860486728 LOkay, this is a little long, and we’re short of time, as always but in essence, Ryan McLelland over at Newsarama reports on the sad story of MR. SCOOTLES, HC Noel’s critically well-received but unprofitable self-published book. It seems Noel signed up with Open Book Press, a small publisher, to repackage the first three issues and then publish a bunch more issues and two more mini series. As a lengthy series of e-mails reveals, this plan was continuously undone by incompetence and skullduggery, with Open Book’s business plan emerging as entirely print-on-demand. When new owners took over Open Book, Noel was, effectively, shit out of luck:

“By signing with Open Book Press, I lost a year of creating, marketing and self-publishing my series, Mr. Scootles. The new owners have informed me of the lack of bookkeeping, actual publishing, and marketing that the prior owner(s) were guilty of. They show no records of sales for Mr. Scootles, however I know several copies have sold and yet I have not made one cent from these sales. Hell, I even ordered one myself.

Now, we even remember posting something about Open Book Press, back in the day, when they made a blanket call to publish any books left orphaned by Speakeasy’s demise. (You might want to click on the link as it contains a particularly hilarious bit of Beat business that imagines Speakeasy as Eliza Doolittle and…well…maybe it wasn’t so funny.) We were skeptical then, and had any friend of colleague asked us about Open Book, we would have said…YELLOW FLAG! PROCEED WITH CAUTION!!!

Anyway, we here at Stately Beat Manor remain continuously flabbergasted by the creators — both new and veteran — who are continuously taken in by signing “contracts” with these dinky little “publishers” out there. HAVE YOU PEOPLE EVER HEARD OF BACKGROUND CHECKS??? Have you ever heard of common sense? The Beat can only shake our head as we pass people in Artist’s Alley who hint at their “new plan I can’t tell you about”…true, we never hear about it until you’re whining in Lying in the Gutters about how you never got paid. It seems that one of the reasons people don’t like running the background checks is because they think wishful thinking will solve EVERYTHING. They’d rather not know that this crazy scheme will never work.

Chris Butcher has read all the above and presents a very sound guide to getting published. PLEASE, PEOPLE, READ THIS. Print it out and tape it to you desk. Chris doesn’t sugar coat the epsom salts:

1. Real publishers do not use ‘digital print to order’ or ‘print on demand’ services. Those are for hobbyists and the very vain, and you owe it to yourself to have a professionally printed book if that’s what you’re going to do. 1a. I lied. Real publishers occasionally do use PoD services, to print “Advance Reading Copies” that they then give away for free, to the press, before the real book is printed. 1b. If you’re using Lulu or whomever to print your own stuff, more power to you. Just don’t build a publishing empire on it alright? It’s sad and you’re losing money on every book you sell, if the point is to actually sell books. 2. Sometimes, ‘finding a publisher’ is not as important as simply not sucking. Do you suck?

Reality check: Whatever the ultimate business plan at Speakeasy was, Adam Fortier was no industry virgin, and look how his company got messed up. IT IS NOT EASY TO PUBLISH COMICS IN AMERICA OR ANYWHERE ELSE. Does your publisher have kajillionaire Sir Richard Branson bankrolling it? Great! Then maybe you will sell 5000 copies in the direct sales market. Think about THAT metric.

MR. SCOOTLES’ myspace page tags the character as “Your favorite cartoon failure.” Maybe not something you want to spread around, but the reality is selling your soul just so you can have a printed comic book in your hand is a game for dreamers and wishful thinkers these days.


  1. On the other hand, in fiction novel publishing, many authors go with small presses first because larger publishers “won’t publish unless you’ve been published first.” It’s a foot in the door, expectations should never be too high, and you should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS write out-of-print clauses into these contracts.

    However, still excellent advice. Most of the PoD publishers are actually the printers making money off of little fools simply wanting to see their books perfect bound instead of stapled and to smell the fresh ink on the pages. For comic creators and novelists alike, reading any “how to publish” book out there will give enough advice on what to avoid.

    And the worst thing about PoD and vanity publishers? There’s a sneaky little PoD company owned by Barnes & Noble called iUniverse that they used to advertise in the bookstore. And what is Barnes & Noble’s policy towards the books printed through their even their very own PoD company? They will NOT carry ANY of these books in their store. Kind of shows you where the money really is, and it certainly isn’t in selling it to actual readers.

    Reputation means a lot in getting books sold, and if you’re ever going with a publisher who doesn’t even have one, then creators better know what they’re getting into and not whine when they loose their first (maybe even their first few) books because the publisher goes under. The good news is, at least you have shiny copies to send off to REAL publishers and to say at least, “Hey, I’ve been published!” Doesn’t exactly get you a book deal, but it certainly helps.

  2. I would point out that “real” publishers do use POD frequently now to reprint deep backlist titles (originally published and printed conventionally) that’ve gone out of print or out of stock indefinitely, mainly as a way to keep Amazon and Ingram in stock in small quantities. I agree with everything else said and quoted in the post, though. Beware, or at least be wary, of first-print POD publishers.

  3. I’m still hesitant to place blame on a creator. This guy–one of our own–was duped by the quasi-legal business practices of a shady outfit. Just as much as I’d like to keep Bruce Springsteen from singing that contract on Mike Appel’s hood, or punch “Col.” Tom Parker in the face, I wish he hadn’t done this. Holding the situation out as an example is fine, but let’s avoid mocking the creator.

  4. i liked butcher’s rules. i even like calling them butcher’s rules. hey.

    you’re right: folks should background-check potential comic publishers when they can. i don’t think that’s necessarily easy to do, though…even if you’ve been around a while, let alone if you’re a newcomer. it’s not like we’ve got an industry version of sfwa’s WRITER BEWARE–though god knows we’ve got the raw material for it.

    but people in comics do tend to keep their mouths shut about strange going-ons. until it’s too late for openness–or whining, as you say, or growling–to make much of a difference to anyone. when elvis has left the building, that’s when you hear about it.

  5. This says a lot about the desperation to get into print, and opens the door on a discussion about doing it on the web, THEN getting into print AFTER you have an audience.

    No shortcuts anywhere.

  6. The direct market is a POD market. You get your order, you set your print run to that demand. That’s the basic premise of POD. Now, that said, single issue POD is still a money loser, but if the interior is B&W, tpb POD is legit.

  7. I’ve found that sometimes when folks talk about POD, they put the emphasis on the P part and get carried away with the thought “Oh, finally I can get my thing in Print” without giving equal consideration to the D part and trying to figure out “Who is going to Demand (or even, y’know, want) my thing?”

    Other than that, well, yeah, let this be as a cautionary tale and maybe get creators to ask a few more discriminating questions of their potential publisher partners before entering into an agreement. That won’t prevent every problem that may arise from publisher ignorance, ineptitude, malfeasance, or poor luck, but it might prevent many…

  8. Hey there,

    I know there’s a lot more to the Digital Print On Demand discussion then fit in the context of my blog post, and I do think it’s an incredibly valuable resource. If I was going to build an audience for my work as a SELF-PUBLISHER, then Digital POD is comperable, price-wise, to hitting up copy shops and the like. But until DPOD gets siginificantly less expensive, maybe by a factor of 10, there’s no point in trying to make a go of actual publishing with it.

    Big name artist doing a 48 page sketchbook to sell at conventions for $20? POD is great! 200 page graphic novel sold to a distributor at 60% off the cover price? Not so much.

    I wasn’t aware of big-publishers doing the ultra-deep backlist in POD though, that’s interesting. I wonder how it affects royalties? Can anyone point out a specific example?

    – Chris

  9. First, great and informative story. Second, I have to say it left a bad taste in my mouth regarding the “these dinky little “publishers”” comment. My Ambrosia Publishing (www.ambrosiapublishing.com) is a small outfit just starting out with reasonable publishing goals. So am I one of those dinky little publishers everyone should steer clear of? Is AdHouse or the other small respectable publishers who have started in the last couple of years?

    In regards to POD, what is wrong with POD? I can see where it’s not feasible to do with floppies but what about TPBs or graphic novels? I think one of- if not- the biggest reason new indy publishers go under is the printing costs to stay in business. Granted, the print quality isn’t on par with Quebecor, Morgan, or the other more established printers, but I printed a graphic novel via POD a couple of years ago and people asked me where I had it printed because they liked the printing.

    And yes, most if not all major book publishers do use POD extensively now. I think in the future, some of the more popular comic publishers will to for their b&w tpbs and OGNs.

  10. Btw . . . taking the time now and reading through the full article, it really isn’t that sad of a story . . . At least the creator recieved the rights back to publish his works, which says a lot more than most creators who get screwed over, and he isn’t actually out any money or printing costs nor was he charged “editorial” like some small presses do. It sounds like the publishers really just got in over their heads. Good intentions, but even the best intentions don’t make good management or business sense. And partner-owned companies have a tendency to fall apart when one of the partners leaves. It’s tough footing all the responsibilities of a publishing company. I feel really bad for both the creator and the publisher, as well, but it doesn’t look like OBP set out to screw anybody over. Only thing they really screwed up on was not having their accounting together and being honest with how many books were sold, even if it only added up to ten or twenty copies and they ended up loosing money in the end. I know it takes a lot of time to go through all those records if they haven’t been kept up (and that certainly sounds like the case here), but it’s owed to the creators to take the time to figure out at least how many copies sold.

  11. In regards to POD, what is wrong with POD?

    POD is fine if you plan on hand-selling all of your copies of the book, but if your ideal is to get into major distributors, POD doesn’t work simply because distributors tend not to deal in small increments. They want to purchase books at or around 50-60% off with a year to two year return policy (though with Diamond, it’s a little different since there are no returns which really makes them less of a distributor and more of a retailer to the retailers, honestly, but anyway) and a POD book simply doesn’t have the margin to make a profit off that kind of deep discount. Shipping costs alone would eat up that margin QUICK.

    As far as the printing itself . . . POD has certainly been catching up in quality, though I’ve found the binding process through different POD printers a bit lacking. As far as I know, POD has become incredibly popular with the marketing and advertising crowd as a way to create cheaper, efficient promotional tools, but these remain throw-aways.

    Will POD ever catch up to traditional web press in price? Maybe someday when there are printing, cutting, and binding all-in-one machines for your desktop (and there practically are if you want to spend at least a cool $10,000 and don’t mind it being the FULL size of your desktop), but that’s still a ways away.

    However, when they start mass producing those digital ink books that look and feel and flip like a real book but you just plug em in and “erase” and “reload” a new book, THEN you’ll be talkin about some real advancement! :)

  12. You owe it to yourself to have a professionally printed book

    Words that couldn’t be more true. POD simply doesn’t compare to a graphic novel printed on a web or full color press. It’s beautiful, it’s a work of art, and every artist should know what it feels like to have that joy. :) They even smell better. Especially when you realize there are at least several thousand more copies of the same book sitting in a warehouse somewhere, just waiting to find their home on a cozy little bookshelf or in a store or library open to the public perusal. The number of copies actually in print makes a big difference in that moment of final satisfaction.

  13. I wonder how much of this POD rookery (at least for inexperienced writers and artists) is part and parcel of the “entitlement” mentality, where people think just because you believe you have the ability to write and draw you therefore have some inherent Right To Be Published (and to Make Money from it). Back in the days of fanzines, before printing became as accessible and relatively inexpensive as it is now, the line between fanzine-level and professional-level crafting seemed a lot clearer. Most fanzine creators (especially artists) would never begin to presume their stuff was good enough to be sold profesionally. (I’ve started to see this happen with blogs as well, where many bloggers are confusing a hobby with a would-be profession. Just because you can type and now self-publish your words using blogging tools, it doesn’t make you a professional-level writer deserving of recompense.)

  14. Books I’ve printed as POD have looked as good as books I’ve printed through Quebecor or Brenner. So the quality is really catching up.
    As Chris Butcher said, it is perfect for self publishers who are tired of having to fold and staple books printed at Kinkos. The work is done for you and the results can be really damn impressive if you know what you are doing.
    And the beauty is many POD places like Comixpress will let you do one book at a time to make sure you get exactly what you want. It’s changed my life forever.

  15. I published my own book through Comixpress…. I’d buy up smaller runs to stock at my house, then sell them for the price I sell them at… instead of only making a buck going through DIamond on old projects I had done (and having to recoup costs) , I’d clear TWO bucks a book profit and have not really all that much overhead.—Now, doing a POD and printing to order to go through Diamond would be DUMB, because, well, you’d lose money…. but if you’re selling to your own audience you’ve built through your webcomics or whatever, it’s the most awesome thing since sliced bread.

    Of course at some point you will likely get burnt out filling mail orders. But enjoy the fun of it while it lasts!

  16. Once again we see that artists (and authors) don’t always make good business people. Publishing is a BUSINESS that is all about making MONEY. Writing and illustration are also BUSINESSES that are about making MONEY (unless you’re just doing it as a hobby). As an author and illustrator myself, with only limited business experience, I’ve always found it useful to seek professional advice when entering into ANY business arrangement (ie; when money is being transacted for my creative services). Call a lawyer. Call an agent. Call other creative professionals (most of them are surprisingly accessible if you have legit questions).

    As to the issue of large publishers only looking at work by “already published” authors – I don’t believe that for a second. They are ALWAYS looking for the next big thing. It’s in their best interests to keep looking. They say that because they’re inundated with manuscripts that suck. And as Butcher has already said, make sure you don’t suck. If your work is good, really , really GOOD (ie; amazing) those big publishers WILL call you and make an offer. And when they call? Don’t just say “yes” right away. Call a lawyer. Call and agent. Call another creative professional and ask questions.

    And small publishers can be great to work with too. But, like the big ones, some have better business practices than others. Do your research. Call professionals. Ask questions. And then enter into a business relationship with both eyes open.

  17. Another funny thing is this assumption that when a self-publisher distributes his or her work through “an established distributor” (as if there were more than one, really), that he or she is going to get paid. Distributors have their own “rookery”, for those of you armchair pundits that have never actually tried it. Good luck getting a penny out of “them” for any of your books they sell.
    Additionally, with … oh let’s stop beating around the bush … with Diamond’s recent benchmarks, you may not be able to get distribution into the direct market. As the Comics Journal coverage pointed out, Diamond may stick with you if you’re blowing hundreds or thousands of dollars on Previews ads even if your book isn’t making the benchmark, but that’s not feasable for many new creators.
    Personally, I have my books printed by Brenner in Texas, and I think they do a good job. But it should be recognized that the next Bagge, Hernandez, Rude, MacNeil, etc. etc. is more likely to come from a web or POD or both background than anywhere else.
    Doing something POD doesn’t mean you intend to do this forever, but some publishers can’t see the value in a project unless it’s packaged and dropped in front of them in a bound format. It may be a great thing to have on your convention table. You can’t measure the value of POD by whether or not you’re turning a profit in an industry where the biggest publishers loose money regularly on many monthly titles and only survive at times as an R&D write-off for their parent companies.

  18. POD has its uses and can be a valuable tool but obviously, at this time, it is not efficient for mass distribution. But if you want to sell copies of your work whether at cons, direct mail, or via online services such as Amazon, then it can be a workable method because you don’t have the upfront costs of printing and then storage. Right now, if you’re doing new material, it does seem essentially like vanity publishing but it all depends on what “service” the POD is providing. To get your book in front of other people (ie-editors, “Hollywood”, family)…or to just have copies for yourself…or to collect old material…then it has its uses. I plan to collect older material as POD and I know that it doesn’t have mass distribution appeal but have a lot of people who would like collections of older stuff in one single package. I think too many people think of POD as an alternative to traditional and at this time, it should be viewed more as a supplement. It’s not a replacement but an ancillary tool.

    As far as most of these small publishers, I do think most just get swallowed up by the process. Intentions were sincere but they just caught up in many unanticipated problems. I’d say the vast majority had no goal of ripping people off. Of course, for the creator, the end result may end up the same but it seems when a publisher screws up, the label of sleaze is applied when the more correct term should be incompentence. Same result perhaps, but just took a different path to get there.

  19. Aside from all of this POD discussion, it is worth pointing out that Mr Scootles is a very good comic. I only have the first issue, but I really enjoyed it, and look forward to picking up the rest.

  20. Despite the dogpile and slander, sadly the claims that have been made by Mr. Noel are false. I sincerely hope that any readers can get an educted opinion from both sides before they make a judgement. Anyone who has questions regarding this situation may feel free to e-mail me directly at [email protected]

    I will also be responding publicly with a press release and documented proof that Mr. Noel’s claims are false within the next 24 hours.

  21. “Does your publisher have kajillionaire Sir Richard Branson bankrolling it? Great! Then maybe you will sell 5000 copies in the direct sales market. Think about THAT metric.”

    And some folks with far less funding have sold more. It’s not a direct relationship between the scale of the backers bankroll and sales in the market… nor is finding a well-funded publisher a guarantee that they won’t leave you hanging.

    This isn’t to say that creators shouldn’t be cautious about new publishers, mind you. Recently there’s been some very clear examples of publishers whose stated intents did not match their follow-through.

  22. While I agree that at a small publisher a book may not get the same marketing and distribution it would get through a large publisher, I think that the POD industry is still in its development stages. Many people in their comments seem to be equating POD with vanity presses, which isn’t necessarily true. There are many small publishers (like Wesley’s) who are able to get into the business and take risks on new authors only through the POD venue. Unless you have a lot of start capital, a lot of established contacts in the industry, and previous arrangements with distributors (some of which you can’t even start making until you have X number of titles published), paying for a minimum print run at a traditional press is a huge risk. Paying for a small first run through a POD service is more cost effective on less guaranteed sales.

    What I hope this technology will allow publishers to do is take bigger risks on edgier or more inventive work. Not guaranteed to sell 5,000 in the first year? Print a limited 500 copy release and see how it does at conventions and other hand-sell locations. Whether or not that will actually happen, we’ll just have to wait and see.

    POD technology is also getting much better in terms of quality, to the point where it’s difficult to tell in many cases whether there was a traditional print run or whether it was a POD run. (No denying some groups still suffer from bad quality, but I tend to equate those with the vanity houses, who are not making money through book sales.)

    I don’t think POD is necessarily the way to go–but I do think that it’s becoming a more viable option as smaller groups (who may, in fact, do more for their authors than a large house) embrace the technology.

  23. I am a new creator and am currently looking for an artist to crank up a new concept in comics that will grow into a movie. I need that beginner artist that wants in on the ground floor of a project that they can be proud to draw. WE WILL create our own site and develop the comic and sell subscriptions without others getting the profits.

Comments are closed.