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I Wrote a Book: Resurrecting a Legend

This is a series of posts about taking the plunge into self-publishing on multiple platforms with different media, including books and comics, but it can equally apply to tabletop role-playing games. I published three books in 2010 (The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games), 2011 (The Well of Stars), and 2012 (Awfully Familiar) and produced a mobile comic (Legends) in 2008. In this article, I relaunch my comic on Amazon's Kindle and Comixology.



When my friend approached me about writing a comic series for his platform, it was 2008 and the iPhone was still new (it was released in 2007). We had no idea how much the phone would change digital content forever.

A Super Team

When I was writing Archetype, I had the opportunity to work with the legendary editor Dan Raspler of DC Comics fame. Dan created the series Young Heroes in Love and was editor on JLA during the six-issue "Tenth Circle" story arc Claremont and John Byrne wrote in 2004. I learned a lot from him about what makes a comic work, particularly in writing it for a digital platform. One of the first things Dan did was to rename the comic from Archetype to Legends:

The world is a scary place. From the collective fears and worries of human consciousness arise imagoes, beings crafted of pure thought. Imagoes draw their power from perceptions about them; therefore it's in an imago's best interest to be seen by many people as quickly as possible. When people believe that imagoes really do exist, their power and physical presence increases. Destroying imagoes is the job of a mysterious man called Hong Chan ("red hawk"), nicknamed Kestrel. These are his adventures.

The original comic was drawn by the amazing Jeff Wamester, who is now a storyboard artist at WB Animation. Thanks to Amazon Kindle's digital publishing, I could finally publish comics the world never got to see. That was the good news.

The bad news was that since 2008, mobile technology had changed considerably. The original platform specialized in very small, square panels. These are no longer necessary thanks to smartphones, led by Apple, that allow for content that can be zoomed in and fills the entire mobile device's screen. With larger mobile devices like iPads, comics can be appreciated in all their glory.

Going Solo

I took all the files of the first two completed comics (Legends #1: The Headless Horseman and Legends #2: The Wendigo) and using the Amazon web publishing tool, produced them myself. I then uploaded them to Amazon's web site.

Amazon recommends publishing the comics in print as well, and I excitedly tried to do that -- only to discover that there's an eight-page minimum requirement. This is not listed up front when you submit your comic. Of course, back when we produced the comic years ago we were going for small and easily consumable panels, so the comic wasn't nearly as large as it normally would be for today's modern browsers.

I then tried to submit it to Comixology. Comixology takes a month or so to review submissions and subsequently rejected it due to the limited number of pages and poor screen resolution. It was clear that I couldn't just publish the old comics, they would need to be updated.

The Replacements

I found a new artist on Fiverr (Hindy355) who helped me bring the comic to life. We started with the third issue because it was Kestrel vs. Nosferatu, and it seemed fitting (and less costly) to create a black-and-white comic. That comic is live now thanks to Amazon's comic publishing program.

Finding Hindy wasn't easy. I found a less expensive artist on Fiverr who ghosted on me after failing to produce a single panel. He disappeared entirely from Fiverr. Hindy, on the other hand, worked tirelessly with me on the project. Issue #3 was a test case and a less expensive risk since it was in black and white. I was very happy with how it came out, as you can see from the art. I'm working with Hindy now on revising the first two issues to bring them up to modern comic book standards.

There are many routes to get your comic published, but I tried three: Amazon Kindle, Comixology, and DriveThruComics.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon makes it almost too easy to create a comic. They use proprietary software, Kindle Create, to help you ready the comic for digital files. For the most part, it's just like creating a digital book, with one important exception: Guided View.

Guided View was the missing link in the earlier platform my friend attempted to launch, something we never anticipated -- instead of creating comic files shrunken down to fit on a mobile screen, Guided View zooms in so that it fits on the mobile device. This means you can zoom in on every panel. Kindle Create automatically detects each panel, which you can edit (sometimes it misses panels that overlap).

This affects comic design in a few ways, most important being that panels are viewed much larger than they would ever be in print. It's critical that each panel look good. Older comics don't always hold up to this scrutiny.

It also means that in some ways, the actual size of the panel on the comic page matters much less. Square graphics that aren't very large -- as long as they're high enough resolution -- work just fine for a Guided View comic because the reader rarely looks at the full page anyway. This still isn't as aesthetically pleasing and certainly won't work if you want to publish the comic in print form later.

I learned that the hard way, as the original comic was only six pages of content. Amazon requires at least eight pages to physically print a comic. Part of my new artist's task is not just to increase the size of the art, but also to expand the comic to eight pages so it will fulfill Amazon's requirements.

There are several options for pricing your comic, which applies to any Kindle product you produce on Amazon (including fiction and role-playing games). Like other publishing platforms, you can choose to offer your book exclusively through Amazon (through KDP Select) or elsewhere. Enrolling in KDP Select makes your book eligible for 70% royalty earnings on sales to customers in Brazil, Japan, India, and Mexico. Choosing the 70% plan also means your comic can be lent to friends and family for a duration of 14 days.

Amazon has its own competing platform for comics, Comixology, so I knew I wasn't going to go exclusive. You can see issues #1 (The Headless Horseman), #2 (The Wendigo), and #3 (The Nosferatu) on Amazon.

DriveThruComics

Initially, I submitted my comic to DriveThruRPG's comics section. I produced Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons statistics for Kestrel and his foes (I envision a bestiary of sorts in the future) but DriveThruRPG rejected the submission and directed me to DriveThruComics instead. The two platforms are similar but not the same and require separate registrations.

In comparison to Amazon Kindle, DriveThruComics offers 65% for non-exclusive and 70% for exclusive partnerships. Similarly, on print sales, you receive 70% or 65% of the price paid, less the print cost of the book (or cards) that they print to fulfill the customer order. I went non-exclusive as well.

It was simple to upload a comic and issue #3 is live now.

Comixology

My primary publishing goal all along was Comixology, which is my primary source for comics. Comixology is owned by Amazon but separate and distinct from that platform. Comixology has all the major comic publishers (DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, etc.). It's a big deal to get on the platform, and as a result Comixology is much stricter than the other two. Comixology has non-exclusive rights and only grants you 50% royalties, but its reach is too good to pass up.

My first attempt involved the two smaller comics, which were rejected due to pixelation. Basically, the comics themselves aren't high enough resolution due to my source files.

My second attempt involving the third, revised issue was also rejected because it has white space in the PDF. In both cases it took over a month to get feedback on what was wrong, because each comic is manually reviewed before being accepted.

The reason I learned this the hard way is because Comixology has submission guidelines but does not share them with contributors up front (or automating some of the submission process to detect for these issues). Here's the submission guidelines...and a search revealed the equally important help file, "Please Read Prior to Submitting Your PDF."

Hindy is revising the comic and we'll submit it again while we work on issues #1 and #2.

The Future

I haven't made a marketing push to share my comic because I want the first and second issues to be ready for publication. Until all three issues meet Comixology's standards, I'll hold off on marketing it. With three issues completed, I can combine the them into one book and sell it as a print-on-demand title on Amazon.

I've written six issues in total and the plan is to launch with the first three and then use profits from those comics to pay for the remaining three. I also plan to use the artwork in a bestiary for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

On average, most self-published products sell between 100 to 250 copies. That's from current data -- with these platforms being relatively new and having a theoretically infinite lifespan, having a comic or book on sale on a digital platform for 30 years might skew these numbers considerably. I'll be happy if we can break even on costs.

All in all, this experience helped prepare me for my next effort, which is to self-publish my novels (which are in turn based on my D&D campaign world, Welstar). We'll discuss that launch in the next article.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Interesting read. I always enjoy behind-the-scenes look at the publishing process and to read from creators who go the self-publishing route. Best of luck in your creative endeavors!
 

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