Today’s guest post comes from Josh Brown, one of the authors in the King of Ages: A King Arthur Anthology and the man responsible for putting the whole collection together. Come back on the 1st and 3rd Mondays in April and May for more guest posts from King of Ages writers.
Early in my writing career I decided to branch out and try my hand at writing comics. I’ve had some minor successes here and there, including “Shamrock,” a fantasy-adventure comic that is currently serialized bi-monthly in Fantasy Scroll Magazine.
But as soon as I dipped my toes in the comics industry water, I quickly found out that publishing in the world of comics is far different than in the world of fiction, especially when it comes to the topic of self-publishing.
In comics, self-publishing is almost a rite of passage. For most creators (writers, artists, writer-artists, what have you), it’s typically the first step in putting yourself out there. Many comic creators actually win awards for self-published work. Becky Cloonan won an Eisner Award for Best Single Issue for her self-published comic, The Mire. Her success with self-publishing led to scores of work from the big comic publishers, including work on Batman, Avengers, and most recently, a gig on The Punisher. Of course, none of that would have been possible if she wasn’t an incredibly skilled artist and storyteller, which she is.
Over 15 years ago, Robert Kirkman kicked off his writing career with a self-published comic called Battle Pope. This led to a couple other creations of his getting picked up by Image Comics, and eventually The Walking Dead. Fast forward to today, The Walking Dead is one of the highest-rated shows on cable television, to which Robert Kirkman serves as executive producer.
Self-publishing is looked at much differently in the world of fiction (short fiction, novels, etc.), where it is almost taboo. It’s becoming a little more accepted these days, but many see it as circumventing the quality-control checks and balances set in place by the industry. What you might not know if that there are several successful traditionally-published books that started out as self-published.
You’re probably familiar with The Martian, a highly successful film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. It’s not a big secret, but it’s also not highly publicized, that The Martian by Andy Weir, started out as a self-published work in 2011. Crown Publishing purchased the rights and re-released it in 2014. The book started as an online in serial format one chapter at a time for free at his website. At the request of fans who were following his regular updates, he made an Amazon Kindle version and sold it for only 99 cents. The rest is history.
There are other examples, and not all are limited to fiction. Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking. Rombauer used half of her life savings to pay a local printing company to print three thousand copies. Five years later, Bobbs-Merrill Company acquired the rights. To date, the book has sold over 18 million copies.
I could go on, but I guess what I am saying is you shouldn’t be afraid to self-publish your fiction; however, you need pay close attention on how to do it correctly and professionally. These days, anyone can vomit 60,000+ words into a word processing program and then upload it to Amazon KDP and call themselves and “author.” The key is in what you do prior to releasing your self-published book, and what you do after.
A self-published author has to be more than just a writer. You have be everything a traditional publisher is: content editor, copy editor, proofreader, designer, production, operations, marketing, publicity, and sales. And if you think you can get away with skipping those last three, you’re gravely mistaken. Of course, it all hinges on having a good, well-written book, but marketing, publicity, and sales is where the real magic of publishing happens.
I think fiction writers can take note of the comics industry’s approach and attitude toward self-publishing, and use it as a means to springboard on to bigger and better things, whether that be to pursue a contract with a traditional publisher or to put out more self-published works.
Aspiring indie authors should also take note that self-published comic writers and creators take great pride in the quality of the finished product. This point goes back to what I said about a self-published author having to be more than just a writer.
Either way, self-publishing should be used as a proving ground and also to build a following. Make yourself a brand. Establish brand loyalty. This goes for fiction and comics writers alike.
Evaluate your motivations and fully understand the implications of your choice. Because if you do decide to self-publish that story, be prepared to spend a lot of time doing stuff like marketing and outreach. You sure you want to be doing that instead of just getting to work writing your next story?
All said and done, just remember it’s okay to experiment. Try different things. It’s one of the best ways to discover what works. And above all, keep writing.
Josh Brown is the writer and creator of “Shamrock,” a fantasy/adventure comic that appears regularly in Fantasy Scroll Magazine. His comic work has appeared numerous places, including Alterna Tales from Alterna Comics and the award-winning Negative Burn. His poetry and short fiction can be found in Star*Line, Poetry Quarterly, Scifaikuest, SpeckLit, and a variety of anthologies such as Lovecraft After Dark (JWK Fiction), Dystopian Express (Hydra Publications), King of Ages: A King Arthur Anthology (Uffda Press), and many more.
Most recently, he served as guest editor for issue 20 of Eye to the Telescope, the official online journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA).