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This blog will be updated regularly, and will be a mixture of reflections, reviews and anything else on my mind.
I approved the final printer’s proof two weeks ago, and in less than a week I will have the first installment of books in my hands. It has been over three months since we sold our first run at the Denver Comicon, so, as you can guess, the delays have been belligerent and numerous.
When I first started this project, it was to try to put a story to paper and get it out to the world. While I think authors should certainly be concerned with their stories, for those of you looking to self publish your work, it is equally important to aware of the ins and outs of print formatting and pricing. It will save you DAYS of work in the long run.
Or, in my case, months.
And so, in hopes that my mistakes will not be entirely wasted, and in celebration of never making these mistakes again myself, I present to you:
Five Things Comic Book Self Publishers Should Know Ahead of Time
1). Know your blacks – Here’s a fun fact that ruined weeks of my life this summer: there are different blacks. This may not be the most intuitive those of us without training in graphic design, but it also makes sense when you think about it. When computers are displaying/manipulating colors, they will do so in one of three modes: RGB, CMYK or Grayscale. The letters RGB (Red, Green, Blue) and CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Keyline/Black) in the names represent the types of colors that are mixed in each mode to produce different colors. As each of them are using different inputs, they also have different blacks that are finally produced either as a mixture of three colors (RGB), a pure black infused with low levels of other colors to produce richness (CMYK), or black (Grayscale). Now, here’s the tricky part: different programs are preset to different color modes, and set any changes they make in their respective shade of black. That means that if you’re not careful about maintaining the color mode across any programs that are used in the production (by either the publisher or artists) you can end up having to individually adjust each image.
And if you think you’ve figured out how to fix things before you really have, and go through and adjust each image, and later find out you were wrong, well, you can waste a whole lot of time. The point is, know the color mode that everything needs to be in for print, and make sure to account for it when lettering and cleaning up to the pages, or things are going to look bad.
2). Know your margins – At some point you are going to have to format each page for print, and when you do that, your artwork will have to be fit the correct page specifications. You can get away with a lot if you are staple binding your books, but if you are perfect binding, then you need to consider the amount of space the binding will eat up. That is in addition to any page size/bleed specifications you have. If you are using a standard page size, you can find some good templates out there to help you through this stage, but if not, it’s probably best to reach out to a couple of publishers and get their recommendations for the final page dimensions.
Resizing and adjusting every page because you didn’t provide enough of a gap and you don’t want your pages to be lost is a time consuming process. Having to do it multiple times because you moved forward without a full understanding, takes even longer.
3). (For those letting their comic on a computer) Build a template, and fill it with standardized dialogue balloons and tails – Lettering is an art. It’s a pretty simple art, and most people can do it if they give it a whirl, but there’s art in there somewhere. For those of you who have lettered tons of books, and you have your own way of doing things, then by all means do what works best. But if you are just starting out then trust me, build your template ahead of time, and standardize EVERYTHING. Casting Bones has 102 pages of story illustration, and it’s a pretty quiet book, so let’s say only 75 of those pages have dialogue. If you have never lettered a comic before, then let me tell you, by the time you have lettered your 75th page, you will have fallen into a groove. Unfortunately, the first 25 – 35 pages will not be in that groove, because they will be the ones you lettered before you understood how to control new effects, add more complex sound effects and special speech bubbles. And, since the one thing lettering can do wrong is draw attention to itself, and since inconsistency sticks out like a sore thumb, you’ll have to spend a lot of time tweaking, and fixing the early pages to make them look the same as the last ones.
4). Understand your costs – If you’re self publishing your book, think about your cost margins ahead of time. When you’re starting out, thinking about your retail price and production costs seem so far away and intangible. After all, your book is going to be so fantastic that everyone will count themselves as lucky to pay whatever it costs. Right? <<crickets>>
Of course not. Some costs are unavoidable, but most will depend on what you are able to do, what your friends are willing to do, and how much time you are willing to spend learning new skills. The full range of people you can pay to help you include: pencilers, inkers, colorers (ists?), letterers, the ISBN company, lawyers (if you are incorporating a company), graphic designers, web designers… the list goes on and on. In addition, any customization for your physical book will add to the cost, whether it is special paper, custom page size, full color pages, foil embossing… and on and on. In trying to keep costs down for Casting Bones, I tried (and mostly succeeded) in outsourcing only the art, keeping it black and white (in order to keep costs down both on paying people to color their work, and on the price of the final printing), and not adding any other bells and whistles (although a foil embossed cover would have been sweet…).
5). Establish a schedule – You SHOULD establish a production schedule that you think is reasonable. Then you should double or triple it, or possibly throw it out the window all together. Pulling everything together is an incredibly time consuming process for everyone involved. And if you are teaching yourself these things as you go, it can be a head bangingly, hair tearingly slow process.
With all that said, everyone works better with deadlines. They help us plan and organize our time. Even if you are just setting the deadline for yourself, and you know that it doesn’t really matter, set it anyway. Write it on a calendar. Now do your best to hold yourself to it, and when you miss it, don’t worry too much.