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Ever wonder what it's like to be in that moment between struggling artist and published author? Read on and find out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Howard Tayler Interview

      Since San Diego Comic Con just finished up I thought an interview with Howard Tayler would be in line. Howard is the creator of Schlock Mercenary and is self-published.

Randy: What made you decide to self-publish?

Howard: In a nutshell? My publisher told me to. He (Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games) happens to be a big fan of my work, and as we talked about the publication of my first book it became apparent that commercial publication wasn't going to reach a large enough audience for a sub-10% royalty to keep me solvent. He suggested I look into publishing it myself, and then he offered all sorts of helpful advice, right down to "calculate how much these will weigh so you can figure out where you're allowed to store them without collapsing your home."

Randy: Is self-publishing a more difficult path than trying to get picked up by publisher?

Howard: We need to define the question a bit better, especially since these days you can self-publish by shooting a soft-copy off to Amazon and BAM, you're on the Kindle. So, the better question: "Is making a living as a self-published cartoonist more difficult than making a living as a cartoonist with a commercial publishing contract?"

Answer: Yes, it is more difficult. It is also, at least for cartooning at the current time, more LIKELY. If you're willing to do all the difficult things that a publisher does, if you're able to make the hard decisions that an editor might make, then you're more likely to make a living selling direct to your audience than by having a commercial publisher sell to bookstores.

If you're not a cartoonist then I think it's a different story. I believe that markets are larger for prose than for comics, but that there remains a stigma upon self-publication in prose markets that isn't really present in comics. Indie, self-published comics have been cool for decades now.

Randy: What is the best part of being your own publisher?

Howard: Making a living doing what I love. I'm pretty sure I couldn't do this in the commercial space -- I've had friends and peers try, and their advances haven't earned out.

Randy: What is the worst part of being your own publisher?

Howard: There are a zillion things to do (and to screw up) that are not as much fun as the writing and drawing part. Fortunately my wife, Sandra, has become an expert at many of these things. Unfortunately that means she's saddled with much of the not-as-much-fun stuff.

Randy: Some authors start out self-publishing and then go to a publisher once they have established themselves. Have you considered doing something like that? 

Howard: Yes. I haven't seen the right deal yet. If it comes along I'll almost certainly take it.

Randy: In the traditional publishing scenario an editor would look at your work and make suggestions. Is there a process of yours that serves the same function?

Howard: I vet my work with Sandra and with my Writers' Group. I have alpha and beta readers. There are more eyes than just mine preparing my work for the open market.

Randy: What prompted you to start Schlock Mercenary?

Howard: Webcomics seemed like a fun way to tell a story. So I started teaching myself to draw, and the strip began unfolding within a week.

Randy: What was the inspiration behind Schlock Mercenary?

Howard: Everything that has ever happened to me, everything I've ever read, everything I know, and almost everything I know that I DON'T know -- these are all fuel for the genesis of the comic. At the time I guess I thought a mercenary company with some weird aliens and money-grubbing humans in it would make a logical setting for a serial space adventure, which was the kind of story I wanted to tell.

Randy: Is there ever an urge on your part to move away from Schlock Mercenary and do something else? Or do you feel dialed into the subject matter and find yourself wanting to stick with it?

Howard: Well, yes, but I don't need to stop writing and illustrating a comic strip in order to do other things. Do I ever have the urge to hang it all up and go be a big game hunter in Africa? Yes. I think we all have that urge from time to time.

I think the real question here is "when will we see something besides a comic strip out of you, Mr. Tayler?" The answer is "soon."

Randy: You shared an experience with me at LDStorymakers11 about meeting one of your industry idols, Tracy Hickman. How has that changed, if any, now that you work along side of him? How much has your reaction to him stayed the same?

Howard: He's a friend and a business partner. I've learned important things from him, and I'm both grateful and humbled to know that he's learned things from me. He's not the first of my idols I got to work with, so I had some practice dialing my inner fanboy down to a barely audible, distant-sounding "squeeeee."

Randy: Keeping my question about Tracy Hickman in mind, what reaction do you have about the fans you’ve generated with Schlock Mercenary? Do you ever compare the two experiences?

Howard: They're people, always. There are often too many of them for me to keep names straight, but I do try because they're people, and people like when you remember their names. I've brought fans into the business fold on more than one occasion and it's worked out pretty well. I've also had to turn fans with business plans away, because the business plans didn't fit.

Randy: Is there a point where authors go from being a fan to being a celebrity? Or are you always both?

Howard: If you like somebody else's work you'll always be a fan, deep down inside, even if you're creating stuff for a living yourself. If you're lucky you'll get to meet your idols in the industry and they'll live up to your expectations of them. If you're VERY lucky you'll discover that you're fans of each others' work. This has happened to me, and continue to count myself blessed for it.

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