Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Chris Ware, Self-Publisher

Very interesting article (or retooled press release, as the case may be) at COMICON.com PULSE all about the announcement that beginning with the 16th issue of the long running comic serial, Acme Novelty Library, Chris Ware will be self-publishing. He'll be covering all printing costs himself, the article states, and will be completely responsible for liaising with the printer, with Fantagraphics acting as distributor. From the perspective of the consumer and the retailer, the change will likely be invisible, since Ware's stuff will still be solicited by Fantagraphics, and still available from their warehouses, but the change is a significant one. For a player at Ware's level (I've lost track of the awards for which he's been nominated and which he's won, but they are legion) to take control of his own destiny like that is really remarkable.

There was a time when I thought that self-publication was the only way to go, as evidenced by the books that I did through the Clockwork Storybook writers' collective. The harsh lesson of that experiment, though, was that the publishing world (as distinct from the comics publishing world, which is a very different story) took a very dim view of writers who published themselves. In the world of book publishing, there is a very real danger that someone who is publishing themselves is skipping over an often much needed editorial filter; one need only look at some of the "novels" to come out of print-on-demand factories like Xlibris and Publish America to see the potential pitfalls. There is good stuff that is self-published (I'm not too humble to point at the two year output of Clockwork Storybook, of which I'm still quite proud), but without some sort of critical apparatus to help readers navigate the huge piles of dog shit in search of the rare gem, those gems will remain buried under stinking piles forever. And even if critics wade through the mire and point the way, a few good reviews isn't enough to overcome the often insurmountable distribution issues (my own novel Any Time At All was reviewed in Asimov's, as well as a few respected online outlets, and still only sold about four copies through Amazon).

But with an established "brand," with a core audience that will seek out one's work regardless of whose imprint is listed on the cover, and with distribution sufficient to compete with established publishers, though, I think someone just might be able to make a go of it. Not that I've got any plans in that direction, mind you. I'm quite happy to have other people pay me advances and do all the hard work, at this point. But I'm also not ruling out the possibility, for sometime in the hazy, distant future (say, when apes are our masters...)

For the moment, I'm eager to see how this pans out for Chris Ware, and to take careful notes. The two industries, book and comic, are different enough that it's not a fair test, or least not a conclusive one, but there may be some interesting lessons here to learn, either way.

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