Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sureshot Presents - Why self publish?

Owen's response to my what is wrong with Sureshot Presents highlights a basic assumption i glossed over but didn't really discuss. Why go to the effort of putting a book together? I started out talking about effort, considering your workload when starting a new project, but I forgot to talk about the fundamental question; Why should a creator self-publish at all?

And it's a good question. Personally, if you have the skills and the resources why not? I'm one of those boring farts that does his own home renovations that will bore you at dinner parties explaining how to keep your tiles straight. If I can - I do/make myself. I make my own beer, project number #7 is building a woodfire pizza oven (pizzas on me come 2011!). So if i could draw and write and had the time I'd be scratching something out and holding it up grinning goofily. But I can't so I move on do something else (be over-sealous fanboy).

But some people can, some people have the skills and the need to make comics. They are awesome people because they want to share their stories and thoughts with people like me. And honestly its a privlige to have the opportunity to pick up a self published book. Its a bonus when the book is good and for the most i do enjoy most australian comic books.

But enough i why I like self published books, why should people release their own books?

I believe its the only way to build a local industry. Look at cars, a lot of car companies either started as something else and moved to motor vehicles or they were started by guys who tinkered around used and used their own capital to hand build cars, they got a following and the next thing you know you have car companies, car dealers, petrol stations and mechanics. Whilst it is all good to look overseas, looking at established US companies to publish work; that's not going to be that great when US dollar falls or shipping costs increases; local creators will lose out because they'll be earning less and comic retailers and buyers won't be able to afford imported books. Having a local industry will mean that we aren't as beholden to global economic factors.

Culturally it also means we have stories about us, not stories filtered through Uncle Sam.

Look at the local music scene; it would be much easier for any of the Record Companies to just import US music and sell it in local record shops, not bother with Living End, Delta, Silverchair, etc. But for some reason the local arms of these international companies still sign local bands, put on tours for those bands, market them, etc. Mainly because when they have a good success story, they make more money from the local band than the import and it keeps a lot of people in work. Including less "successful" bands. (And before you start narking on about quality "Delta sucks!", without Delta driving people to record shops those stores wouldn't survive so where are people going to find 'good' music?)

At the moment we don't have many comic publishers (Phosphorescent, Gestalt, Local Act Comics) to make the push, to do the hard work in building that industry. I believe once we have that industry, people will be able to write and draw comics as a living, not just on weekends while weekdays are spent doing other work that puts food on the table but not spring in their step. With creators concentrating on creating we'll have much better comic books.

And I think self publishing can be a way forward. It can do something that POD and webcomics can't do. Online and Print on Demand build creators and unfortunately success can be short term. Building an industry provides more avenues when fickle fans fade away.

Yes, self-publishing has been in Australia since the mid80s and nothing has really changed. Yes, people have self-published in the past and from the tattered remains of what can be found in comic shops and second hand bookstores to the hushed weary whispers of veteran comic creators - no one was successful, to any sustainable level.

Sustainable level is an important factor because it builds a foundation, something to build on and facilitate the next step.

On a more creative level, self publishing does two things for the creator; gives them a practice ground for them to learn their craft. An avenue of criticism that extends past just showing the odd sketch on a messageboard. A place to practically learn story telling, and develop a style and build a work ethic while creating a 20, 30, 40 pages of comic.
Secondly, it allows for a portfoilio to be built and shows a work ethic and storytelling ability that can be easily viewed by publishers and editors. Eddie Campbell, Mandy Ord, Bruce Mutard, most of the creators working with book publishers toaday, started self-publishing (Only Shuan Tan stuffs me up and breaks the mold). Even internationally, most of the creators with book deals started out in minicomics and self-publishing.

So why self publish? For the long term health of the industry. Sure now you might have to deal with retailers and printers and the post office. But if retailers start making a buck from you, they'll order more. If the books are good and the readers start bugging retailers for your books, they'll order even more. When you than go pitch a story to a publisher and say "I sold 300 copies of these in Sydeny alone by hand" that may give you some sway. After a couple of books they start a graphic novel division, they have marketting people and distributors do the work for you. And you can just draw and write, get advances.

Sure its a bit pie in the sky, but if you want a a local industry that sustains itself its a matter of building an audience and to do that you need good books and retailers involved. You also want it to be sustainable so you don't lose the shirt off your back.

And I think Sureshot does that, it puts money in retailer's pockets, its not priced too high so customers aren't scared away, there are 1-3 set of eyes that look over the books to make sure it can be considered quality and it puts money in the creators pocket after the very first issue they sell. Why self publish? Because I think it'll be worth it in the long run.


Owen Heitmann said...

Good post, very well put, and you make a good case for self-publishing - but you're making the implicit assumption that Sureshot Presents is self-publishing, when by definition it's not. Define your terms, sir!

Mark Selan said...

Sureshot Presents is close to self publishing; the only difference is that creators don't pay for the print run but they do everything else.

The model SSP represents though can be used for self-publishing without the SSP name.