Note From The President, Cerebus 175, October 1993Copyright 1993 Dave Sim
Owing to the peculiarities of working far enough ahead to go to San Diego as well as do the two week UK Tour (it's still going to be a tight fit; if 174 got to you late, it means we miscalculated), I'm writing this Note mere hours after finishing the one for 174 and writing the letters page answers for that one. After I finish this, I have to pick the letters for this issue's Aardvark Comment and do the answers. I've already got the Victor Reid text pieces written, but I have yet to even start on the drawing end of things. This really doesn't have anything to do with anything, but, hey, you bitch about your job, don't you?
One of the biggest problems with what I'm doing here is trying to strike a balance between addressing all of the people who are starting to self-publish, the ones who want to start, and the ones who have only drawn five comic book pages in their entire life. This one is going to be in the category of advanced reading for most of you, but here goes.
Creativity comes before business. I learned that a long time ago, but I forget that its a natural mistake to make. I've only been reminded because of the time I've been able to spend with Martin, James, Jeff and Colleen in the last while. One of the commonest complaints was how much time the business side of self-publishing was occupying in their lives. When the roof over your head is at stake, you do tend to take business correspondence seriously, to say the least. The most important thing to remember is that you want to spend most of your time writing and drawing and as little time as possible doing the necessary business side.Everyone solves this problem a different way. For Colleen, the solution was to start her day with the creative end and at a specific point to start dealing with the business side. For Martin, it was a matter of making Sunday business day and working very hard to make sure that, when it does spill over into Monday, that it devours as little of that day as possible. Mail is a big problem. Everyone likes to get mail and self-publishers are lucky in that most of their mail is interesting (big, fat distributor cheques being especially interesting). The best thing to do is to allot a certain amount of time for mail and stick to it. The mail at Aardvark Vanaheim is divided by Gerhard. He takes care of the business mail, and I take care of Aardvark Comment, promotion, Campaign '93 and such-like. Since a starting self- publisher is going to have to deal with everything that comes in, they have to be merciless. Letters page mail, cheques, business problems that need to be fixed, and limited (LIMITED) personal correspondence. Jeff Smith was having a particular problem with this. He had a whole boxful of mail that he hadn't been able to get to. And when he did sit down to answer it, he would run up against That Letter. That Letter is the one you'd like to answer, but you don't know where to begin, so you just sit there staring at it for a half hour or so. As I told him, you throw those away. Bad ju-ju. Green kryptonite. (As a matter of fact I confessed to him that the last time I got way behind on my mail, I just threw the whole pile away and started from square one. I think I got three letters asking why I hadn't replied). You don't owe your fans and readers a personal reply. You owe them the next issue of your book. You are also not a pen-pal. If someone writes you a nice letter and you write them back, you are not obligated to strike up a years-long correspondence of Victorian proportions. If they get offended, so what? Same thing when people send you gifts or copies of their work. They aren't your grandmother. If you've got time, thank them. If you don't, do your next page.
If mail is an annoyance, the telephone is the enemy. Give people exactly as much time as you want to and not a second more. A simple 'Listen, I'm sorry, but I have to get this issue done' should suffice. If it doesn't, hang up on 'em. Learn to talk on the phone and work at the same time. There are plenty of brainless things you can do on a page and talk at the same time. Writing, layout and lettering, no. Tight pencilling, inking noodly details or filling in blacks, yes. Unplug your phone if you really need to concentrate (again, writing, layout, composition). Don't give me that 'what if there's an emergency?' That's what we have hospitals, cops and fire departments for (also non-self-publishing friends and relatives).
The binding element here is that writing and drawing have to come first. A double plus priority. Leave . . . me . . . ALONE. There is no question that the phone is the instrument of the devil insofar as self-publishing is concerned. I work every weekend that I'm not at a con or a signing and I will not answer the phone. There are times when it will ring every five minutes for eight hours. If you can't ignore a ringing telephone every five minutes for eight hours, you have a destructive addiction that definitely hurts your chances of ever being able to self- publish successfully.
Coolest thing I got in San Diego: a copy of Russell Calabrese's 1990 CD COMICS. An anthology comic (I swear I'm not making this up) packaged in a CD box. 24 Air Raid Wardens and footlocker, a micro mini comic and rainy day activities. If you have a spare ten bucks lying around, send it to Russell Calabrese, HI-TEST PRODUCTIONS, 17178 Chatsworth St. #2, Granada Hills, CA 91344. Trust me.
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