Special note: Madeleine Holly-Rosing is a Fanbase Press Contributor, and Sebastian Kadlecik is the writer/artist of Fanbase Press’ Penguin vs. Possum comic book series, as well as the creator of the upcoming series, Quince.
As one of the last panels of Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con on Sunday afternoon, October 30, moderator Barbra Dillon led “Fanbase Press Presents: A Guide to Self Publishing” and assembled a group of panelists who have published projects independently. Lending their expertise were Josh Trujillo (Death Saves: Fallen Heroes of the Kitchen Table, Love Machines), Amanda Meadows (from The Devastator: We Don’t Think Your Racist), Madeleine Holly-Rosing (Boston Metaphysical Society), Sebastian Kadlecik (Penguins vs. Possums, Quince), and Joshua Henaman (Bigfoot: Sword of the Earthman).
There are a myriad of reasons for choosing to self-publish. Amongst the panelists, Trujillo stated that most of his projects were not necessarily marketable, so he choose to self-publish. As a benefit, he added that taking this path with his projects meant that he did not have to filter his content. Meadows wanted to bring something physical onto the market, but no one would take a chance on her project. By self-publishing, she and her partner found their niche market as a result. Forward-thinking Holly-Rosing wanted to build a platform and develop her branding, so self-publishing allowed her to keep control of her project. Kadlecik said that self-publishing is pure and removes the roadblocks that crop up through working with an established publisher. Henaman added he had to start somewhere, so it made sense to start by publishing on his own.
Where to Start? Resources?
Henaman wrote a six-issue comic first and then advertised for an artist via the forums at Digital Webbing and at The Comics Lab PencilJack. Per Meadows, a person needs to have a plan and said it was important to learn how to communicate with an artist (for example, check out Huffington Post’s “How to Talk to an Artist”), so that both you and the artist have a clear vision of the project. Holly-Rosing went back to school to learn how to write comics and during her tenure as a student, she did not let the opportunity to network with fellow students pass her by. She also went to comic conventions, so she could learn more about the industry she was looking to enter. In addition, she strongly advised getting a contract when hiring for assistance on your project. Meadows concurred and suggested Columbia Law School as they have links to free contract templates and to check out Meltdown Comics which regularly hosts classes through their Meltdown University. Trujillo echoed the need to have a clear vision of your project and to strive to highlight each creator’s strengths. As an artist, Kadlecik wholeheartedly agreed with his colleagues. He reiterated the importance of the writer having a firm vision of what they want and to have the communications skills to articulate that vision. And, like the others, he stressed the need for a contract. Dillon interjected it was also crucial to establish timelines as well.
Pros/Cons of Self-Publishing vs. Going with a Publisher?
If you are going to go with a publisher, Meadows advised selecting a publisher of similar genres where your project will have a better chance of being accepted. She explained that during the pitching process, it can become a waiting game to be picked up. During the wait, she suggested going ahead and assembling the creative team in case you end up self-publishing. Henaman revealed he did one issue and shopped it around, but it wasn’t picked up. After taking the self-publishing route, it led to having the series get picked up by Action Lab. Kadlecik concurred: the first four issues of Penguins vs. Possums were self-published and then picked up. He stated one of the benefits of being picked up by a publisher is that it freed up his time, so he had more time to devote to creating and working on other projects, for instance. Having a publisher to help with marketing (i.e., press releases, securing reviews, invitations to podcasts, etc.) and distribution of your comic book/graphic novel is very valuable.
Output: Print, Online, Crowdfunding?
Holly-Rosing self-published the first three issues of Boston Metaphysical Society before turning to crowdfunding the remaining issues. She advised that it was crucial to show commitment to your product. Meadows added that the first issue of The Devastator was crowdfunded, exceeding the goal by 30%; however, she related that there were hidden costs that caused an over-budget situation. She recommended the small business-focused software Wave to manage finances including budget and projection templates. Henaman suggested opening a separate banking account and put some money over each week to use for business expenses in order to keep personal and business finances separate and exclusive from each other. Holly-Rosing added that business bank accounts managed online will typically cost less.
Trujillo said to build a group of creators and look for communities, advising to “target thoughtfully.” Meadows uses the comic conventions and leverages all aspects of the press registration list. The list can include thousands of contacts, so she will segment the list into categories and target accordingly. She uses “how to find us” maps and fliers. Henaman follows other independent creators, which usually leads to sites that are reviewing independent books and stores that are carrying independent projects. Holly-Rosing also utilizes the cons and will look at what badges attendees are wearing, looking to make sure that she engages the press. Kadlecik added that participating in panels was another opportunity to connect with creators and potential readers. He agreed that attending the cons in order to build connections. Henaman interjected that the cons are not the end-all-be-all though, pointing to the Steampunk genre with its own events and community.
Tabling Advice and Tips?
If you are planning to table at the cons, Kadlecik said to definitely engage others as they pass by. Meadows encouraged self-care by having items to help you get through the weekend, such as food, snacks, a portable stool, as well as making sure to schedule yourself breaks. Trujillo added to make sure to bring a portable battery as well as having small denominations ($1s and $5s) of money on hand to make change. Holly-Rosing stated to invest in good shoes and a mat to stand on, so you’re not standing on the cold, hard concrete all day. Henaman provided a wise tip to avoid the dreaded “con crud:” shake with your right hand and if you have to touch your face, do it with your left hand.
Questions from the Audience
With a few minutes left of the hour, Dillon opened up for questions from the audience. One asked what each panelist aspired to? Dillon indicated she worked a full-time day job and a full-time second job as Editor-in-Chief of Fanbase Press. Trujillo was currently looking for work in animation, while Meadows is a freelancer. Holly-Rosing works part-time and is focusing on the novelization in her Boston Metaphysical Society universe. Kadlecik works full-time, and, regrettably, Henaman shared that after several years on a full-time job, he was just laid a few days before; however, all aspired to be able to live off of their respective books.
An audience member asked if they should avoid working with friends? Holly-Rosing said that even with friends, you should have a contract. Meadows added to have boundaries and deadlines. Henaman stated to include an “out” in the contract. Trujillo said it’s fine to work with friends on quick projects.
The last question was for clarification on distribution. Meadows had worked with an individual, however with growth, she started looking for a book distributor. She did not have any luck, but then The Devastator got featured in Publisher’s Weekly. This vouched for the publication and distribution became easier. Henaman advised that with the first issue, expect to do the distribution yourself. He said that usually the same book stores carry independent titles. Trujillo mentioned that if you look to Diamond for distribution, expect huge margins. And Meadows added that comic book stores cannot return comics (like book stores can return books), so expect that they will order in conservative amounts, if you decide to go the Diamond route.
Panel photography by Michele Brittany.