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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Publish and Perish -- As a commercial copywriter working in the radio broadcasting industry, I find one of the biggest surprises facing new business owners is that starting the business -- opening their doors -- is not enough. Startup is a huge undertaking, to be sure, but it's a total waste of time, money and effort if you don't spend an equal or greater amount of time advertising your undertaking. And I don't just mean on the radio (although that would be nice, my kids need to eat too, y'know). "If you build it, they will come" only works in Kevin Costner parables. In the real world, even if I would be interested in your efforts, whether it's a comic book or a pet store or a car dealership -- you have to tell me what you're doing, and most importantly, why and how does it affect me? This is the WHAM principle one of my favourite copywriting gurus emphasizes, and it directs virtually every piece of copy I create.

That's why I found one segment of Comic Reporter Tom Spurgeon's interview today with cartoonist and La Mano publisher Zak Sally so depressing:

SALLY: When I put out the Mosquito Abatement Man book, there's a feel that John Porcellino's work has importance. He's a really good friend. I don't think now, three years later or whatever after I put out that book, I don't think there's any question that John's work could appeal to more people than it does. But that doesn't mean I'm not sitting a couple thousand books in my warehouse.

SPURGEON: Do you do shows? Do you meet people at shows and hand sell?

SALLY: I'm finding I'm kind of shitty at that. [laughter] That's where for better or for worse La Mano's business sense, I'm finding that whether or not I like to admit it or not that's where my interest takes a precipitous drop. Working with this person on this project that I think is really great, after the project is gone, it's taken a long while to admit my interest drops. [laughs] Maybe that feeling that doesn't work to my credit, is that feeling that someday people will find out about this. It feels like I'm so busy all the time I can't breathe anyway, so spending more hours trying to convince people in a world that's already choked with people trying to convince people that shitty things are great, there's a feeling that people will someday find out about this, and when they do they'll come to me, and I'll have it for them. It's very warm and fuzzy.

It's a great, longish interview, so please do click over and read the whole thing. But that segment stood out to me as an example of the sort of blinkered presumption a lot of people who decide to publish comics (their own or others) fall into: "I've printed the comics, phew, my work is done!" No, I'm sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, but the work then begins. What happens if a farmer looks out at his expansive field of newly-ripe, sweet corn and says with satisfaction, "Welp, I'm done!" That's right, the corn rots.

Sally says he has thousands of copies of John Porcellino's outstanding Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man sitting in a warehouse somewhere, and that is a sad fact to ponder. One key point may be found in Sally's description of Porcellino as "a good friend," not that there's anything wrong with having good friends. But if you are going to publish comics, you have to approach it as a professional business and not as a nice thing to do for your friends. Otherwise you end up with thousands of copies of a great book, sitting in a warehouse.

Sadly, Sally seems to think he's solved the problem:

"The way I think about La Mano is sort of changing. The new book I'm doing with Jason Miles, I'm doing everything in-house. Every element is done by me, so my cost outlay is virtually nothing. It's all elbow grease. It's an edition of 500 and I think everybody's going to feel great with that."

So instead of doing the work and being a publisher, Sally will just print what he can afford with as low an overhead as possible, so as to not take up too much warehouse space with books he doesn't want to promote to the world. This wouldn't be quite so aggravating if Porcellino and Sally, both, weren't excellent cartoonists who deserve wider audiences. Comics publishers with obvious forward momentum in today's market, from Top Shelf to Drawn and Quarterly to (perhaps the best example) Fantagraphics, all know promoting the work is as important as creating it. All of these publishers devote incredible amounts of time and energy (and even -- gasp! -- cash!) to advertising and otherwise promoting their (you'll pardon the pun) wares.

Which isn't to say that you shouldn't self-publish your funnybook if you want, and then sit on hundreds or thousands of copies while waiting for the world to find you. Maybe that actually even happens once in a while. But if what you're doing is worth doing -- whether you're a cartoonist, a publisher, or in Sally's case, both -- please do try to understand the real-world realities of publishing. If it's good work, and if it deserves an audience, make sure you have the resources (financial and otherwise) to give it the very best chance it has in a world where there are more great comics to read every month.

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Blogger CHunter said...

Dear God, man!

Have these people never heard of eBay or Amazon?!?!

Have they never heard of Newsarama or CBR or SilverBullet?

Have they never heard of PayPal?

I mean, the list could go on and on...

It doesn't take a lot to get those books sold, but it does take some work.

Sorry, but even Raven Gregory has these guys beat in that department and I'm sure that their work is at least 100x better.

Even if the creator doesn't want to do shows, there is so much that can be done online that it's practically impossible for them to not sell copies of the book from the warehouse.

01 July, 2007 06:21  

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