Thursday, 10 October 2013

Out Of Print

Cerebus Vols 1-16 (1977-2004)
by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from The Creators Bill Of Rights, June 2005)
...It’s very easy - and accurate - to say that we have moved in the direction of mainstream publishing but I think it’s worth pointing out that very little in mainstream publishing would be considered beneficent towards creative talent. Ask any novelist how many of his or her works are in print and available. Now that we have comic books that more resemble novels than pamphlets, structurally, we are starting to see the same net effects which have been irritants in mainstream publishing for years. You can be a household name as a novelist but if the company you are contractually bound to owns the rights to three of your novels and chooses not to keep them in print, those novels for all intents and purposes relative to your livelihood don’t exist. They get snatched up in used bookstores and on eBay - the demand far outstrips the supply - but if your publisher doesn’t see it that way there’s nothing you can do about it. Epic, a division of Marvel, published Bill Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toasters and then Marvel mutated their Epic line and then folded it with the net result that Stray Toasters has been out of print practically from the day it was released. I daresay the same would’ve been the case if I had signed with Epic to do the Cerebus trade paperbacks. It would’ve been seen as a giant step up for me to do so in the 1980s, but all of the material would have been out of print since then. To reiterate, I would rather sell ten copies of High Society a week for the next thirty years than to sell 8,000 copies of High Society over three months in 1986 and then have it go out of print. "Clout" with mainstream publishers usually means a window of opportunity at the point where you’re signing your contract. If you sign for three novels and the first one sells a bunch, the next one not so much and the third one tanks then you are not going to get offered very much - if anything - for your next three novels. By self-publishing, none of my books tanks in that irrevocable way. The Cerebus trade outsells the Melmoth trade by a wide, wide margin but - because they are both my and Ger’s works, both having taken two years and a year respectively to produce - it’s a given that we keep both of them in print. Even if a whole year went by that we didn’t sell a single copy of Melmoth, our conclusion would not be, "Oh, well. That one’s a dog - let’s never print any more of those." No, for us then it’s a matter of, okay we’ll only print 4,000 instead of 6,000 and instead of three-year supply we’ll have a six-year supply. Mainstream publishing companies don’t think that way. By virtue of the amounts of money at stake, they have to be looking for the "next hot thing". And the "next hot thing" could be Neil Gaiman twice or three times. American Gods was THE big book for the season it was released by its publisher and Anansi Boys will be THE big book for the season that it will be released - September 20, 2005 for those of you who want to circle it on your calendar. But to infer from that that getting pre-eminent attention for two successive books means that Neil Gaiman will always be in that category or that that is standard operating procedure for any publisher - they’ve offered you a really good deal for your first three books so they’ll always do so - just isn’t supported by the evidence. Yeah, if you’re 99% certain that you’re the next Neil Gaiman, you would definitely be doing yourself a disservice by self-publishing. You’ll never be able to get hundreds of thousands of copies of your work everywhere in the English-speaking world over the course of 48 hours. But there are a lot more Dave and Gerhards than there are Neil Gaimans in this world. And it seems to me a core element of being a Dave or a Gerhard is that you are better served looking after your own interests than in trying to find someone to sign a contract with who will do that job for you. And most of my advice centers on that. Your work is your work, your own interests are your own interests, and it’s a terrific risk to sign that over contractually if you look at how many things that can go wrong, how many creators who have ended up on the dust-heap of comics history because they were no longer perceived to be "hot" with their work out-of-print and unavailable. I’ve made money off of the first issue of Cerebus every day since December of 1977 and there are very few creative works whose rights have been transferred contractually about which that can be said. Can you name any? Not works that still earn money, but works that still earn money for their creators and in just that uninterrupted a fashion...

No comments: