Along with freezing in the grandstands at my daughter’s track meet, hauling away the brushpile from my backyard and attending a wedding at a 113-year-old house, I spent part of last weekend roaming the aisles at the Staple Independent Media Expo in Austin. I wanted the chance to mingle with and talk to my fellow local writers, of course, but I was also scouting the event for next year when I may set up a table and peddle my wares. I’ll have more of my own books ready by then, and wanted to see if Staple was a good venue.
I’d have to say it is a good event for self-published genre writers, although with certain caveats. I’d estimate that 75 percent of the vendors on hand were comics creators, illustrators and animators, with only a smattering of self-published novelists wedged in-between. So it’s definitely weighted in favor the comics side of the market. But the Staple expo has recently expanded its reach to include more self-published literature, and one thing the event absolutely delivers is a very accepting audience for independent publishing efforts. Plus, there is a lot of overlap between the markets for graphic novels and comics and genre fiction such as SF, fantasy and horror, so my books wouldn’t be out of place next to a table displaying, say, Stratum Comics’ The Threat.
One takeaway from Staple was that independent comic artists are a little further along the acceptance curve than self-published writers, at least as far as public perceptions go. Although it is gradually fading in the new media environment, self-published authors still drag around some “can’t get a real publisher” baggage. But comic creators have been self-publishing successfully for decades. Some artists set out independently because they wanted to step beyond the bounds of all-ages fare that the Comics Code allowed, and others because the big comics publishers were notorious for locking up all intellectual property rights, with only crumbs left for the actual creators. Thus, fair or not, the independent comic publisher today enjoys more of a reputation as a brave, no-compromise iconoclast than your average self-pubbed romance novelist.
On the business side, with all the comic and anime conventions scattered across the nation there are now many established avenues for direct selling. Even comic shops like the Dragon’s Lair brag in their advertisements that “We sell indie comics!” I’ve been shopping at comix hotbed Austin Books since the 1980s and never had a problem finding independently-published comics. I have yet to encounter a traditional bookstore, however, that boasts of their independent novelist section. (Although if there are any out there, please let me know.)
But! You were wondering about the expo. There were some heavy-hitters in attendance along with new talent. The great Bernie Wrightson was there signing and selling his artwork and comics. Sean Wang hosted a good seminar on using Kickstarter to fund the next volume in his Runners series. That Kickstarter campaign is still live, BTW, so hop on over to see what a well-executed fund-raising campaign looks like.
Whenever I attend a convention I make a point to spend some money to support local writers and illustrators, and this time I brought home one of Jenner Carnelian’s graphic novels, which I look forward to reading. Had a great chat with him, and that was an almost universal experience at Staple. Lottsa nice people with interesting things to say. Hope to squeeze in a table amongst them next year.