Thursday, January 24, 2013

Taking Cues From Outside Comics? Brilliant!

My friend Matt just published his first book, Brilliant Deduction. It looks at a number of real-life detectives whose work is right up there along the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. I haven't read it yet, but it sounds good and I know he's put a lot into ensuring it's extremely professional.

Now because I haven't read, I can't precisely recommend it, but that's okay because it's not why I'm bringing it up here. I'm bringing it up because Matt went the same self-publishing route that I did with Comic Book Fanthropology. Same vendor and everything. And the reason that's interesting in this case -- a lot of people have used Lulu after all -- is that one of the reasons Matt and I are friends is because we both have similar backgrounds in design and production. "Talking shop" for us can get into all sorts of esoteric printing techniques; we both know how print works from the production side of things. So in Matt's working on his book, we have been able to compare notes and get into some of the nitty gritty about the actual print process.

I ordered my copy from directly from Lulu around 10:00 AM last Thursday. I got his default "thanks for ordering" message around noon. Matt uploaded some minor updates a few hours after that. So the question here was: would the copy I get have Matt's most recent changes? Did Lulu pull the file he had already uploaded as soon as I place my order, or not until they actually had a chance to print the pages?

I received my copy in the mail on Tuesday. Five days from a non-existent book to having a copy on my doorstep. Keep in mind that there was a Sunday and a federal holiday in there which mail didn't move anywhere. I checked the mailing label, and it was date/time stamped on Friday around 1:30 PM. Now that could've been printed up at any time, but given that it includes the shipping weight, I have to believe this wasn't printed until AFTER the book itself.

Actually, books plural. I ordered another title as well.

Turns out that it took them just a bit over 24 hours to print and bind two 300-ish page books. A good commercial laser printer can run about six pages per minute. Multiply that by 600 pages and you get... 60 hours. Nearly three times as long as the absolute maximum that Lulu took. If you drop those two non-mail days out of the equation, it took Lulu the same amount of time to print and bind these books AND ship them to me as it would've taken me to print them here at home. Color me impressed!

Not surprisingly, my copy does not contain the updates that Matt had made that afternoon. They almost certainly were in the midst of actually printing in when he submitted those revisions. I suspect they started running it around the time I got that "thank you" message. But this was gleaned from our knowing production processes, and discussing ideas back and forth during his development process.

While the book itself has little to do with comics... well, really, it has nothing to do with comics... I think there's value in having discussions with authors like Matt who are consciously and actively involved in the production process. While his discussion of a missing colophon might seem immaterial, it might also shed light on a problem or concern that you, as an independent comic creator, are having.

The comic community is generally pretty great when it comes to sharing knowledge. One of my favorite podcast episodes recently was just all about printers that handle fairly low-run, independent comics. But while comic artists can draw wicked cool stuff, they're not necessarily as involved in the production process. It's always worth taking notes from people like Matt who studied this stuff in school and work with the exact same production issues in a professional capacity. As always, don't limit your circle to people IN comics -- some folks outside the biz can provide more than a few tips and tricks too!

1 comment:

Matt K said...

I just love that your comment shortly after your order was "I'm sure they didn't start printing my copy the moment the order went through." I certainly didn't think you were making a crazy assumption, either! :-)

And yeah, learning more about how things are made is great. There are awesome automatic web-based tools and services, these days... but I think the power they offer an individual to pursue a project on his or her own is multiplied when you, the individual, have some understanding of what's going on and what to expect, etc.

Then you go from having found a magic object to actually having magic skills!