It’s been nearly two weeks since the Panel to Panel/Kickstarter fund raising campaign came to a close. Although we did not reach our financial goal via Kickstarter, this project still continues to move forward. After a couple days of needed rest and distance from the project, I returned to it with a simple email that I sent out to each of the book’s contributors. That email, as I had hoped, sparked a conversation which not only helped to decide the fate of the project, but also captured a unique moment in time for Panel to Panel. Publishing in the year 2011 offers many opportunities, as it does hurdles, and this book is no stranger to either of those. With the permission of all those involved, I have compiled the majority of the emails which were exchanged over the last week or so, to share here on the blog. It shows you, the reader and consumer, what steps we, as a collaborative group, are taking to make this book a reality and offers a “behind-the-scenes” look at our process. It begins with my initial email…
John Rovnak: Hello everyone! It’s about time I came out from under my rock and talked to you all about the current state of Panel to Panel. I’d like for this email to spark a conversation amongst all of us, and encourage you all to reply (to all) and toss around our ideas. To start, as all of you probably know, our Kickstarter.com campaign failed. 🙁 Now, it wasn’t a complete failure… We did manage to raise quite a bit of awareness and potential sales, just not enough, and it wasn’t due to a lack of trying. I, for one, am exhausted from all the “trying” I did! So what does this mean? We have a finished product ready to go!! But where? We could go back to the print-on-demand avenue. It allows the book to get out into people’s hands, but at a higher cost. The book would retail for roughly $40.00. I’ve considered breaking the book up, maybe into three smaller volumes, and pricing them out that way. Any thoughts? I could also shop it around to some publishers, and see if something of this size and format would interest them. We could also solicit the book with Diamond and see what kind of numbers that generates. They have seen it, and will carry it! But then it still comes down to the juggling of orders and printing and MONEY! Bottom line is, I’m anxious to move on! I love this book dearly, but I’m really sick of looking at it. That’s not to say that I’m done with it. I just have a lot of ideas for another one!! REALLY good ideas that I can’t wait to share… But I really need to know what I’m doing with this one. These are all my initial/scattered thoughts, but I want to start getting back to it!
Mark Masztal: Like I have said to John recently, I don’t think we should break up the book. Dismembering it down to three volumes, in my mind, would cheapen the beautiful book we have now. I think trying to go through various publishers, like I’ve mentioned to John, would take the pressure off us to come up with the printing costs. It also means that some of the coin will have to go back to the publisher.
Rob Walton: My only experience here is in publishing Ragmop. I explored every avenue, including printing overseas (a considerable savings and better paper and binding, but little guarantee of shipping). Going through Diamond was frustrating, and as I mentioned to John before, caused me to inflate the price to 29.95 because Diamond ends up taking 70% of the cover (60% plus another 10% for shipping and early payment). If this is a not for profit effort, that’s fine, you’ll probably break even if you don’t do an overrun like I did. BUT, this is far more marketable than Ragmop, so… Solicit and see?
Craig Yoe: It’s such an incredibly beautiful book! Publishing is so darn difficult these days. I think a publisher might be hard to find, though Twomorrows Publishing comes to mind. May be worth a try and see what interest there is, and what kind of deal there might be. Don’t get discouraged, John! It’s a great publication, just a very tough time for publishing.
Mark Martin: I say it is time to make that book actually exist, for people who are actually willing and able to actually buy one. Anybody else can go piss up a rope. 1. Get a cost-per book to print 100 copies, digital print-on-demand 2. Round that up, and add on whatever it costs to pack and ship. Come up with a price that you can live with. 3. Advertise that cost on your website, facebook, comics websites, Craig Yoe’s forehead… Everywhere you can think of. Tell folks to SEND MONEY NOW, and they’ll get the book in a couple of months. ANNOUNCE A DEADLINE for taking orders. Give it about a month. Anybody that does not order in time will have to wait til next time – if there ever IS a next time. 4. Give yourself another week after the deadline, to tie up any loose ends. 5. ORDER THE BOOKS from the print-on-demand printer. Even if it is only 100 books 6. Get the books, pack the books, ship the books 7. Hold your book that actually exists in your hands, love it, cuddle it, hug it 8. Move on. GO GO GO!
Rob Walton: Now there’s gumption! Hard to disagree. Another thought is offering an ebook. I’ve heard places like Costco do incredible ebook sales. I’m old school, in that I like to hold a book like this in my hands to love, cuddle and hug like Mark, but younger generations enamored with technology might prefer a digital option as well. Could this be formatted for the iPad? Put it on your website and start selling downloadable copies now until you can figure out print options! I think Mark is correct though. We need to make this exist. A print on demand edition could conceivably go a long way in securing a wider popular edition through either Diamond or an existing publisher (D&Q?). The buzz has already started through Kickstarter. Don’t lose it.
Mort Todd: Here’s my 2¢: First, basically do what you did through Kickstarter via a PayPal contribute button. That way there would be no immediate deadline, or minimum or limit what you can generate. Offer premiums similar to what you had for Kickstarter, which would be sent out 4 to 6 weeks after the contribution (so you can get the right number of things manufactured) with a set release date for the book (Fall/Winter?). You could also take book preorders without the premiums. Go through a POD, sell it through their web store and via your websites and Diamond. From past experience I think it’d be better to go DIY rather than work through an existing publisher. That said, if you did go with a publisher, Fantagraphics may be a good bet due to P2P’s content and Fantagraphic’s audience and distribution.
Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe: Yes you can do pre-sales. I do it for record projects of mine for my music label. An idea right?
Rachael M. Rollson: From the quiet front, I say – git’er done. I like Mark Martin’s suggestions – I want a real live book in my hand to save and collect and pass on…I want to tote that tome around with me and look cool on a park bench and everybody to say, “ooooh, what cosmic loveliness would be worth dragging around like that, I gotta get me one”…now, I don’t know anything about POD, I don’t know anything about iPad’s and I don’t know anything about current publishing trends – but I know this book should be real. I have no advice to offer, just absolute support…
Philip Charles Crawford: I agree with the others – I think it’s time to make the book available in a printed form. Perhaps the first 100 copies could be a limited edition collector’s edition limited-run, variant cover, etc. That would provide those who want a copy now the opportunity to buy one. This would give you a little time to also shop it with publishers or to get advertising for subsequent printing. Also, once you sold enough to go into a second printing then you could do some Stan Lee type publicity: Because You Demanded, Back in Print, etc. It is such a hard time to get published, but once you’ve got an initial product out there in some capacity, it may be easy to shop to publishers or get advertising. You have my support on whatever you decide.
Daniel Barlow: I’m with Mark Martin on this! Get the book out, gain a reputation in the industry for doing this kind of book and start moving forward with the second one. Such a great book needs to get out there ASAP!
Craig Yoe: This book is awesome and hopefully will find an audience that appreciates its greatness!
Steve Murphy: Sorry for the delay and while it seems moot at this point, here are my two cents: I’d break the book up into 4 parts/”issues” and publish ’em quarterly thereby establishing an ongoing presence in the marketplace, meanwhile beginning work on issue 5, etc. I just think the current cover price for a single volume is way high. I know I couldn’t justify the single-shot expense to my wife given our family’s low “disposable income” budget.
John Rovnak: Way to throw a curve ball, Murph!! 🙂
James Kochalka: Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even buy a copy for myself at the price I assume it’s going to be.
Mark Masztal: It’s actually not a bad idea.
John Rovnak: Um, Mark…. I suggested this the day after Kickstarter ended, I I believe YOU were the first to shoot it down. 🙂
Craig Yoe: It’s very difficult, I think, to sell a publication/book that is a smorgasbord/anthology these days. People like single subject books on something they really like, and even that’s getting very, very hard in today’s economy. And at the same time there’s so many good things coming out in competition. Sorry for this negative note. I really do love what you have put together, but it’s a tough world in publishing these days, always has been I guess, but now more than ever. I’ll do what ever I can to support whatever direction you decide to go, as I’m sure will everyone here. You obviously have a lot of people that like you and what you’ve put together. This is much to your credit and all the talented people that have been helping. Rooting for you…
Mark Masztal: I did, just because of the extra work and having to find new cover art etc. It does get us in the affordable market place. I’m just worried about the covers and where they will come from. We could use my Danzig piece as a cover with some editing and then maybe one of Rick Veitch’s and Peter Money’s poetry pieces. Maybe use Mort Todd’s T-Shirt design or maybe see if we could plead with Mr. Bodé for a piece??? I have to agree with James. Tight market place, tight economy and a $40 price tag will equal no sales. Specialty markets maybe, but it will be a low sales percentage. Anyone got a rich uncle or grandparent? Where’s Kevin Eastman’s uncle when we need him???
James Kochalka: This is actually a fair argument for doing the big book as “print on demand”. Only the people who really think this is the book for them will buy it. And that’s fine, right?
Rob Walton: I will say this, going back to my experience with Ragmop: After the failure of the graphic novel, the hearsay was that I should have republished it as a run of 12 issues and then collected it. It all comes down to what you want to hold in your hands at the end of the day. There’s no right answer in publishing any more. The market was screaming for graphic novels in 2006 so I gave them one. Turns out, what they really wanted was TPB collections from Marvel and DC. Just roll the dice.
John Rovnak: At the end of the day I want to hold in my hand the same thing I’ve wanted to hold in my hand since I dreamt this silly thing up, a massive collection of my favorite things!! I will explore the multiple volume thing a bit more while I’m waiting on that final printing quote, but I think I know what the answer will be. The one thing I envision if a multiple volume package were to happen would be a handy-dandy slipcase to hold them all. But I’m getting way ahead of myself here.
Mark Martin: Just do something. If you can do it and not LOSE money, you are way ahead of the game. Stick with the book plan.
Mort Todd: I opt for the book over the segmented series. Screw being accessible to those that might buy this instead of Ultimate Spider-Man. Make it the Necronomicon of comics that many know of, few have seen (unless they got $40)!
Stephen R. Bissette: It’s not my or our money, but my philosophy these days, given the screwed market, is if I’m going to do a book, DO THE BOOK. It’s one of the reasons I did Teen Angels as the whole 400+ page monster. If it’s going to exist, at least make sure—profit, loss, or draw—it’s the book you want it to be. It may be the only shot you take or get. Have no illusions about sales. It’s a long slog promoting, even when you GET distribution in place. No one is going to promote it for you; any who do, it’s a boon and a charity, but it won’t be singularly effective, even if it’s Entertainment Weekly you score points with. It’s WORTH doing. DO it.
Craig Yoe: Well, Stephen is a smart guy, and while there’s a part of me that is cautionary in practice, I’m doing exactly what he’s doing. The market is shit, people don’t have or don’t spend money, but I’m just going to do the best damn books I know how to do and damn the torpedoes full speed ahead!!!
Steve Murphy: Putting the issue of cover price and personal disposable income aside… I don’t think one can compare Ragmop and Tyrant to this P2P book. The former are comic books, whether in periodical or bookshelf form, while P2P is overall a piece of collected journalism (and thus, in my mind, capable of being sliced up and served in smaller chunks). Another potential way to frame this can be via the question “What are your long term goals as a publisher, John?” While it would indeed be very cool to be known as the guy who published this (potential) one-hit wonder of mammoth coolness, perhaps instead chopping it up in order to become an “ongoing concern” via periodical publication would better serve your long term goals (by perhaps creating a steady cash-flow that you can build upon). Besides, the world needs a, uh, comics journal that is more unique, fun and constantly evolving than the self-serving yawn known as the Comics Journal…
Stephen R. Bissette: People buy $40 books every day, especially art book and graphic novels. Teen Angels retails at $30. It’s high, but POD and having to price for Diamond Dist. discount required it; it’s 400 pages, if people balk, screw it. We can’t give away the farm begging for sales that may never come anyway—and if you do, and the sales don’t manifest at $9.99 or $14.99, you end up with just a portion of what you intended in print, and likely pulling the plug in frustration, WITHOUT the book you wanted existing, or ever existing. Just my two cents… It’s a gamble whatever you do. FYI, Taboo was a gamble, at a time when we were always broke, had two kids, and were struggling monthly to meet rent. At least, if only one issue had existed, I could know it was the best I could edit, package, and make exist, with no regrets. That had sugardaddies. Without ’em, I compromised on Tyrant, never doing a collected (told to wait until I got to the magic “six issues collectible” format), and regret it—and there IS no Tyrant book edition. Thereafter, with every experiment (POD with Green Mtn Cinema, then five volumes of Blur, then Teen Angels, the latter with the distribution I couldn’t get on the former), I made sure whatever the book, however modest or grandiose, it was the book I wanted to exist, and nothing less. It’s all a gamble. You break it up, you lose. You cut bait, you lose. You fish and lose, with the whole package, you win: you have the book you wanted to exist in existence. Just make sure you don’t gamble more than you can afford to lose, $$ wise.
John Rovnak: Going back a couple comments, I tend to agree with Mort Todd’s email, and I’d like to expand on it. “Screw being accessible” is right, to a degree. I agree with a more punk rock/DIY attitude (although this book may appear a bit more New Wave). I myself would buy this, no questions asked. It appeals to my tastes as a consumer on so many levels, and I know I can’t be alone here. Yes, times are tough. Yes, print is dying. But I spend a lot more per page for books that pale in comparison to what we’ve made here. I know I want it to be printed. The whole reason I dreamt this thing up was because posting reviews and interviews online was so unsatisfying. I couldn’t hold it, I couldn’t physically share it, it seemed cheap. Comics to me are about the printed product; the smell, the weight, the fragile spine which holds the whole damn thing together. Think of some of your favorite comics. I’ll bet there’s a treasury edition or giant-sized something on that list. Those huge publications were always the coolest. Imagine them broken down into cost effective books that matched everything else on the shelf. They wouldn’t stand out. They wouldn’t be memorable Now think of some of the price tags you’ve ignored over the years because the content and packaging made it irresistible to you and your better sense. Do you think back and regret the purchase? If the content is shit, yes. But that’s not the case here. I guess I’ve convinced myself… I believe in a big ‘expensive’ book…
Rachael M. Rollson: Alright, I need to elaborate on the “live the dream” fragment I posted before… I don’t have a lot of money either, but if I get to choose a quality treasure once in awhile then I don’t think that $40. is too much to ask – this IS quality, it is also quantity, and it is ours… I am not sure what the market is professing at this time, either, but I know that I like variety – and since I am a consumer (as well as a contributor here) I should be counted, too – and I like big books with lots of different artists and topics – I don’t always have the time to seek out new and exciting things so this is a great feature of some new and some tried and true’s. I might actually learn something and go seek out more of it (fancy that). It might be a long slow climb uphill, but then if it is what you wanted without compromise then it will stand on its own… I believe in it – make it happen.
Rob Walton: Big expensive book! Big expensive book! This fool and his money are ready to be parted! One copy sold!
John Rovnak: A perfect example, and an idea I think is comparable, is McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Look at the prices they fetch for an insanely varied product.
Stephen R. Bissette: Bottom line: people GIVE AWAY product online daily (myself included with the blog). The market is screwed in part because of that. Many of us pay $$ for special books we want. If we miss our window of opportunity, given the tiny print runs on many books, they are then hundreds of $$ IF you can find them at all. Case in point: Beating the Devil: The Making of the Night of the Demon by Tony Earnshaw. I missed buying it when it was new. Now, it’s $100 and up, and it’s only a year old. You want your book just read, give it away, online, or as a nominal-charge PDF. You want this to exist, publish it. Nobody is going to do it for you. Pursuing that will just delay it longer, and you’ll end up having to publish it yourself anyway, I fear.
Rob Walton: Going back to Ragmop one last time. A day doesn’t go by when I’m not proud to see that 400 page sucker on my self or to feel the heft of it in my hands. It lost money, and I can’t give it away, but I’m damn happy I did it. No regrets!
Mark Masztal: Sounds like we’re doing a big book.
Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe: …a well crafted book is needed more than ever ! So I don’t mind paying 40 bucks, if the book is worth it.
Rick Veitch: I think Murphy’s got the best take here. If your goal is to build up P2P so you aren’t forever plagued by undercapitalization issues, then offer it in as many formats and platforms as you can. Have you considered going with Image? They can do floppies, collections and digital. Their preorders on floppies will be better than if you solicit it yourself.
Mark Martin: Sell it to the Comics Journal!
Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe: You can try Fantagraphics, but also Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly and Image too right?
Stephen R. Bissette: I wouldn’t waste the time, but that’s your call. You’ll piss away a year or more searching for a publisher, and may still end up empty handed (speaking from experience)…
Mark Martin: No no, I meant the “conversation” here – Sell that to TCJ. Sell out, man! Go for the big bucks! Buy a yacht!
Rob Walton: It seems to me that a lot of people were willing to pay $40+ for this project on kickstarter. If those same people transfer their support to a POD edition it might go a long way to raising you sales. For that edition you don’t need EVERYONE to buy, only some. Then you print additional copies to send to targeted publishers for a potential popular edition OR a second volume. Offer them the second volume with the rights to republish the first. Two birds with one stone? Get the book out to those who demand it, and then shop it around with less pressure.