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LESSONS LEARNED #14

By Chris Gumprich

Most of the hurdles faced during the production of Evening Shift were the direct result of my own mistakes. The most obvious had been strict adherence to a self-imposed schedule that caused me to overlook some of the deficiencies in the artwork. However, the most expensive mistake that I made was a result of my overconfidence in dealing with distributors. Put simply, I overestimated my potential sales. Worse yet, I sent the order to the printer before hearing from any distributor. By the time I received the rejections from Diamond and Cold Cut, the books were already on the presses.

After getting quotes from - well, only two printers, because two others never returned my calls - I chose to work with the printer closest to home. This way, if shipping turned out to be prohibitively expensive, I had the option to run over the border and pick them up myself. However, I have had bad dealings with customs agents before, so I made sure to check everything out beforehand - and there was a lot to check out. I called my rep at the printers and asked how much the shipping would cost me, and found out it would be well within my price range.

All right. Books at the printer, now I needed to figure out how to sell them. The distributors weren't interested, which meant that I had to self-distribute. If necessary, I would have to send photocopied packages to every comic shop that had a publicly available address.

Do you have any idea how insane that is?

I don't want to seem like I'm coming off negative here, but I knew that the chances of making any decent sales via the cold call method. well, as I've said before, how often have you bought something from a telemarketer?

No, there had to be another way, and I was determined to find it.

Meanwhile, I received word that my books had shipped and should be arriving the next day. I couldn't get any time off of work, so I had the books shipped to the office. No problem. UPS tracking number in hand, I connected to the tracking site and periodically checked where my comics were. The printer was 120 miles away, a two-and-a-half hour drive by car. In theory, the shipment would take a direct route across the border and, including processing, travel in a more-or-less straight line.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the box had arrived in Fredericton, New Brunswick, 1900 miles in the wrong direction.

I telephoned my printing rep and asked what the hell was going on. He had no idea. There was nothing I could do but wait for the books to arrive, hopefully delayed not more than a day or so.

The next day I received a call from UPS. The shipment had arrived at customs, but they couldn't release it without clearance from the receiver. Was I agreeing to reimburse UPS for the customs fees?

Yes, I replied, the paperwork should have been taken care of by the shipper.

Record snafu. Apparently the paperwork had been misplaced when the shipment was redirected to Fredericton.

"Do you know why the shipment was in Fredericton," I asked, not expecting a satisfactory answer.

"Your shipment should arrive by ten o'clock tomorrow," she replied.

All right, fine. No point in arguing about it. By then, all I wanted was to get my hands on my comic.

The comics arrived the next morning. I signed for them, immediately understanding one of the problems - the boxes were addressed to "Winnipeg, NB" instead of "Winnipeg, MB." Apparently UPS ignored the city and postal code when routing the shipment. Whatever - it only cost me a day.

The customs error, on the other hand, cost me a few hundred dollars. It seems the shipper at the printing plant had never filled out a customs declaration before, and put the shipment value equal to the total cover price of the comics, not the price I had paid them. Those of you in the US may shrug your shoulders at this, unless you have experience dealing with the Goods and Services Tax, or GST. A seven percent federal tax on damn near everything you purchase, including goods for importing into Canada. Long story short, I owed UPS an extra four hundred dollars in duty fees.

Not every mistake was my fault.

But that could all be fixed later. Right then, three years after I had written the first line in the script, the comic was finally finished. I eagerly opened the box, and there they were - some eleven hundred copies of Brian Wood's cover staring back at me. I flipped through the pages, pleased to see that the printing turned out fine.

At long last, I was a self-publisher.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to get them into comic shops.

Chris Gumprich writes comics and other stuff. His self-publishing credits include the full-sized EVENING SHIFT (released 2004) and two mini-comics, RECRIMINATIONS and ACE FEDORA, with a new mini scheduled for release later this year. A new column appears every Monday at the Isotope Virtual Lounge.