Updated: Sep 6
When Black Eye Books re-launched in 2019, I knew it was going to be an educational experience. The intersection of social media, crowdfunding, and affordable short run (yet high quality) printing presented both a compelling and sustainable model for a return to publishing.
Image courtesy of Laurent Cilluffo laurentcillffo.com
On the face of it, using social media and crowdfunding to support a micro-publisher of comics, graphic novels, and other sequential art sounds very different from model I had learned in the 1990s. And yet, there was also a significant similarity: in essence, crowdfunded pre-orders would be taking the place of the non-returnable orders of distributors like Diamond Comics Distribution. Pre-orders provide guidance for setting an initial print run, since those sales are guaranteed. In the new model, once books are printed, Black Eye Books becomes in essence its own distributor, selling directly to readers and shops.
So, as a self-distributed micro publisher in the 21st century, I though I’d share the services I’ve found and used in case they might be useful to others.
For the two projects I published in 2019—Pickle, a 24-page black and white comic by Dylan Horrocks, and Dejects, a 136 page full colour trade paperback by Jay Stephens—I sought out free and low cost sites and services whenever possible. Some have been or will be upgraded to paid tiers as my publishing endeavour evolves, and this post will be updated as that occurs.
Here’s my micro-publishing toolbox thus far:
Fundrazr for free crowdfunding. Platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter take a 5% fee, in addition to PayPal’s fees, and I wanted to have funds go as far as possible. Fundrazr has a free tier for its crowdfunding platform, and I liked that it’s a Canadian company. Kickstarter has also been in the news a bit for its anti-union tactics, and I prefer not to support them at this time.
PayPal for receiving money from the crowdfunding. I opted to receive funds in USD since the largest audience for Black Eye Books is in the US, and the rest of the world is familiar with the exchange of USD to their local currency.
Transferwise for receiving USD from PayPal. Paypal’s foreign exchange rate isn’t very favourable. By setting up a free USD account with Transferwise, and linking it to my Paypal account, more money was saved. Transferring from USD to CDN isn’t free on Transferwise, but it’s a modest cost that’s much lower than the cost of Paypal’s exchange rate.
I selected Rapido-books in Montreal for short run high quality printing. The quality of their printing is astounding, better than Quebecor offset from the late 90s. Thanks to Ingrid Paulson of Gladstone Press for pointing me in their direction. One great thing about Rapido is that your ‘proof’ is a one-off sample copy of your book!
Once you’re registered, their system allows for you to generate your own quotes, which allows for quick and easy exploration of different printing options. Their sales reps are excellent: my contact there, upon noticing I had generated a quote, got in touch to say that if I reduced my trim size slightly, I’d save almost 40%! That's good client service.
I have been intrigued by Mixam, a similar print on demand service that has printers in several US locations, the UK, Australia and now Canada. I’m keeping them in mind for future projects. Mixam allows you to create quotes on the fly even without registering.
Library and Archives Canada for free ISBN to Canadian Publications. It’s a simple process to register.
Free Barcode Generator to turn the ISBN into a proper scannable barcode. I’ve used this service for years, for many clients. If you end up generating a lot of bar codes, consider donating to the site!
After Pickle 11 was printed, I needed to ship a box of them to Dylan in New Zealand from Canada. Goorooship has discounted shipping with several international carriers that made this possible. I used Canada Post for my shipping needs for the individual copies.
By the time Dejects was printed, I’d learned about some other shipping solutions. I used chitchats.com for shipments from Canada to the US and internationally. The saving are substantial, around 50% lower than Canada Post for most destinations.
August 2020 update: I've also started using stallionexpress.ca who offer everthing that chitchats does, a little cheaper, and as a bonus they have a drop-off partner close to my studio.
At the beginning, I relied heavily on instagram.com/blackeyebooks as a micro-blogging platform in lieu of something more complex. It’s also a great way to engage with comics fans, since the platform is visually driven.
Twitter.com/blackeyebooks of course, is another great way to get the word out on social media, although thus far I’ve found greater engagement on instagram.
Buffer is an excellent tool to schedule and automatically post to instagram and twitter. For multi-image posts, instead of posting automatically, an alert is sent to the buffer app on smart phone or tablet, and you then manually create the posting. Not perfect, but definitely a workable solution!
I also use integromat for its very powerful automation tools. For example, I can have it automatically parse my Instagram feed, shorten descriptions to 280 characters, and send to Twitter along with a link to the original instagram post. There’s a learning curve, but I found it quite useful. If integromat is a bit much for you, check out ifttt for similar tools. (September 2020 update: integromat no longer offers twitter posting as part of its free tier, but a workaround is to use buffer integration. There is a limit to two ‘scenarios’ on the free tier, and the service is $9 USD/month for the next tier.)
Mailchimp to manage a mailing list newsletter. Their free tier has more than enough for my requirements!
short.cm is the most recent service I’ve added to the toolkit. It provides a free URL shortening service, complete with custom domains. This means I can share go.blackeye.ca/toolkit for this blog post — for example — instead of the longer URL. Very handy for Instagram, which doesn’t support clickable links in posts.
August 2020 update: Link tools like linktr.ee or campsite.bio are a excellent way to integrate several links into your Instagram bio. Rather than point only to your web site, you can populate the links with your web presence, current crowdfunding, a particular blog post... it’s very flexible!
Initially I used Campsite.bio/blackeyebooks for a very simple landing page. I needed something quick where I could add links to social media account and to a mailchimp signup page, and this did the trick!
After some shopping around, I settled on Wix to host blackeye.ca. There was a little bit of a learning curve with their site editing platform, but there are plenty of tutorials online, and I was able to get the hang of it pretty quickly. They offer a free tier, which was great for trying out the service. The Wix online store upgrade was one of the few e-commerce options that supported canadian tax collection. I took advantage of a sale price at the site and prepaid for two years, averaging $18 USD a month for a professional web presence. Not bad.
Registrar Hover.com (also Canadian) is reasonably priced, provides mail hosting with webmail capability, and also was a breeze to connect to my Wix site.
Hope some of this is helpful to some of you!