Starting from Scratch: How I Self-Published an All-Ages Graphic Novel about a Kitten
Some writers sweat out their masterpieces in the wee hours after a day job or put all their efforts into one heroic month. My Great American Novel took eight years and $5,000 of my own hard-earned cash. It wasn’t a discourse on my generation or an allegory about consumerism.
I self-published an all-ages graphic novel about a kitten who likes his dessert maybe a little too much, and here is what I learned.
Deferred dreams should still be accomplished, out of principle.
Ever since I was a little girl, I loved telling stories. In the early ‘90s, in an age of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Oregon Trail, the first thing I did on our family’s new computer was write a story. It was a high fantasy epic about elves who were enslaved by wizards.
I pursued a career where I get to write for a living, but this has meant catering to other people’s ideas and preferences. In the end, I found that I was too tired of words Monday-Friday to devote much time to my own voice. But deep within my soul, where hope resides on fragile wings, I knew that I didn’t want to wake up one morning having never truly tried to publish a book of my own.
And how quickly time flies when you aren’t paying attention to your dreams.
There was no grand moment of decision-making, but perhaps there was a late night, existentialist conversation about the meaning of life. And, behold! 2014 was to be the Year of the Book. And I would publish this book whether it was good or not, whether I was ready or not. If I achieved this goal out of sheer principle, I figured I would never wonder if my dream was worth it–for good or ill, I would know.
Inspiration doesn’t have to be inspiring.
A lot of advice for writers includes writing about what you know–telling your truth. Well, I didn’t think anything I had to say was particularly new or important or interesting. I just didn’t have a “beach novel” in me. What I did have was a character: a curious, friendly kitten named Miu, whose world and motivations were very clear to me from day one and with whom I genuinely enjoyed spending time. I realized when I worked on Miu that I was no longer flailing around trying to make plots and dialogue stick. I had my truth. It wasn’t Nobel-inspiring, and maybe it is influenced by Bone, Garfield, and Zorro, but it makes me happy.
You are going to make a mess and make mistakes the first time you try anything.
Here’s a fun fact–you can do all the research in the world, but inevitably, you will encounter resistance and road blocks. I started Miu on some Blue Line Pro comic book art boards purchased from Oxford Comics in Atlanta, Ga. in 2007. It took me ages to storyboard everything out, then to letter it all. I sent a bazillion pitch letters to publishers and heard nothing back. Frustrated, I took matters into my own hands and hired a graphic artist to lay it out so I could sell the dang thing myself. Sounds like a good idea, right?
Well, it turns out the scans of my drawings weren’t hi-res enough, and I’d have to do them over, preferably with some kind of illustration software. For a few days, I seriously considered spending all my money on a trip to Tahiti instead. But then, my fabulous graphic designer, Andi Counts, connected me with the exceptionally talented Rachel Bowman. These two ladies encouraged me and helped me bring my ideas and vision to a more, shall we say, professional reality. I had a lot of skin in the game already, but investing my own, hard-earned savings helped me remain disciplined about finishing my project.
Even as Miu became the proper book it is now, we found out that the world isn’t quite ready for digital graphic novels. All the major e-book retailers have their own formats for picture books and chasing that technological tail gets expensive. My plan to use a marketing service to promote my e-book also fell through because of the formatting issue.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t done my homework. I spoke to successful self-publishing authors, comic book producers and illustrators, and elementary school educators. I read advice blog after advice blog. Neil Gaiman says to make “glorious mistakes,” and I began to believe that making a graphic novel I can’t afford to print was a pretty big one.
Life and your psyche can get in the way–if you really aren’t committed.
I became almost incapacitated with self-doubt. It had been two years since the Year of the Book. People must think this is a tremendous waste of time. People must think I am stupid. People are lawyers and doctors, and I like cats.
I began to feel afraid that my great dream wouldn’t be worth all that I had invested in it. And it would be easy, so temptingly easy to quit and avoid judgement of who I am as a writer, and how I had spent all that time and money. But then, I would admit to myself, as I had countless times before, that I wasn’t quite ready to give up on myself and my creative vision.
In early 2015, I had a miscarriage. I worked on Miu with a renewed sense of purpose. I needed a distraction, needed to create something to help me cope with my loss and my stress. It did.
Soon after, I became pregnant again. Just as the clock was ticking down toward the delivery of my other baby, Miu was published on Amazon. My daughter, “Bubbles,” arrived Dec. 11, and ComiXology published Miu on Dec. 16. (That was a pretty good week.)
Every step in the right direction is a step in the right direction.
So, here I am, maybe a little more sleep-deprived, but still working on Miu. I have made $50 back of what I invested thanks to 15 of my most wonderful, generous, awesome, amazing, encouraging friends. Bubbles is learning to smile and laugh and poop IN her diaper, day by day. And Miu is getting out into the world in baby steps, too.