wand that shit and white it out like a gop golf club in an arctic blizzard on pluto. while you’re at it, make everything perfect and purty and crisp and shiny. test-print it. on several different printers and stocks if possible. don’t rush and only submit your files to a printer when you’re sure that they’re just right. otherwise you will just be really, really poor. ummmmm more poor. nope. keep going. while we’re on the subject of poor, make sure you get quotes from a ton of printers so that you can pick the most competitive (and pit them against one another a bit). your business is a (small) commodity. treat it that way (i mean; be polite and all, just don’t be afraid to pursue a good deal). don’t forget to ask about hidden charges—find out how they treat proofs (flat rate or per-page?) and shipping and whose responsibility is what. find out what their lead time is start to finish. when you do get quotes, make sure you’re on the same page about offset vs. digital and get quotes for several different quantities and paper weights. while we’re on the subject, find out how to convert between gsm and lbs and choose a paper weight; read up on dot gain and halftoning; learn about different paper emulsions and what the difference is between acid-free and lignin-free papers. talk to some printers—they can be really helpful—and try to get free samples of their stocks from them. tell them you don’t mind if they’re just floor trimmings or failed proofs from other projects. finally, and perhaps most importantly, your print run should be inversely proportional to the distance you are from your printer. that is to say, if you are printing more than 1000 (150 page) books, don’t work to hard to get quotes from people out of your home state or area (if you live in texas). shipping 2000 books can cost $500-1000. and that’s pretty much enough to make up for the differences you will see among quotes. so opt for quality and proximity if you’re printing in significant numbers. if you’re not—go wild, i guess. print in zimbabwe.

6. getting comics to people
if you want to get your comic out to human beings, there are a few (billion) obstacles. one is money. make sure you have some. you can’t make comics without at least a little. going oldschool: you can try to get a comic into mainstream venues in bulk. this is not very viable for a huge slew of reasons. for one, marvel and dc have kind of a stranglehold on the “traditional” superhero comics market and (by and large) people are going to buy the names they know in that market. to top it off, mass-market success requires immense funds (to print in immense volumes). so you need tremendous capital. if you’re bringing an indie comic into comics stores the “oldschool” way (through distributors like diamond, haven, etc), you have to face up to the fact that not that many stores are going to buy your title. diamond is the biggest distributor in the game and it will probably reject your comic (sorry!). if they do take your comic on, they will require you to sell “x” number of comics per period of time (and will boot you if you don’t). also, to apply to diamond requires several months lead time. so you will have a product you can’t sell for months after you’ve finally finished it. blech. let’s not forget that (as a new comics artist), diamond will probably take about 70% of the cover price (without helping you to absorb shipping or printing costs at all). so you will be making about a dollar per book (or less). going homeschool: you can opt for the small press distributors if you like. they’re generally good news in that they deal to so-called “indie-friendly” retailers (who, truthfully, still have to make a buck). they will generally take your work on consignment terms and at only a slightly less insane percentage than diamond (generally 50-60% off cover price). by and large, they will only take between 5 and 50 copies of your book to start (usually 10 or less) and (even if they sell) you won’t see your (depressingly small) check for a couple months. some indie / small-press distributors include haven distribution (which bought cold-cut), microcosm, last gasp, and ak distro. too cool for school: nowadays with you young folks and your interwebs and whatnot, you can sell your comic online. you can buy a website for a year for less than half the cost of warehousing your inventory for two weeks—or you can get an etsy account for free. either way, if you’re not averse to licking (hopefully a lot) of envelopes and making trips to the post office with the frequency of a geriatric schnauser to the fire hydrant, that can work out great. if this doesn’t appeal to you, you can always contract a fulfiller (which is basically someone who will warehouse your inventory aka books for you and then ship is out … for you). amazon runs a service for this (called, bizarrely, “amazon fulfillment”) which is pretty much far and away the best rates you’re likely to find. it also lets you sell through amazon (which acts kind of a like a distributor in that they take your money for the service of getting your book out to human beings).

7. causing humans to buy your book
i’ll let you know as i find out. ha ha. want to help? click here!

also, cats will puke on your artwork. mosquitoes will get swatted on it. that latte will magically fall on it. airport security will insist that you burn/devour/regurgitate it. so keep it secret. keep it safe.