Speed bump #1 is keeping the early issues of your book in print. There are a couple of different approaches to the problem. You can overprint by a sufficient margin so that you have an inventory to sell as you go along. This way, you end up with a storage problem, of course, but it is the most logical course of action. All things being equal (which they seldom are), by the time you are at issue five, the first four issues should be selling steadily to new customers. The single best innovation (I think Colleen came up with it) is the Starter Pack: resoliciting for your first four or five issues as a single package, usually with a signed or unsigned print included. This has been made necessary by the 'here and now' quality of the direct market. Given that it is difficult for retailers to monitor and respond to a shortage of any issue of your book in ordering directly, and impossible for them to get back issues through their distributor, it is required that you continually pick up the entirety of your story from the oblivion of 'shipping weeks past' and put it in the path of the direct-market juggernaut: 'shipping weeks yet-to-be'. If you make it to issue five and you've gotten any kind of publicity at all, more people will have heard of your book than are able to find it. A Starter Pack fills that demand for the store and the customer. The added advantage is that four back issues in a package (at a 2.95 cover price each) represent a larger profit center for you, the store and the distributor. You don't have to sell too many twelve-dollar items to have it show up a little more clearly on various radar screens. Don't discount the cover price beyond a few pennies or it looks like a 'fire sale'.
Speed bump #2 is cash flow. The better you do, the larger amounts of money you have coming in and going out. If you have to reprint issues two and three at the same time as issue six, you are not likely to have enough cash on hand to pay all of the printing bills. The best course of action here is to get a revolving line of credit at your bank or persuade your printer to trust you for the balance owing. This requires explaining the non-returnability in the direct market and showing them purchase orders from your distributors. Don't panic. Cash flow is tidal in nature. It goes all the way out and then all the way back in. Eventually, some of it will stick. Eventually, you get on top of the problem and you'll have enough money to pay any printing bill without hitting zero or going in the red. DO NOT spend your money on anything besides the necessities of life during this period: invest in your creativity ONLY. RRSPs, down payment on a house, savings bonds, etc., are investments for the non-creative. Ger's and my future is assured by the fact that we own the exclusive rights to publish Cerebus. The fact that we own the house we use for studio and office space is a nice little bonus but pales in comparison with the ownership of the intellectual property. The return on investment if you stick with self-publishing over the long term exceeds any (ANY) traditional investment scheme. Why do you think intellectual property rights are so sought after?
Speed bump #3 is the reprint collection(s) and is just a larger version of the first two, except it goes a lot quicker. BIG money out, BIG money in. Some of the money sticks in a shorter space of time. You need more money because the cost of the printing bill is higher and, since a reprint collection sells over a longer period of time, you have to guess how many you're going to need for six months or a year. With Cerebus, we did the Swords collections first (four issues in each) until it became unwieldy to keep a half-dozen collections in print, so we switched to the phone-book format. It is important to reprint the stories in sequence and it is important to put as much of the story under one cover as you can afford to print. The price you charge is not as important as it once was (within reason). The Sandman trades, the Bone trades and, to a lesser extent, the Cerebus trades are attuned to a new buying pattern: people who want to read a large chunk of an interesting story and who are not interested in hunting down back issues and who are willing to pay more for the convenience. It is important to switch from back issues to a trade-paperback collection as soon as possible and to keep the trade-paperback collections as close to your current issues as possible. If someone can buy two collections and four back issues and be 'caught up', they are more likely to give your book a try (to be fair, Jeff Smith chose to keep the back issues in print as well as the reprint collections and credits the accessible price of back issues with bringing in new readers. We've created the same effect with a 'discount-priced' Cerebus Zero and the 1995 World Tour Book. Two different approaches to a problem which has to be addressed: how to interest new readers).
I've said all of this before in various ways, but I thought it warranted a more concise form. Bottom line: reinvest all revenues in keeping your work in print and eat a lot of macaroni and cheese until you're SURE there's enough in your account to cover any emergency reprinting.
Copyright 1994 Dave Sim
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