Updated: Apr 22
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 replace 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.
Here’s my micro-publishing toolbox thus far:
Fundrazr offers free crowdfunding. I used this platform for both Pickle No. 11 and Dejects with good results, but moved to Kickstarter in 2020 with the first issue of Jay Stephens’ Dwellings when I became convinced of the flourishing comics ecosystem there. While not free, Kickstarter is a known destination for comics enthusiasts of every stripe and provides an opportunity to reach a new audience in addition to our existing fans.
Tyler James’s ComixLaunch.com is an excellent site and podcast with a ton of free advice on running a successful comic book Kickstarter. I continually return to the site and am always learning something new.
After the inital crowdfunding for each project, I’ve seen good results offering add-ons via a special password protected ‘shop’ on my hosted site. In the future I may explore Indiegogo’s InDemand, where you roll over your Kickstarter campaign to their platform for additional pre-orders.
I set up a custom shortened domain go.blackeye.ca/kickstarter that always points to the currently running campaign. It’s an easy to remember URL for potential backers to use, even if they don’t have a clickable link handy.
The books aren’t exclusive to crowdfunding supporters—they are offered on both the Black Eye Books web site and at select comic shops afterwards. But the rewards: signed copies, postcards, risograph prints, mini posters, etc, those are exclusive. I view the crowdfunding almost like it’s a combination convention shop table and pop-up shop: with special items that are only available for a limited time. And of course, backers get their copies of the books first!
Rapido Books (HP Indigo Toner printers)
For Pickle No 1 and Dwellings, I selected Rapido-books in Montreal for short run high quality printing. The quality of their printing is top notch. One great thing about Rapido is that your ‘proof’ is a one-off sample copy of your book! The HP Indigo is the closest I've seen to offset.
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.
Mixam (HP Indigo Toner)
I had been intrigued by Mixam, a similar print on demand service that has printers in several US locations, the UK, Australia and now Canada. Mixam's site allows you to create quotes on the fly even without registering. I did a test run of Dejects with them, and initially they substituted a thicker paper for the interior of a few of the copies in my order — ostensibly an 'upgrade' but a thicker book meant the spine elements were then misaligned. They corrected this and shipped new books free of charge, but the experience made me concerned for future projects.
Copywell (Ricoh Inkjet and Toner)
The least expensive of the printers I've researched, but often a long turnaround. Unlike Rapido and Hume, they charge a non negligible fee for a proof copy (around $125). The Ricoh high speed inkjet is very affordable, and the results are quite good (though the black levels aren't quite as dark as their toner based printing). The toner printing however has a gloss look that didn't appeal to me. Somewhat like colour copies from the late 90s early 2000s.
Hume (Xerox Inkjet and Toner)
The high speed inkjet doesn't quite have the black levels of the Ricoh at Copywell, but it was more than good enough for emulating that retro comic look for Dwellings. The Xerox toner based printing is almost indistinguishable from the HP Indigo quality, with the exception of smaller typeset text, which has a slightly 'too sharp' look. But for comic panels, the results felt nearly identical. Hume also had the best customer service of any of the printers I've worked with. They are also a 15 minute drive or 25 minute bike ride away from my studio, which saves on shipping and makes visiting their plant very easy.
Along with the above, I use Vistaprint for postcards; they often have sales during the year that can go up to 50% off. And for our risograph prints, I have been very pleased with Quentin Mitchell at Vide Press.
Library and Archives Canada for free ISBN to Canadian publishers. It’s a simple process to register.
For the UPC barcodes on the standard comic book sized publications evanjwaterman.com has a clear explainer.
Free Barcode Generator to turn an ISBN or UPC 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, especially for media mail in the US.
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. That said, twitter's advantage is in re-tweets, a kind of signal boosting that you don't see as much of 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 the Buffer integration. There is a limit to two ‘scenarios’ on the free tier, and the service is $9 USD/month for the next tier.)
short.cm provides a free URL shortening service, complete with custom domains. Very handy to have an easy to remember URL when posting Instagram, which doesn’t support clickable links in posts. For crowdfunding, I'm also able to always have go.blackeye.ca/kickstarter point to the current campaign.
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!
Just as important as a social media presence, perhaps even more so, is a mailing list. People who subscribe to your newsletter are extremely interested in what you have to offer. It's a great way to keep connect directly with them about upcoming crowdfunding initiatives, artist events (whether virtual or live), special projects, etc. You can't be sure that your social media posts are making it to your followers as frequently as you'd like due to the algorithm that dictate what's displayed. But with a well crafted newsletter, you're making it right into their inbox!
Initially I used Mailchimp to manage a mailing list newsletter. Their free tier has more than enough for my requirements!
I've since moved my mailing list to sendy, a pay-once ($69 USD) self-hosted mailing list manager. It has a slightly higher learning curve, but I like being able to schedule mailings so it's worth it for me. Alongside sendy, I use the free tier for https://stripo.email as a responsive email composer.
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!