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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Self-Publish Your Graphic Novel and add Merchandise!

Print On Demand (POD) publishing is a business model that allows authors to publish their own book without going through the headaches inherent in the traditional publishing model. Though there are many versions of POD publishing, my personal favorite allows an author to get a book out with minimal investment. While there are a lot of websites that do POD publishing, I'll focus on one site that holds a lot of potential for comics creators--Cafepress.

When you register with Cafepress, your account is a virtual store where you can sell all sorts of stuff like t-shirts, mugs, mousepads, wall clocks, even pillows and teddy bears. You choose which items you want to include in your store. All these items start of as blank slates--they have no designs. As a store owner, you upload JPEG or PNG graphics to your account and slap them on your chosen products. When you're satisfied with how your product looks, you can bring them online for public viewing.

The prices of these items are the sum of two things: a base price and your markup. The base price goes to Cafepress, and the markup (which is your choice) goes to you. For instance, a custom mousepad is $10.99. You can sell it at $12.99, with the added $2.00 as your profit.

The print on demand system comes in when someone orders your product. If a customer orders one mousepad, Cafepress produces one mousepad. The customer pays for the shipping.

What I like about Cafepress is that they also do books--comics included. You would have to know how to create PDF files, since that's the format that the site accepts for books. Cafepress provides options for standard book sizes and binding, with the traditional comic book size included. The price for your comic book is dependent on the number of pages and the binding (the size of the book is irrelevant). As of now, however, they only print in grayscale with color covers.

The price of a standard 28-page comic book (which includes 4 pages for the cover) with staple binding is $5.26. This does not include your markup. Pretty steep, I know, which is why I strongly recommend Cafepress for graphic novels that have a lot of pages. If you create a perfect-bound 108-page book (covers included), the cost would be $10.24. That's not as bad. You can add $2.00 for you markup, and the retail price would still be competitive.

Again, you don't have to crowd your room with stocks. When a customer orders one copy, Cafepress prints one copy and ships it. You can even order your own copies and ship them to a different address. (Great for reviews!)

But the bonus of having your book on Cafepress is the merchandise, opening up some interesting promotional opportunities. Apart from having your book up, you can customize a journal, some refrigerator magnets, pin buttons, even a trucker cap with your logo or artwork. If you're stumped about a gift idea for a friend or relative's birthday, send them one of your products.

The key, however, in making your efforts work is to get people to visit your Cafepress store. If you have a blog or a website, post preview pages then add a link to your store. Add links as well to your email signature, your web forum profile, or your business card.

There are other POD sites like Lulu, Authorhouse, and iUniverse, but not all of them do comics. But as far as I've checked, I haven't located anything like Cafepress that has merchandise that can support your publishing efforts in one website. Plus, you retain all rights to your work.

As a disclaimer, I'm not being paid to do this. I just think it's a great opportunity for aspiring graphic novelists to explore. Of course, you ought to read through the website's terms so you'll know what you're getting into. While there are a few horror stories when it comes to POD, I'd like to think that if your cover your bases well enough, the rough spots shouldn't be too big a hurdle.

For more information on the pros and cons of POD, check out this article.

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