What You Need to Know About Self-Publishing Your Comic or Graphic Novel
It's Not All Superheroes and Funny Pages
In the last decade or so, comics and graphic novels have burst into the mainstream literary scene. Comics aren’t just reserved for superheroes and the funny pages. Anybody can write a comic. About anything. Comics and graphic novels are a medium, not a genre.
Like traditional books, they can fall into categories like humor, minimalism, fantasy, horror, children’s, crime noir, romance, poetry, biography, and anything in between. Their versatility means they’re brimming with creative possibilities. Whether you’re already an author of a successful webcomic, or you’re a traditional author looking to break into the graphic novel scene, here’s what you need to know about self-publishing for comics.
Self-publishing a comic or graphic novel isn’t that different from self-publishing a traditional book. You’ll go through most of the same steps—you’ll just be doing them with a comic focus rather than a book focus.
Big-time comic publishers have their own in-house editors, but what about the indie comic creator? If you want a professional editor, it might be difficult, but they are out there. A few editors offer services specifically for comics, though they take a little digging to find. Scott McCormick is one example I found during my own search.
Alternatively, you might want to search the Editorial Freelancers Association or approach a freelance children’s book editor to ask if they’d be willing to take a crack at it. Either way, you’ll want someone experienced with image-heavy narratives. A “text-only” book editor might be able to help you, but they may find it difficult to anticipate every element they’ll need to analyze, especially if your layout tends towards the avantgarde.
When picking a printer, one factor you’ll need to consider is your page sizing. Assuming you already have your pages drawn out, you’ll have to find a printer who can create books at the dimensions you need.
There are tons of comic book printers, each with their own selection of papers, binding options, and page size or count limitations. Keep in mind, some printers may offer custom trim sizes, but at a much higher cost. Make sure to find out your printer’s policy in advance.
When selecting my printer, I reached out to a lot of different companies. I chose the printer I did specifically because I wanted creative control over the dimensions of my books. They also ended up being the company with the best customer service, which was an important factor. They responded to my inquiry with a prompt, personal email, and they also sent me free samples of their products.
Insider tip: Don’t just stop at the top of the Google search page. Do some digging. You’ll be glad you did. You can also contact traditional book printers, your local print shop, or use a booklet printer.
Print distribution for comics is pretty much the same as text-based books, although you might try to get them into more specialized stores.
Online distribution is a little trickier. You can sell comics as ebooks, but since all ereaders have different dimensions, it’s difficult to predict how your comic will display on different tablets. (Also, some tablets only display black and white, which is a problem if your comic is full color.)
Fortunately, technology that can help facilitate reading of electronic comics does exist, available through Kindle Comic Creator and ComiXology’s “Guided View.” These allow readers to view your comic one panel at a time, mimicking the way your eyes move from panel to panel. But this may become difficult if your comic has a non-traditional layout, or is read from back to front (like manga).
If you don’t like the idea of only being able to distribute your work through third-party retailers, some people choose to sell PDFs of their comics on their website. The risk here is that there is no encryption on PDFs to prevent them from being printed or shared. (Personally though, as an indie creator, I’d be flattered if someone liked my comic enough to share it.)
If you’re selling comics, you need to be online.
While comic conventions can be an opportunity for “IRL” marketing, these are rarely worth the money, unless you’ve already gained a significant following. At the very least, they’re fun and can be a good opportunity to connect with other artists and enthusiasts—then continue those relationships online.
As for social media, start with Twitter. For individual artists, Twitter is the best place to get industry news and connect with other artists, plus you can get extra exposure by participating in Sketch Dailies or Inktober. Use Facebook Pages, Pinterest, or Instagram as appropriate for your style and target audience, but definitely be on Twitter.
With any social media, it’s all about the visuals, baby. Luckily, you already have plenty of them with your comic. Post them online as an ongoing webcomic, or just post a couple panels here and there as teasers.
Remember, many comic artists have posted entire comics for free online, then later published their book for a profit. Just because people have already read your book online doesn’t mean they won’t want to buy it. After gaining a following of devoted fans, it’ll actually be easier to find financial support—or crowdfund—for a self-published print run.
When it comes down to it, your self-publishing project is going to be determined by your audience and project goals. Whether you’re publishing a comic or a traditional book, it’s always important to research publishing options, consider your target audience, and market the hell out of it.
Rachel Hansen is a Brand Engagement Coordinator who spends her free time writing comics, exploring the Twin Cities, and cuddling her feisty calico.