Friday, January 7, 2011

Self-Publishing Lessons from Gandhi Part 2: What We Can Do Today

Note: I've decided to litter this article with pictures of Gandhi as a young man in South Africa. He looks different from what you may expect, and yet still somehow familiar.

source: Wikimedia Commons

A lot of things have changed in the world of publishing in the last twenty years alone, and we can expect rapid changes and experimentation. And yet as the cliche goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here are some things we can take from Gandhi's foray in self-publishing we can still apply today:

1) Have a message. It's easy to take this for granted, and perhaps it would mostly be people who have experienced the limits of conventional publishing who would immediately appreciate the freedom accorded of doing it on your own. Still, don't waste the possibilities afforded by self-publishing and just publish material willy-nilly.

It need not be fully radicalized like Gandhi's satyagraha. If you want to tell stories of your childhood, or share fashion tips, you can make that your message. What's important is that you explore that intentionality.

I would caution that it really is too easy to say what everybody else is saying. You admire what this artist or writer has done & want to make something as clever, ornate or emotional. However, the world would be  better served if you bring yourself to the table.

2) Be dedicated. It's the story that's retold over and over again, but never changes. Publishing in general entails so many tasks and demands, from producing content, to printing and distribution. If you will forego a big traditional publisher, you will have to utilize as many resources available to you as possible.

It definitely helps to find other people who are interested in publishing the same things as you. Not only will you be able to share resources, but you will also establish a support network for each other.

Here I would point out a common misconception regarding online publishing. It's too easy to assume that success is a lulu e-book or app subscription away, but that's only 1/3 of the work. You should still treat it like publishing on paper, with the budgeting & promotion & everything. If you don't know how to do these things online, you need to learn them to be successful.

3) Let the experience affect you. For Gandhi, the research, writing, publishing, and distribution of Indian Opinion led to his realization of the realities of Indian inequality under British rule. Whereas he initially intended to work within the British justice system, he gradually moved towards Indian independence, in keeping with what Indians needed, not just what he thought Indians needed.

Again, you may not experience something as radical as Gandhi, but you'll want to treat it like a feedback mechanism to inform your ongoing and future work.

4) Be ambitious. Not necessarily the kind of ambition that gets you in the New York Times Bestseller list, although that is good too. Think about how you want your work to influence people. The depth of that influence will determine how your work will be remembered for posterity.

And of course, you may not want or be able to apply all of these learnings in your personal self-publishing efforts, so just pick up and use what you can use.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Self-Publishing Lessons from Gandhi Part 1: Indian Opinion

Thinking out of the box, I was looking for a perspective on self-publishing that deviated from the profit building model, which has been growing in popularity thank to people like Seth Godin and Tim Ferris (see Tim Ferris' reflections on Godin's move to self-publishing here.)

But here you might already be saying; what's the point of writing if you don't make money off of it? What else is there?

And so I introduce you to self-publisher Mohandas Gandhi:

source: Wikimedia Commons

Gandhi, at 33, was an Indian lawyer in South Africa. Although a British citizen, he, as well as other Indians in the colony, was suffering discrimination from the local white Afrikaan community. At the time, the Jan Smuts goverment enforced serious limitations to Indian rights, such as warrantless arrests and seizires.  He sought a way to campaign for Indian civil rights in what was then a British colony, as their own native land India was.

With help from fellow Indians of influence, he was able to pool resources, including a printing press and a small stretch of land, to start publishing the Indian Opinion, a monthly magazine in 1903.  At first intended to merely document Indian human rights abuses, the magazine essentially became the prime mover towards Gandhi's development of satyagraha, the philosophical and political movement of nonviolent resistance.

source: National Gandhi

The hows of making the magazine were also relevant. For one, Gandhi arranged for a unique cooperative scheme. Nobody was paid a flat wage. Instead, everyone involved in making the magazine also worked together to maintain the printing press and living quarters, and even grow their own food. They were to share in any profits that they would make, but they were going to be self-sufficient. Also amazing was that they published in multiple languages: Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and English. Translation wasn't perfect, but they were able to spread their message nonetheless.

At its height, Indian Opinion had a circulation of 35,000 readers and averaged at 20,000. These were small numbers compared to leading periodicals with 50,000 readers. The magazine did not reach its relevance from its profits or wide readership, but from how it influenced people. To quote Gandhi: "Satyagraha would have been impossible without Indian Opinion."

source: National Gandhi

In Part 2, we will explore what learnings we can get from Gandhi and Indian Opinion, how they can be adapted to the digital publishing revolution, and how komiks self publishers, actually, any self publisher, can be like Gandhi.



South African History Online,

Images: Wikimedia Commons, National Gandhi

You can see more previews of Indian Opinion here and here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Komiks Advocate for 2011

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all enjoyed your holidays. Now everyone's back to work, including me.

When I started my blog, I was kind of running with this crazy idea in my head that the komiks community needed as much help as possible, that in fact, it needed saving. Saving from this imaginary intangible thing that I couldn't clearly define and didn't know how to overcome.

Of course, getting published in the QBCCC and attending Komikon 2010 changed that mindset completely. Komiks is alive and well, and I was so wrong to believe otherwise. Consequently, I realized it was egoistic to assume that I would somehow save komiks, as if I had some special knowledge that the people who dedicated their time, money and even careers to komiks did not. I think this komiks saving psyche can be a good thing, in that it can motivate people to get into it, but it's definitely a delusion I needed to get out of to be of actual benefit to the community.

Still, I think I have a lot to contribute, based on what I know and ideas I have. This blog is more than just a blog. I'm happy to have received feedback from people saying this blog has inspired them, for one reason or another. I know this blog hasn't really proven it's worth to everyone, but this year I intend to change that. I want people reading this blog to see it as a starting point for many a bright idea, perhaps some for me to explore further, and others for some people to pursue on their own.

What I recognized in the interim is that since there are no major komiks publishing companies, everybody making komiks has to deal with the publishing as much as the komiks making side. And as much as there are merits to self publication, this cuts into the time and effort that could have been focused on making komiks itself.

This fact alone has tangible consequences on komiks publishing as it is today. Just yesterday, Budjette Tan blogged that he & Kajo intend to finish Trese Book 4 just in time for Summer Komikon/Metro Comic Con. I think komiks people deserve a greater opportunity to produce more than what they are able to now. The readers certainly deserve to get the best from them.

I also believe in giving things away for free. For now all I can share are ideas, but there are many things I want to try and reveal to everyone, which would take a lot of the guesswork out of the self publishing end. I hope to explore these ideas and experiments throughout the year.

For now, my only tangible goal for this blog is to make 3 regular posts a week; every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I have a backlog of topics to go through in my head, although new ideas come up everyday based on my interactions with komiks people everyday. To put that in context, that is potentially 220 posts for this year. I may miss it a few times, and I probably won't do it every single week, but it's workable and simple enough to keep me going. Good luck to me, and to everyone in the komiks community.

Again, a Happy New Year's to everyone!