Of the batch of proposals for Quantum Redshift that I sent off, all of them got rejections.
To be fair, this is pretty much in line with my expectations. Quantum Redshift is, ostensibly, a superhero book. Not many indies want superhero books because of the bias of the market. When Image said no, that was pretty much the writing on the wall. It was unlikely any others would roll the dice on it. Remember, the whole reason I shopped it around in the first place was because I was planning on self-publishing it anyway. If all I got were “no”s, then I would simply carry on as I intended to all along. I literally had nothing to lose.
Any regrets? Nah, not really. I mean, given the percentage of personalized rejections instead of form rejections, I’m clearly doing something right. Getting such things is a rare and positive sign. The fact is, I haven’t really put myself out there like this before. With Archie, it was just my writing as far as seeing if I could fit in with the company. Hard Way Studios, that was part of a team. Quantum Redshift is the first time I have put myself on the line, wagering that my skill as a writer and artist would be enough to get results. I was close. Not close enough, but still close. There's still a chance I might find someone at C2E2 in a few weeks, but I'm not wagering my retirement on it.
What next? Unknown, I’m still figuring that out myself. I mean, with Quantum Redshift effectively stalled on the starting blocks, that means that I can self-publish it when I’m ready. So I can not only work on it at a more casual pace (I know, the art looks simple, but trust me, it's harder than it looks. Minimalism leaves NO room for error), but I can get back to work on Sound Waves again. I have up to #9 done, so I need to start penciling #10 soon. And part of me is also thinking of trying a different series and pitching it. The only reason I picked Quantum Redshift in the first place was it was so far along in the development process -- I needed something I could turn around rapidly, and Rose was it. Since the other ideas won’t be superheroes, they could have a better shot at getting through. I’ve neglected Safe Passage for way too long, and another shoujo idea of mine, Tentoumushi, is percolating as I write this. Either one of them could be next, although I’m leaning heavily towards Safe Passage. (I would need the extra time. Safe Passage’s art style would be the one I used in Head Above Water. That took a lot more time because of details and backgrounds and just making the human figures more accurate, especially compared to the simplified lines of Sound Waves and Quantum Redshift.)
Hilariously, one of the rejection letters for Quantum Redshift offered this helpful suggestion -- "Have you considered self publishing the book and selling it at conventions?" What?!? No! That's brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?!?
Of course, the obvious rejoiner is, "Why not try a smaller publisher? There are plenty of them out there. One of them is bound to say yes."
I'll tell you exactly why -- they not only can't provide anything I don't already have, but they could potentially fuck things up worse.
Consider Atomic Pop Art. They were the ones who "handled" The Supremacy before their stupidity wrecked the title's reputation and made Hard Way Studios crash face first into that glass ceiling again. When Diamond opted not to carry The Supremacy in their catalog, the decision was made to self-distribute. Everyone from Hard Way involved in the title worked the phones and called comic shops to stump for the book. Even I did it, and I have the phone bills to prove it. Atomic Pop Art pretty much just sat on their ass. They got the book printed and sent out, but frankly, we could have done that ourselves. And what did we get for our trouble? Not only was the series unfinished, but the rights were tied up with APA. How Hard Way got it back, I have no idea.
Some of these indie publishers are a pain in the ass. Alterna Comics, which does Jesus Hates Zombies and published Hard Way’s Morbid Myths, says that, unless you can attend ten cons or more a year to hawk the book, don’t bother submitting to them. Alterna seems unaware of this little thing called Reality. I can’t afford to take time off my job, spend travel money (either airfare or wear and tear on my car), and so on to hawk a book at a con that might not sell. I know a self publisher who went to Wizard World and only sold 80 copies of his book. Assuming $4 a book and Wizard’s table fee was $300, he only made $20. And that’s not counting costs to print the books, parking fees, gas, any of that shit. It just isn’t financially feasible to do what Alterna is asking.
Smaller publishers? They’re out there, but they don’t really offer anything I don’t already have through KaBlam. One publisher says what you are getting through them is the right to put their logo in the corner of your book. Well, that doesn’t mean anything. This publisher is not carried in Previews. Web presence? Yeah, they have that, but so do I through Indy Planet. In fact, because Comics Monkey is set up for comic shops, I have a distribution channel that way. Maybe this place can print the books cheaper, but then they will be taking cash for themselves. There’s no practical upshot to submitting to them.
If anything, they will make things worse. With KaBlam, I can do what I want when I want. If the rights to a book are tied up with another publisher, what then? Can I make promos or have the book printed elsewhere or special versions for Free Comic Book Day or what? Remember, just because you retain the copyrights to your work, that doesn’t mean they will stop printing it or some other thing. Lawyers get rich on vague promises. Let’s say Quantum Redshift gets out and Image changes their mind and wants to publish it. What happens to those issues? Can Image publish them, or does the then-publisher still hold the rights?
And keep in mind a lot of smaller publishers are not looking to publish comics. They are looking to create stables of IP they can leverage into movie deals and shit. I’ve known a lot of people who had their series picked up by smaller publishers who told them tales about connections to Hollywood and such. And then, nothing. I look at some of these publishers and the ghost of Steve Gerber is by my ear screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
Colleen Doran gave a talk about things like copyright law and she lamented the culture she feels she and others like her generated. She said lots of publishers aren’t out to screw creators, but she felt she had a hand in creating paranoia, that there was a threat around every corner. While I appreciate the sentiment, Ms. Doran is operating with the big names. Down here in the trenches, there ARE threats around every corner. And when I was younger, I might have just shrugged and said, “Oh, well, they tied up one of my creations. I just create another series.” I don’t have that in me anymore. I hate doing ashcan work, where no one sees what I've done (I'd make a lousy ghostwriter). I couldn’t be a screenwriter for one of the Hollywood factories like Bruckheimer’s productions because I don’t want to write three scripts a year and see them either not made or just rewritten until my contribution is gone. I want to put my creations out there, I want people to experience them. And I can’t let that desire blind me to the dangers around me. This isn’t Image. This isn’t IDW. This is the Hell’s Kitchen of comics. You need to watch out if you want to survive and get out of this neighborhood.
So, over the next few days, now that the comic stack has been organized and sorted correctly, I'm going to keep up work on Hannah Singer and Sound Waves and plot my next move.
NEVER let it be said I give up easily. Especially given how oh so close I came this time....