Agatha at PAX 2012
Yay! My bees are awake and they’re flying around my cherry tree and they’re using their little bee house and everything! Plus I’ve noticed that my artichoke plants, which didn’t even bother putting out new leaves for all of last year are doubling in size every time I look at them. I feel like Luther Burbank and it’s not even summer yet.
Some of the more perspicacious amongst you might have heard rumblings that we are going to try this Kickstarter thing. Indeed we are. It is time to print Girl Genius Volume 12 (Agatha Heterodyne and the Siege of Mechanicsburg), and everyone tells me that this is the best way to raise the money, which will make a nice change from sharecropping or drawing people’s pets at petting parties, which is how I worked my way through college.
Everyone says that print is dead, but if that’s the case, the funeral is proving mighty expensive. Now I will admit, we produce a high–quality publication; a nice, high–clay paper, printed in the good old U.S.A., and this time we’re shooting for stitch binding instead of the way cheaper “perfect” binding. (When you spread a book open too wide and the spine cracks and pages start dropping out? That’s a perfect bound book– and a mighty cheap one at that) Plus, we are a bit of a victim of our own success. Our initial print run will be around 9000 books.
Normally our initial print run is 8000, and this lasts us around 2 years, which is just about right. [You don’t want to tie up too much of your capital in books that sit around in your warehouse for a decade or so not making you money. This is a trap that a lot of newbie publishers make, as they realize that if they print a few extra thousand books, their per unit cost goes down. This is true, but no matter how you parse it, printing 5000 books cost more than printing 2000 books, and you probably could have done a lot more interesting things with that money in the short term. Trust me, I learned this the hard way, and I have the stuffed warehouse shelves to prove it. (http://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TO&Product_Code=GEN-BUCK-4STORIES&Category_Code=GEN)%5D However, when we printed 8000 of Girl Genius # 11, we sold out in less than nine months. That’s too damn fast. So we’re printing 9000 of the darn things and that’s going to cost a pile of money. To add insult to injury, our printer, with whom we’ve had a long and mutually beneficial relationship, insists on money up front. Their excuse is that in this lousy economic environment, established publishers are flaming out all the time. Can’t argue with that. However, I believe that it’s really because we are first and foremost cartoonists, not business majors, and they are not idiots.
We’re in the process of putting the thing together, and I assure you that you folks will be the first in line to hear when it goes live, which will be mighty soon, as we want to get these books out in time for San Diego. Wish us luck.
However here, it is still too cold to put tomatoes into the ground, unless I want to resort to things like cold frames or water jackets or smudge pots or whatever, which I most certainly do not. It is unseasonably cold around here. My Mason Bees have yet to hatch, which is annoying, as my cherry trees are in full bloom, and that was sort of the point.
So I see a number of people commenting on our resolution with Night Shade and Skyhorse. One question I saw (which I have seen elsewhere) is “Why don’t you self-publish your novels like you do your comics?” Well, we could, of course. But we don’t want to. Aside from the base concept, publishing comics and publishing books are two entirely different things. It’s an entirely different market, served by entirely different distribution networks and governed by rules that we really don’t know enough about.
Plus, and this is important, it’s really nice to have money coming in without having to worry about whether it’s more than we put out. As I have said, a thousand times before, printing is expensive. If another corporate entity is willing to foot that bill, along with the bill for editing, shipping, cover art, and advertising, then more power to them!
In addition, there is a thing called “perceived value”. Putting it simply, People in the Entertainment Business will pay more attention to a property if other people have indicated that they think that it has the potential to make them money. Sure, I could self-publish my book, and do very well with it, but I’m not floating anyone else’s boat. However, when Titan (for example), actually invests money in our book, they are saying to the world, “Hey, we think this thing will make us money.” Ideally, then other people will go, “Hey, Titan usually knows what they’re talking about– can we get a piece of that?”, and soon you’ve got Girl Genius underoos®. Plus, if you do everything yourself, then no one cares how well you do. But now Titan (to continue our example) has a stake in how well we do. It is in their best interest for Girl Genius to become a pop culture juggernaut, so hopefully they would place ads, sponsor book tours, and bribe reviewers (Just kidding! No one sponsors book tours anymore). This is also why it would be much better if an established company stepped up and did a Girl Genius video game, or movie, or line of laboratory glassware, instead of us doing it ourselves.
Now this is not to say that if the book publishing business becomes as horrible as the comics publishing business we won’t bite the bullet and Do It Ourselves, but until that happens, we’re perfectly happy to leave it in the hands of the professionals.
I sure picked a poor time to try and cut back on my news consumption. Or…perhaps I picked a very good time indeed. See, I read something recently that said that if you pay too much attention to the news, by which I mean the ‘Big Picture’ stuff, which as a rule, is stuff you personally cannot do anything about, your stress levels go through the ceiling. Now I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a ‘news junkie’, and this sounded reasonable to me, so I have tried to cut way down on my habit of idly trawling news websites. Obviously this week has been a bit of a test for me, but luckily, I have resisted temptation thanks to a wide variety of very well-run hentai sites which carry no news content whatsoever.
That said, I do in fact have news. People have been asking about the whole Night Shade/Skyhorse thing. For those of you just tuning in, our prose book publisher, Night Shade Books announced that they were going out of business, and selling our contracts, as well as the contracts of all of their other authors, to a company called Skyhorse. Skyhorse, who had never worked with genre writers, or apparently any modern full time writers, then announced that they were rewriting everybody’s contract, and slashing our royalty rates as well as a bunch of other stuff. The implied threat was that if enough Night Shade authors rejected this, then Night Shade would go into Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and all of the authors would find the rights to their books locked up in legal limbo, possibly for years, if not forever. Something that actually has happened in the past.
After I reported this, I was quite pleased to see that Skyhorse’s Facebook page got hammered by people who were outraged at their plans, and concerned on our behalf. Within days, Skyhorse announced that they were re-adjusting the royalty rates upwards for everybody, and we were back to getting paid a piece of the gross and not net. furthermore, in a communication with our agent, Skyhorse assured him that they would abide by the other codices that we had written into the original contract, which dealt with things like allowing us to buy books for convention sales, and other details that most other authors don’t seem to care about. Was the royalty rate as high as the one we had negotiated out of Night Shade? No. This was the one thing we could not get. They flat-out said that the rates we had gotten from Night Shade were too damn high, and would prove too taxing upon the company’s financial stability. It’s kind of hard to argue against this, when the company that gave you everything you wanted, tanked. I am sure that this was just a coincidence, but at the moment I lack the data points to prove it. Thus, we signed the new contract, and will be turning in the manuscript to the third Girl Genius novel (Agatha H and the Fixer-Upper of Doom [tentative title]), as soon as we finish writing it (125,000 words and counting).
We will give Skyhorse a chance, and ask that you do the same.
In a bit of travel news, next weekend I will be galumphing down to scenic, ignore the ever-looming volcano, Portland, Oregon for the 2013 Stumptown Comics Fest. (http://www.stumptowncomics.com/). Once there, I will answer questions, appear on panels, do readings, avoid lava, and sell stuff. Hopefully I will see you there.
I first met Nick back in the early 1980’s when he was performing the Phil A Delphia radio plays for the Philadelphia in ’86 worldcon bid. I sat through a show and afterwards walked up to him and said “Hi, we have got to do something together.”
Over the years, various “Somethings” included two different improv comedy groups ‘The Gunderson Corporation’ and ‘The Zanti MIsfits’, the first fan-dubbed anime, ‘You Say Yamato’ (as well as it’s spiritual sequel, ‘Dr. Who & the Hunger of the Croutons’), and our mutual first novel sale ‘Illegal Aliens’. Illegal aliens came about because Nick came over to my place one day and said, “I just had this weird dream about a street gang fighting a giant robot.” I believe I said, “Why the hell would they be doing that?” and several thousand words later, we had a book.
In person, NIck was brash, funny and sincere about everything he did. Once he got a published book under his belt, there was no stopping him, and he produced a non-stop stream of genre novels, so many of them that his agent and publishers advised him to use a succession of pen names so that readers wouldn’t get ‘Pollotta Fatigue’. This would be understandable, as Nick produced a lot of stuff very quickly. He would have done very well as a pulp writer, as he seemed to thrive under a regimen of quirky ideas produced under tight deadlines.
Nick was a demon for work. He was pounding away at the keyboard almost constantly, and was never happier then when the ideas were flowing and the keys weren’t sticking.
We had drifted apart over the years, but I was genuinely sorry to hear that he had died. I can only hope that his books stay in print. He’d’ve liked that. Here is a picture of the only time that Nick and I ever fought over money. Better luck next time around, amigo.
Phil, Payne, Marie and Carol have just driven off to attend the Spring in Sepia concert with Steam Powered Giraffe and Abney Park. I am left here to clean the ashes out of the fireplace and sing duets with the rats, because I have managed to catch the horrible cold thing my children brought home last week. Sniff. Ah, in reality, there will be no rodent duets, because my throat really hurts. Squeak.
Anyway, they’re all dressed up and look fabulous. I’m horribly jealous. I finally got to give Payne and Marie a copy of the Steampunk Gazette book, which, to our surprise, has two (uncredited) pictures of Payne, a whole sidebar dedicated to Payne’s sister’s hat business (cool!), and a (somewhat inaccurate) writeup of Girl Genius. We’re listed under “Steampunk Superheroes” (ugh) but at least we’re included, which is a step up from a lot of the other Steampunk books out there. It’s a lovely book.
Today I am working on finishing up the art for Deadwood, the nifty little game about bit players in Westerns to be put out by Cheapass Games (http://www.cheapass.com/). I have about half of them done.
One of the things I like about my “job” is that I can listen to pretty much anything I want to while I’m drawing. (Writing…not so much. Then it has to be instrumental, and stirring film score stuff works best.) But drawing utilizes a completely different part of the old brain, so I like to listen to podcasts about esoteric subjects. Javanese button–bending. Canadian spice futures. The benefits of cicadas as a snack food. You can find just about anything on the internet these days. While working on Deadwood, however, I have been mainlining some comedic radio theatre. Specifically the work found on The Thrilling Adventure Hour! (http://www.facebook.com/ThrillingAdventureHour?group_id=0) Even more specifically, Sparks Nevada- Marshall of Mars. These are a delightful blend of science–fiction and classic western with a hearty dollop of pure corn. They make drawing western stuff a mite easier, pardner, and I highly recommend ’em. They actually have a continuous story, so do start at the beginning. It’s free on iTunes.
Ellen & Steve Beeman, the shadow–masters behind Gizmocracy (http://www.facebook.com/Gizmocracy), who are producing the ‘Rats of Mechanicsburg’ Girl Genius game stopped by this evening to talk about the ‘look’ of Mechanicsburg. They whipped up a batch of home smoked barbecue and fed us while I got to talk about architecture, something that I hardly ever get a chance to do. Then we trooped into the studio and I pulled out some of my architecture reference books (As you’ll note above; I said “Just about anything”) I have a bunch of stuff that the mysterious, shadowy “They” (google) have not yet managed to pour into the cloud. This is one of the things that keeps me feeling smug, and helps me justify the bookcases full of obscure reference books that line my studio walls. Plus they are excellent insulation.