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25 January 2014

How to publish a Graphic Novel

I was going to call this post "my own personal hell", but I figured that this was a little too dramatic for what is largely a positive update on how I'm getting on with my graphic novel.

Lookee here! This is me trying my hand at creating an ebook version of my comic. It took me ages to figure it out, but I DID figure it out! Ha ha! I will reveal more soon... 

Yes, whilst I'm finessing the story and artwork, I've also been looking ahead to how I might publish my story. This might sound a bit strange, but up until quite recently, I hadn't really given it much thought.

My first idea was to produce a printed version. I'm still open to the idea, but so far I haven't found the method that excites me enough to do it.

The best option I've found for getting my comic into paper print is Lulu, which I think might be an American company. They do all sorts of different sizes and bindings and are flexible over print run numbers. I could do a single print if I wanted to. I'm not sure what postage costs, but the printing itself seems pretty reasonable. For a comic of around 80 pages I calculated that it would cost just under £3 for a black and white comic and a whopping £12+ for a colour version. I have only 3 colours in my comic, but I reckon that I could get away with black and white.

Lulu do offer to sell your books for a cut of the asking price and even have avenues into Amazon and Barnes and Noble, so that might be something worth considering. The main blocker here seems to be the need to buy an ISBN. There's always some bugger making money! Bloody leaches! Smash those shackles!

One last thing before I move on from printed comics...

There are strict rules around how a book (or comic) needs to be formatted in order to make it eligible for printing. You need to have the right pages in the right places and of course, it needs to be sized to fit the size of the paper it will be printed on. Lulu provide templates to try and make this process easier.

Above is the template for the size I thought I might use. This is for the cover (provided as a PNG file) and a separate Microsoft Word docx template is supplied for the inside. I could have used the cover template, but the Word one was just too difficult for my simple brain. The main problem here was that the Word template is really for a book with paragraphs and words; My comic will be 99% images and it just didn't fit into the template. Having used Word since they invented the bloody thing, I'm proficient in its evil, but I've learnt to hate the product. It does a job, but I'm really not convinced that it is good enough for publishing.

Ultimately, Lulu want a PDF. This I can do without Word. The problem I faced was that each page needs to have a built-in gutter for the spine. I couldn't figure out a good way of doing this, so gave up.

Actually, in hindsight, I do wonder now whether I actually want to print anyway. It may fit with the whole ethos of my novel if I stayed digital. What on earth am I talking about? You'll have to read it to find out...

I want to call out a fantastic thing that I learnt this week. I don't know why, but when I started creating my comic, I decided that I would save the images in PNG format.

"Portable Network Graphics (PNG /ˈpɪŋ/[2] ping), or PNG's Not GIF,[3] is a raster graphics file format that supports lossless data compression" ~ Wikipedia

Actually, I do know why I chose it... it was for lossless data compression. The images I produced would be just as I created them. You, the reader, would be able to see what I, the creator, intended.

Although the image files I've been creating have been relatively small (probably in no small way due to the limited range of colours I'm using), I wondered if I could get them any smaller without compromising the quality. Actually, I can. PNGs can be optimised and doing it has almost halved the size of my comic. After compression, the whole comic comes to less than 5.5 Mb. That's less than most songs you will download these days. Result!

The tool I've been using is called PNGGauntlet which is a freeware Windows wrapper to some freeware open source command-line utilities. It's really easy to use and does what it says on the tin. Brilliant!

Surely anyone who has an ereader MUST have heard of and use Calibre? If this is something that is new to you then go check this freeware (donateware?) application out. It desperately needs a make-over, but it is absolutely brilliant for playing about with ebooks.

I used this to create an ePub, AZW3 and Mobi versions of my comic.

What a ballache!

First I started with a Word docx which I converted to ePub. It took bloody ages and tons of trial and error, but I eventually managed to get the pages to format close to what I needed. Then in Calibre I used the new feature for ePub editing to tweak and fix the ebook. The main challenges were to do with getting the page images to display correctly, but I managed to tweak the style sheets to ensure that they always show 100% of page and I also replaced the converted images with the originals to ensure that the quality was maintained.

I know I'm still redrafting the comic, but as long as it's simply changes to the existing images, I should be able to tweak my ePub to fix. Fingers crossed!

The only other thing worth calling out is that I had to add in some chapter pages to ensure that I got an electronic table of contents created. I'd read on Lulu that distributors often reject electronic books if they don't have these. Actually, it just makes a lot of sense to have them anyway.

So there you have it. I haven't actually published my book, but I'm getting closer to being able to. I'm starting to feel that sense of achievement building. I've enlisted a couple of people to help me to proofread and offer suggestions. We could be getting close! Would you buy it if I did publish it? Let me know.


  1. Everything is way more complicated than you'd originally think. And this sounds complicated. Good luck with the comic!

  2. Oh... evl... it's getting more and more bloody complicated...
    I think I'll need all the luck I can get

  3. You better hurry King,Eli Wallach ain't getting any younger.

  4. Going as fast as I can Daz. It's all but complete now. Just the final hurdle of publishing to overcome. Discovered all sorts of issues yesterday relating to tax. I think the only way I can get around this is to give it away for free. Still considering my options. Hang in there Eli!