Read the full "Adapting a Screenplay Into a Graphic Novel" series.
You’ve done the hard work. You’ve produced all your pages. But you didn’t do it for yourself.
Well, not just for yourself.
You did it to get your story in front of readers, to engage, entertain, and thrill an audience. And hopefully sell a few books in the process.
So, how do these pages become a book?
WRAP IT UP
In addition to your story, there’s a bit of other business to attend to in order to call it a wrap. It’s the matter of front matter and back matter.
They both matter.
Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip the waitstaff.
Front matter are the pages at the beginning of a book with contributor credits, copyright info, and assorted other legal flotsam and jetsam. You can pretty much check out any traditionally published book and see the kinds of elements involved.
Back matter is a little more interesting as it typically includes acknowledgements and creator bios.
With your acknowledgements, focus on the people who really helped you out on the book (or at least tried to). It might be tricky. I’m gonna guess this is what it’s like to create a guest list for a wedding. How many people do you include? And where do you draw the line? Is there enough room for cousin Marty?
Make your bios relatively brief. All of them together should fit on a single page. You can save the rest for your memoir. Don’t forget contributor website addresses, if you’ve got them, and social media handles to boot. Make it easy for people to find and follow everyone involved and all their future projects. Building an audience is key to long term publishing success.
Along with some alluring art or graphic design, your back cover should have a tagline and short synopsis. Don’t give the story away, of course, but craft something that will tantalize potential buyers and let them know what your story is about. The logline for your screenplay is probably the perfect jumping off point.
Don’t forget a condensed version of your contributor bios, making sure to include any credits with marquee value. The more well-known, the better. You’re marketing here.
Finally, if you know any notable people in comics or entertainment, reach out to see if they’re willing to give your book a read and write a brief (and positive) pull quote.
With that complete, you have a few different routes to pursue next …
This is the dream for most of us. The logo of a company like Marvel, Dark Horse, or IDW on the cover of your book is quite a feather in your cap.
With some publishers, you can pitch your idea for a book before you’ve even made it. The hope with that is to get a deal to produce it in conjunction with them.
At a Baltimore Comic-Con panel about breaking into the business, though, it was suggested that even with traditional publishing you should produce the book first before pitching it. The notion was that you have a better chance of success by showing a publisher what they’d actually be getting as opposed to them having to take a risk on an unproven newcomer.
For some perspective here, pitching a publisher is similar to trying to find a buyer for a screenplay. Both in the odds and methodology. It certainly helps if you have a connection to make a referral, but a good number of publishers will accept unsolicited material. You can generally find contact information and submission requirements for most online, as well as if they’re accepting submissions at all.
As appealing as it is, getting published traditionally comes at a price.
While there might be an advance of some kind, and a percentage of the royalties, you generally give up most of your rights to the I.P., or at least control of it.
As with any deal that’s offered for your work, read the contract. You’re exchanging your work for payment, exposure, or opportunity. Make sure you’re aware of the all the deal points and that it works for you.
Different artists value different things.
A version in between traditional publishing and self-publishing is something called a creator-owned deal. In this framework, the publisher serves primarily as a distributor, generally taking a fee off the top for their services. In exchange, the creator keeps many or all of their rights to the property.
Only certain publishers offer this kind of deal, however. Image Comics being the most high-profile and successful example.
Not all creator-owned deals are the same, alas.
My partner Rhonda and I had one on the table with a small indie publisher, but when we pushed for changes to the boilerplate agreement, we hit a stalemate. Ultimately, we weren’t willing to surrender half of our ancillary rights. Especially without a print run or advance.
It’s very possible we would’ve sold more copies with them than we have by self-publishing, but the deal points were too steep a price.
But for another creator, that trade-off may be well worth it. It’s a personal choice.
If you plan to self-publish, you need to decide if you’re going to pay for a print run and fulfill orders yourself (packaging, labeling, and shipping) or use a print-on-demand service instead.
The advantage of a print run is the lower wholesale cost of individual books. These generate a larger royalty than an expensive print-on-demand book with the same cover price.
The flipside is that, because of required minimum print orders, you might end up with more product than you’re able to sell. Not only will you take a financial hit, but you might have to find a new place to park if your garage is filled with boxes of unsold books.
If you’re willing to go without hard copies, a third option is to only distribute digitally. Although less popular than print overall, the lack of printing and shipping costs is why this format tends to be the most profitable per book.
Blowback was self-published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which is a print-on-demand platform. That means we don’t pay for books to be printed or ship orders. But the return on each sale is relatively small.
Everything is a negotiation. Sometimes even with yourself.
SIGNED, SEALED, AND DELIVERED
No matter how you end up publishing, you’re going to have to deliver a master file of your book somewhere, and preparing it can be complicated.
To start with, carefully check the delivery requirements for wherever you’re uploading your master. They’ll involve file size, file type, color space, and other technical specs you might not be familiar with. There are people and services that will do this for you, but it’s a good idea to at least get some basic knowledge of what’s being asked for.
Based on those requirements, you might realize that your file needs to be modified or corrected. You may be able to work with your artist or colorist to make some of these changes, but if it’s a lot of work, you’re probably going to have to pay them for their time.
Instead, try brushing up on your Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat skills so that you can potentially handle the deliverables yourself. I know you know this, but I’m going to say it anyway … Always make modifications on copies of your pages, and keep a clean set of original files, just in case you accidentally wreck something.
You will accidentally wreck something.
As Amazon’s print-on-demand dimensions were different than our produced art, I ended up reformatting every single one of our pages. It took a lot of time as well as blood, sweat, and tears (lots of tears), but it was also satisfying to be able to handle it.
On a related note, I strongly recommend getting a proof of your book before you release it. A lot of things can go wrong that you may not have thought of. We had one proof where the color looked washed out, another where the spine was misaligned. It was also an opportunity to compare a matte cover to a glossy one.
Ultimately, it’s worth the added cost and time to see exactly what people will get when they buy your graphic novel. And the moment that becomes possible is a moment to remember.
Whether it’s a publisher releasing your book or you releasing it yourself, the day it finally drops is like your opening weekend. All that’s left to do is find your audience. Or, more accurately, figure out ways for your audience to find you.
Be sure to come back for the big finish with “Part Five: Shouting from the Rooftops.”
*Feature image by James Hereth