The writer, who launched his highly regarded Kickstarter project this week, is taking his creative destiny into his own hands.
By SETH KUSHNER
A few weeks ago, I received my first “big fat” royalty check from my 2007 book. It was for the amount of $355.58. It’s actually 50 percent of the royalty, with the other half going to my co-author. This amount was against the advance we received at the time we signed the contract. The advance amount was modest but OK, except for the fact it was a photo book and I was still shooting film back then, so there wasn’t any money left from the advance. So, thus far, after seven years, my entire “profit” from a 240-page book, which consisted of 300 photoshoots and took three years to make, is $355.58.
My situation is not unfamiliar to any of my friends who have published books with traditional publishers. In fact, I work at a studio in a warehouse building filled with cartoonists and comic-book makers where we often share publishing war stories. Without naming names, I’ve heard about major publishers who pay late, who don’t promote the books or the artist, who take covers away from the artist, who move up deadlines and hold off publication of completed works for years. The list goes on and on.
I’ve now made two books with traditional publishers (with a third on the way) and while those projects were creatively fulfilling, they weren’t at all profitable monetarily. Creators can get an advance (or not) and beyond that, there is a sharing of the royalties between the creator and the publisher that can vary from anywhere from 5 percent (if there was an advance) to 50 percent (with no advance), but either way, there is not a lot of opportunity for the creator of the work to make a anything resembling living from their efforts, unless you’re Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling, or any of the tiny percentage of best-selling authors who have become an “industry” unto themselves.
Sure, the publisher pays to print the book, and promote the book (ideally, but not always), but I feel strongly that if a hardworking and industrious creator can come up the money, he can be his own publisher. I’m not saying I won’t ever publish the traditional way again, because I probably will, (unless publishers read this and decide to blacklist me!) but doing it all myself feels right for my next book, “Schmuck,” because it’s MY story.
I’ve worked on “Schmuck” for years. I started writing it as a prose novel way back in 2003, when I was still living the situation of which I was writing. In 2008, I decided to turn it into a graphic novel. I got cartoonist Kevin Colden to draw the proposal and we shopped it around to publishers through two different agents. I remember agent number one began distributing it the week after the economy took a dive, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise when publishers were hesitant to take a chance on a new writer who barely anyone had heard off and on a book with a funny Yiddish word as its title.
It was clear “Schmuck” wasn’t going to sell. Time passed and I still yearned to tell that schmucky story and I decided to make it an anthology, with different artists illustrating short stories that could be read as bite-size chunks, or all together to tell the complete narrative. I began posting them regularly on TripCity.net, the literary arts salon I’d co-founded.
I’d always planned to collect and publish my personal comix story as a book, once completed, but I didn’t have any particular plan in mind.
Last fall, my studio-mates Dean Haspiel, Gregory Benton and I launched Hang Dai Editions, an independent publishing imprint to self-publish our signature works, the ones we wanted to keep for ourselves. We three each published a floppy comic under the HDE umbrella; me with Schmuck Comix #1, Gregory with Force of Nature and Dean with Psychotronic Comix. We got some attention, even getting written up in Publisher’s Weekly. People seemed impressed with how we were taking our destiny into our own hands. Soon, cartoonist Josh Neufeld joined us as our fourth member.
Our goal with Hang Dai Editions is to publish books, and with “Schmuck” now complete, I ended up the first one of us ready to take the plunge. Now, I’m turning to Kickstarter to help fund the printing of my dream project.
My campaign is an ambitious one, because I’m asking potential backers to not just fund the book, but to help launch Hang Dai Editions into the book world. I plan to print the book for backers, of course, but I also plan to print a quantity to get into stores, Amazon, etc., through a distribution deal I’ve made with Alternative Comics.
Of course, the project has to get funded in order for that to happen! The reasoning behind this (and behind the imprint) is I believe that in today’s DIY world of technology and crowdfunding, we can all be our own publisher. Everything I’ve done in my career has prepared me for this. This is an experiment, and one which I hope works. If it does, then I am one step closer to making a reality my dream of living off creating my passion projects.
About “Schmuck”: It’s a 168-page autobio graphic novel about one man’s awkward coming-of-age-quest to find love in New York City, written by Seth Kushner with design by Eric Skillman, forward by Jonathan Ames and art by 22 great cartoonists, including; Josh Neufeld (A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge), Nick Bertozzi (The Salon), Dean Haspiel (The Fox), Kevin Colden (The Crow), Gregory Benton (B+F), Leland Purvis (Resistance), Sean Pryor (Pekar Project), Bobby Timony (Night Owls), Noah Van Sciver (The Hypo), Omar Angulo (Hurricane Wilma), Shamus Beyale (The Grimm Fairy Tales), Ryan Alexander-Tanner (To Teach), Nathan Schreiber (Power-Out), Stephan DeStefano (Lucky in Love), George Jurard (Beacon Lights), George Schall (Dark Horse Presents), Tony Salmons (Vigilante), James Smith (Gang of Fools), Skuds McKinley (Rumble Moon), Jonathan Allen (Vacationland), Pierce Hargan, Christa Cassano (Breakers) and cover art by Joseph Remant (Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland) on the general public trade paperback and Dean Haspiel on the Kickstarter exclusive version.