Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Colleen Doran: Surviving The Self-Publishing Movement

A Distant Soil by Colleen Doran
(Image / Shadowline, from April 2013)
(from an interview at Comic Book Resources, 8 February 2013)
...after getting battered around by the small press for awhile, I just didn't see why I should sign a contract with another one of these companies. They had no more qualifications than I did, so why should I bother to work with them? I doubted I could screw things up half as much. I spent some time asking around about how to self publish, and Dave Sim was particularly helpful with that. I took the plunge one day, ironically with funds from a legal settlement from one of the small publishers which ripped me off.

Self publishing was a great learning experience. I made very good money for awhile, too. When the distributor system collapsed in the mid-1990s, I took a serious hit, but then I went to Image, thanks to Erik Larsen.

I'm really glad I self published: I learned so much about the business end that I use to this day. I understand discount structures, the importance of getting books done far in advance, trade publishing, a great deal. Real nuts and bolts stuff. I actually learned to appreciate some of my publishing clients more, because I came to understand some of the rules they imposed: they didn't seem so arbitrary.

Self publishing isn't for everybody. It's very labor intensive in ways I don't think anyone who does it really likes. You put a lot of time and effort into packing and shipping product, for example. I'd rather be writing and drawing.

Of course, self publishing on the web is an option that did not exist at the time. You don't have to sink a huge amount of money into printing until you are sure you've actually got an audience to sell it to, which is a huge advantage.

But for print, when I started self publishing, it was a wide open market. There wasn't much competition, certainly not like there is now. It's ridiculous how deluded some people are about their success in the 1980s/1990s. It was a license to print money for awhile. A self published book like mine could sell tens of thousands of copies, more than many mainstream comics do now: it was no big deal.

It got to be a big deal if you held on to your audience after that initial rush. Me, Jeff Smith, Dave Sim, Terry Moore, few people survived. One day, there were a half dozen of us, then there were hundreds. And creators whose books sold tens of thousands saw their sales drop to a few thousand within a decade. It was harsh. I don't think some folks ever quite got over it, or understood what happened.

Anyway, the real test is not how well you do when there's no competition, it's how well you do when there is. No big deal to sell your fantasy comic when there's no alternative. Now there are so many fantasy comics, I can't count them all.

I consider myself lucky, not only to have new readers today, but to have so many readers who stuck with me. I'm very grateful.

After a six-year hiatus, Colleen Doran brings A Distant Soil back to a comic-book store near you via Image Comics/Shadowline with #39 in April 2013. A frontrunner of the '80s indie comics scene, A Distant Soil was more recently derailed by illness and the loss of film negatives. Colleen Doran's sci-fi/adventure series originally broke several barriers both in creation and subject matter. Doran was one of the first women in the indie comics scene to write and draw creator-owned comics and A Distant Soil broke ground by featuring openly gay characters as series stars.

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