Story Studios Self-Publishing Business Model Part 1

INTRODUCTION:

It’s a strange truism that there are almost as many would-be publishers for indie comics as there are readers of indie comic. Most comic fans have some cherished idea that they would love to see realized in sequential form, or they love to draw and dream of seeing their art printed in comics. Comics are a noble calling, but the reality of all the time, work, and expense it takes to make these dreams happen rules out about 95% of these endeavors.

For those of us who do make and publish comics, there is no single business plan. One thing is for sure, however: you cannot mimic the mainstream comics (read: Marvel, DC, and some big indie publishers) and expect to make a profit or break even. It is all a matter of scale and demand, so it is best to not even try to go there. One indie publisher (Crossgen) tried to replicate the creation pipeline of the legendary Marvel bullpen from the 60’s and 70’s, and they ultimately failed. (That’s a gross oversimplification of that tale, but lesson is you cannot just throw money at the problem.)

I plan to cover a lot of the popular indie comic approaches, but I am creating this article because this is what has worked well for me. I am not claiming that this is the only way to succeed in self-publishing, or the best way, but it has worked for me. I should add one caveat: the market evolves continually, so my method will not work well forever. Already, I have seen a lot of opportunities come and go, and businesses including Comixpress, Project Wonderful, Graphic Smash, and the like have their time in the sun and then close their proverbial doors. Times change, things change.

MY CREDENTIALS:

In case you haven’t heard of me, my name is Scott A Story, and with my wife and often-time collaborator Benita G. Story, we co-own Story Studios. Before I became a self-publisher, I was a freelance artist on a great number of indie comics. Usually I was the penciler, sometimes a penciler/inker, and sometimes a colorist or penciler/inker/colorist. In the beginning I drew mostly comic interiors, but as time went on I composed more and more comic covers. The publishers I worked for are too numerous to mention, but they included Image, Amp, Arrow, and others.

In 2004 I dreamed up my own creator-owned property, Johnny Saturn, and almost immediately Benita joined as my co-writer. Story Studios was born. As of this writing, that equals 18 individual comics, three trade-paperback collections, a pinup book, two sketchbooks, a calendar, and subsidiary merchandise like t-shirts and mugs. The webcomic version ran for 2006 to 2016, during which it garnered Webcomic Reader’s Choice Awards and enjoyed a sizable and loyal following. It was during this period as well that me, Scott Austin, and Arne Schulenberg founded the successful Collective of Heroes, a juried webcomic collective that featured superheroes. The Collective of Heroes still exists and is still healthy, although now it is in the hands of other talented creators.

So, I’ve done all that, and tested those waters well. What have I not done? I have not tried crowdfunding yet, nor self-published via offset printing, nor used Diamond Distributors to the Direct Market. I’ll explain all those in greater detail, and why I have not taken up those options, as the article progresses.

NEXT: FUNDING AND FINANCIAL BACKERS

Alternate Cover for Spire City Noir No. 2

I’m not going to say this picture is done. I’m going to let it simmer for a while, so to speak. This is about the outside range or my watercolor skills at the moment, although I’m studying to get a better command of it.

Covers, Cover Bands, Cover Ups

The Changing of the Guard cover is now finished and lettered.

Name of the Shadow is still a work in progress, but it’s getting closer to taking its final form.
The is the unlettered cover of Local Hero Press’s new book Plague by Adrienne Dellwo

To Push, or not to Push

Hello, readers!

Today finds me in a relaxed mood. I know the more time I stay away from the news and social media, the better my mental state becomes. This is no secret. The world is a relentlessly negative place, and while we have to live in it we shouldn’t have to wallow in the muck. Sometimes there is no choice, I get that. Find happiness where you can.

I have two-and-a-half projects in motion currently. The project-and-a-half part is “Story Studios Presents the Changing of the Guard,” a collection of prose stories set in the world “Johnny Saturn” and “Spire City.” There are nine stories in all, written by me, with the exception of “Being Johnny Saturn” which was penned by Benita G. Story.

That’s a whole project, and it’s very near the end of its proofreading cycle. The half project that goes with it is18 black-n-white full-page illustrations that are included in the book. These prints also will serve as the basis of a large-formatted poster book once I’ve painted them all. That’s why I call it a project-and-a-half, because I’m reusing the art for something related.

These days I’m at peace with being a storyteller. I no longer fret about specializing as an artists OR a writer. I’m both. I always have been. No reason to deny it. I see myself as sort of a creative generalist these days.

My other project is a novel called “The Name of the Shadow.” It’s midway through the editing process. It is a medieval fantasy adventure starring a thief named Raeth. I’ll be writing more about this as the project takes center stage.

I am on track to have both of these novels ready for December this year, and I already have two more books in various stages of completion to put out next year. This has been a good creative time for me, but it’s way past the time that I should hunker in and get some stuff done!

More New & Updated Pictures

Mish-Mash of Miscellanea

Hi, Peoples of Earth!

I’m not going to act like there’s a theme to today’s post. There’s not, sorry. Just some art.

I just finished another cover for a novel called “Rooftops” for Local Hero Press, and I really, really really want to show it off today, but I cannot. I have to wait till the publisher shows it off first.

These pictures relate to my upcoming Johnny Saturn anthology,

Gratuitous Gallery

Here’s some stuff I’ve been working on, all related to the Johnny Saturn prose anthology:

Emotional Archeology

Because of my long absence from this blog, you might think that I’ve been inactive. It’s not so. Major issues and life-changing events have kept me busy. I’m not going to write about them here, because that’s not what this journal is about, but I will say that so far, as events continue to develop, things have come out OK. I’ve had a long walk through a dark woods of indecision and uncertainty, and I can see the light ahead.

No, this blog is about my pursuits. Writing, art, and all things that relate to that.

After a long year of working hard on many projects, yet never getting done with any of them, I decided to focus on just a couple for the remainder of 2019 and see some things through. To that end, I am working hard on two books, “Name of the Shadow,” and “Johnny Saturn: Changing of the Guard.” Both books have the benefit of already having been written, but they lack final go-overs, formatting, and covers. I decided to tackle these two first because I’m a firm believer in finishing the easier stuff first–it makes one look more productive, it clears stuff off the slate, it’s good for personal morale, etc.

“Name of the Shadow” is a fantasy novel that I wrote in my late twenties. Yes, it’s a “trunk” novel, hidden away for decades. When I wrote it there was no internet to speak of, and I tried really hard to get a literary agent, and unsuccessfully tried again and again. It almost happened, but didn’t. Anyway, at 26 chapters and 216,000 words, this book has waited for it’s chance in the sun for a long time. This novel poses an interesting challenge, because I wrote it when I was younger. So, I consider it to be a collaboration between me and an untested 27-year-old writer. I’m making it a point to not re-write my collaborator’s book, to leave his voice intact, and instead to simply tweak it here and there. I have more trunk novels set in this same world, so I’m also going to make small changes to keep it in continuity with what is coming down the road.

“Johnny Saturn: Changing of the Guard” is a collection of all the finished Johnny Saturn short stories and novellas written between 2007 and 2019. There are nine in total, and, with the exception of “Being Johnny Saturn,” written by Benita, they are all by me. They include the stories included in “City of the Broken Gate,” which I will cease publishing once this book is ready. Two of the stories are new, and never before published. As far as genres, these are all superhero stories, but different ones are also crime noir, horror, romance, or science fiction. Even though they were written over a twelve-year period, there is a weird cohesiveness to them. I hope you’ll read this collection and find out for yourself.

My other projects, such as the “Book of Lists,” and “Apex Killers,” are still very much on the horizon. I just want to get some of my projects done before I get back to them. There is also a black-and-white portfolio that I’ve been hard at work on, pen-and-ink prints set in the Spire City/Johnny Saturn world. There is an upcoming Johnny Saturn miniseries called Planer Eclipse. And, a fantasy novel called “Requiem.”

I’ve got a great deal more I could write about here, but this is probably enough for now. Next time, I’ve got movie and television show commentaries; items that have come into my possession; new computer programs and apps that I’ve got or have been experimenting with; and so much more.

My Site was Weighed Down With Battleship Chains!

At last, Jonnysaturn.com is back up, and Scottastory.com also redirects to this site as well. As it should! Many long chats with my provider have been had to make this all happen. Imagine me with with a perplexed look on my face, while the technicians patiently try to fix my problems.

This is how my self-portrait came out.

I’m proud to report that my non-fiction book, The Medieval Book of Lists, is now up to about 45,000 words in length. I’m discovering many interesting things about that time period that I did not know. This will not be a traditional history book, as such, but a guide for game designers (tabletop and computer), authors, television, historical groups (HEMA, SCA, etc.), LARPers, and so forth to get more accuracy into their play and products. Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings are both wonderful, but they are far from accurate.

I’m Anything But a Midnight Rambler

OK, my brain is a-jumble, so you get random thoughts this week:

  • I cannot remember for the life of me how to correctly hook up my new “scottastory” URL to this site. I used to do this kind of thing all the time, but it’s been maybe a decade since I was actively involved in the nitty-gritty of web stuff.
  • I’m cleaning my room and studio. It’s all a crazy mess, as if the person who lives here does nothing but sleep here, and everything else be damned. Now that I mention it, the interior of my car looks like that too. I know I’ve been a little depressed, but it’s time I got back to the world of people who care enough to take care of things. It’s hard to believe that I’m the same person who is so insanely organized at work.
  • I’d like to see “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse,” but apparently it cannot be simply rented online yet. Patience sucks.
  • I’ve purchased quite a few 3D props lately that relate to the medieval period: horses, armor, barding, castles, landscapes, etc. Could there be a medieval historical or fantasy project in my future?
  • I just began of a Udemy course, Graphic Design Base Camp I, and then have it’s follow-up, and another on cover design. Udemy has been a great boon to me over the years, and I love to keep learning.
  • Benita just purchased a target and some nice arrows, so my experiments in the long bow are all set to start this spring. I’m pretty excited. It’s all experimental historical recreation to me, and that’s a happy thing.
Here’s what I’m up to on my self-portrait. I think the only way to to really learn how to paint in acryilics is to just paint. I’ll look back on this as a crude first attempt, but I have discovered that applying a fade off to a brush stroke is to do it with a light, fanning motion. You can’t mix and model things on the canvas like you can with oil paints. Anyway, I’m about to the point where I can paint on my hair. Freckles are a bit of a challenge, I’ve discovered. Those are coming too.
I always thought of this song as the unofficial theme song of Johnny Saturn.

Living A Life of Illusion

Some sketchbook art:

This is detail of a self portrait I’m working on. I worked on the eyes today. It’s acrylic, and I’m still very much learning as I go to apply the paint effectively, brush strokes, and all that.

A selfy I took at a recent craft fair. I like this one because my head looks like it’s glowing with the light of a thousand lightbulbs.

We Haven’t Had That Vintage Here Since 1969

This week, a few thoughts, and new art.

I’ve had a thread going on over on Facebook about digital and traditional art, about which one gives you more joy. The conversation has been robust, and it has fallen this way: 60% of artists prefer traditional, 20% prefer both equally, and 20% prefer digital. As you know in my case, I prefer working traditionally, especially on my own projects, but for illustration you cannot beat digital for speed, access to resources, and ease of use. I am fanatic about Clip Studio Paint Ex, and love it. But, I never get an artistic high working digital. It remains work. With traditional art, however, I enjoy a pleasurable, meditative state where the passage of time disappears and my brain is drenched with peace and happiness. Really. For me, it is both mediums. I liken myself to Neil Young, who makes wild and wooly , off-the–charts electrical music, and beautiful, intricate acoustic music. Both are brilliant, both are him, so choose your poison. I expected there to be an age difference in those who prefer all digital workflows, that younger artists would prefer the computer, but I saw no evidence for that.

I had another revelation, this week. I realized that if I enjoy making art and writing so much, is it even important to publish it? Do I need to knock myself out promoting my work, and feel guilty when I fail to do so? Would I have more joy just creating content for myself? The answer is yes. I don’t need a following, or a long resume, or advertising and promotion. I would be fine without bothering. Yet, and yet . . . Well, there is always a joy sharing your work with others of a like mind, with people who get what you do and are enthusiastic for more. It builds up your ego, and it feels good. So, is there a lesson to be learned here? In my own case, I think it comes down to a fine balancing act. I think using the appropriate organic key words, and sharing on social media, all makes sense and is not really that time consuming. The time I would have otherwise spent grasping at every promotional straw, feeling desperate and lost about it, and running ads, going to conventions, building a mailing list, and doing interviews on assorted podcasts, all would better be served by simply creating more content. Am I incorrect? Am I doing it wrong? Feel free to comment below or message me.

Here is my new cover:

Cover to the latest Pen and Cape anthology, coming soon.

Here are some pics from my sketchbook. They were done as character studies for characters I built a prose short story around.