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How to Survive as a Small Yaoi Publisher Part 2

June 10, 2008 | | Comments 16 |

A conversation with Simon Jones of Icarus Publishing.

So, last time we talked about the difference between manga and porn, what it means to be a successful publisher of erotic comics and what challenges face those who choose to publish this material. This time we’ll talk about working with Japanese publishers and bring the focus more specifically on what English-language yaoi publishers need to do to succeed in today’s market.

Let’s get right to it!

The Internet seems to be full of stories of manga publishers behaving badly (the recent hullaballoos re: Tokyopop comes to mind, but we can certainly find bloggers expressing concern for the actions of yaoi publishers as well.) I notice that you recently went through heroic measures to replace a print run of books that were missing a page. How does acting with integrity make good business sense in the manga publishing world? Is it more or less relevant for a small press?

Thank you for the kind words, but I wouldn’t characterize that as heroic, merely doing the job competently. The biggest motivation for the reprint was not for the readers, but the artist himself. We want him to know his book is presented in the best possible way.

I would hope integrity is valued in all businesses, of all sizes. But I would expect smaller publishers to adhere more strictly to ethical behavior, because there’s simply no excuse not to do so. There’s no one else to shift the blame to for your mistakes or bad behavior.

With regard to Japanese manga licensees specifically… well, would you try to screw with a Japanese businessman? CAN you screw with a Japanese businessman?

This being a yaoi site, you’ve of course offered me a great set-up by asking me whether I could screw with a Japanese businessman. But resisting that temptation, you bring up an interesting point. It’s a truism that social etiquette and reputation are very important in Japanese business dealings. Do you think that any of this “bad behavior” is being noticed in Japan? What advice do you have for publishers working with artists and businesses in Japan?

First, I hope I didn’t give the general impression that Japanese publishers are difficult to deal with. I don’t speak Japanese, and the Japanese editor I work with does not speak English. But we still manage to get things done. When there’s a willingness on both sides to work together, anything is possible. The key is finding the right person, and making them as enthusiatic about licensing to you as you are. The guy in the licensing department is not necessarily the best person to talk to.

Know exaclty what books you want. If you don’t know how to contact the Japanese publisher directly, try finding the manga artist online, work up a rapport, then ask for their editors. Try to build strong relationships with one or two publishers instead of licensing 10 books from 10 different pubs. One can never be too polite, too transparent, or too concise. Keep things simple in general.

Oh, and pay money up front. That, uhh… usually helps things.

Recently, we’ve seen a couple of small yaoi publishers seem to stumble — I’m thinking here of DramaQueen and Iris Print. What are the specific pitfalls a small publisher of ero-manga, including yaoi books, needs to look out for?

Being underfunded. It doesn’t matter what genre of comics you wish to work in, you need to have proper capital before going forward, and work within your budget. This is simple and universal. If you have to take a big risk, that’s fine… but don’t take other people down with you. Don’t peg this month’s bills and payroll on the next check that may or may not come in from the distributor.

I’ve noticed that some publishers of gay erotic work are very concerned about competing around price. One publisher, Nicole Kimberling of Blind Eye Books, has written about pricing her first book so low that she actually loses 5 cents for every book sold on Amazon.com! How big a factor do you believe price is for ero-manga sales and what factors do you consider when pricing your books?

Given the material, we know we’re never, ever going to become mainstream, and our pricing are in line with a specialist, niche publisher. Our books are priced as low as we can go given our small print runs, while still guaranteeing royalties for artists. We do recognize that our pricepoints are far higher than what most manga readers are familiar with, so we have reissued a few older titles at a lower MSRP for more price-conscious readers. Also, our Comic AG magazines are priced very cheaply on a per page basis, as we view it almost exclusively as promotional tool.

We need to pay artists and sustain ourselves. We’re not a vanity press. Pricing ourselves out of profit range is not an option.

So you view Comic AG as almost exclusively a promotion tool — this would be promoting your trade paperbacks? So, what do you think are the best ways for a “specialist, niche publisher” to reach her audience, particularly with limited funds?

Those with limited funds should focus on acquiring more funds. Sorry, but that has to be your number 1 priority as a publisher.

There is no one best way to reach out to your audience, you just have to try every way you possibly can to target your readers. If you’re a niche publisher but don’t know who or where your audience is, then you shouldn’t be publishing. For a yaoi publisher, any failure at reaching your audience is even more inexcusable. They’re right in front of you. There are websites and clubs dedicated to covering yaoi. There are yaoi-only conventions. Mainstream press writes a “what is the yaoi” article every two weeks. It would take a special kind of incompetence not to be noticed.

Indeed, much has been made of this “yaoi boom” on the Internet and elsewhere. How strong a market do you really think there is for yaoi work? Do you feel it is growing or has it reached its peak?

This is best directed toward yaoi publishers, but my personal, uneducated opinion? Yaoi has not peaked. But the audience has become more sophisticated. Certain segments of the retail market haven’t gotten behind yaoi as hard as they could have.

When you say the audience for yaoi has become more sophisticated, what do you mean by that and how should small press yaoi publishers take that into account?

It’s become more sophisticated in that with more choices, readership has become segmented. Some follow only specific artists, others reject certain themes. Expectations need to be adjusted accordingly.

And when you say certain segments of the retail market haven’t gotten behind yaoi as much as they could have, what segments do you think could be taking better advantage of this genre? What do you think would be the best way to encourage them to do that?

Obviously, I speak of comic stores. This isn’t to say that the blame rests with the Direct Market. Unfairly or not, comic shops have the reputation of being boy’s clubs, and perhaps some publishers have not reached out to the DM properly. Nevertheless, the impetus is on retailers to attract yaoi reader by offering these books, not to wait for yaoi reader to come asking for them, cause that’s not happening. Yaoi readers want to buy stuff, they want to give you money. That’s the best kind of customer to have.

There’s no reason the DM shouldn’t be totally kicking ass on this front. Mainstream bookstores refuse to carry the most explicit yaoi manga. Likewise, yaoi pubs need to recognize the advantages of working with the DM market… the DM pays you within 30 days.

[Ed. Note: Obviously I agree with Mr. Jones here...]

So, do you think English-language readers can expect more or fewer options for ero-manga and yaoi in the future?

That’s not a question for me, that’s a question for readers. If you support the books, there’ll be more.

Any last advice you would give to small publishers of yaoi manga just starting out?

If you’re a licensee? Don’t make Libre angry.

If you’re self-publishing original material? Come into publishing with realistic expectations, and plan for a long, steep climb. This is not a sprint, so don’t quit early if things don’t go your way at first. Have fortitude and conviction.

Well, it definitely sounds like you have had “fortitude and conviction” — so has it been worth it? Knowing what you know now, would you do it all over again?

Even now, I can walk away from this at any time. But I’m not going to.


So, that’s it, folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation as much as I have. I want to thank Simon Jones for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer my questions. If you found what he had to say useful, please take a look at what he has to offer in his (of course NSFW) catalog — if not for yourself, than how about for that super-supportive otaku boyfriend in your life? I’m sure it will be a gift he’ll remember. And who knows? Maybe he’ll be so inspired, he’ll run out and buy you the hot yaoi in return… ;-)



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About the Author: Filmmaker by day, yaoi creator by night, Alex has dedicated himself to helping cute guys fight evil and find love.

RSSComments (16)

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  1. Kingdemon,

    Well, there are a lot of venues for prose work featuring male-male romantic and/or sexual relationships.

    By asking where you might go to get it published, I'm going to assume that you are looking to get paid. (If not, then there certainly are a number of venues on the Internet — including your own blog! — where you can share your work for free with others.) My best advice would be to go to your local bookstore (ideally you live in a large enough city that they have a specifically gay bookstore, but if not, most mainstream bookstores have gay sections) and take a look through the gay literary magazines and books that have a similar style to the work you are looking to put out there. The point here is to gather a list of publishers who might be interested in your work and, most importantly, for you to learn their likes and dislikes firsthand.

    You don't share your gender, but if you are woman who is concerned about finding acceptance from a gay male publisher, be advised that there are a number of women already writing gay erotica right now — if what you write is good (and, ideally, hot ;-) ), your gender won't matter much.

    If what you are writing is a literary short story, a place to start looking for publishing opportunities is here:
    http://www.lambdaliterary.org/resources/find_a_li

    If it is more mainstream and not explicitly pornographic, then I'm not sure exactly which magazines are currently printing that kind of material — perhaps there are other readers who might suggest mainstream gay magazines that publish short stories to you?

    And what if you're looking to reach a primarily female audience (or at least, a yaoi-loving one… ;-))? Well, here's a place to start:
    http://www.yaoimagazine.com/

    Is what you're looking to publish more novel-sized? Then Blind Eye Books, which I mention in this very article, might be a venue for you to check out instead.

    But no matter what audience you ultimately decide you wish to reach, nothing can substitute for doing your own good research about what publishers are actually putting out there and how the literary trade works.

    I strong suggest you get your hands on a copy of <a name="evtst|a|1582974969" href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html%3FASIN=1582974969%26tag=yaoi911-20%26lcode=xm2%26cID=2025%26ccmID=165953%26location=/2008-Writers-Market-Robert-Brewer/dp/1582974969%253FSubscriptionId=02E5W5871AJF7PMMMS82&quot; rel="nofollow">2008 Writer's Market — the Writers Market book (1986 version, IIRC) is where I started when I first became interested in publishing my work professionally and its introduction serves as a good overview of the basics.

    Anyway, I hope this helps. Good luck with finding a home for your work and with the writing itself — the world needs more great yaoi! :-D

    Alex

  2. Kingdemon says:

    I have a question. It’s random and out of the blue, but, if someone where to write a story (instead of draw on out like with manga) and it contained a yaoi-type plot, where would someone go to get it published? It’s random, I know…but I thought I’d ask.

  3. ButterflyFomori says:

    Intriguing and very informative. Thank you!

    (Gave me a giggle too! "This being a yaoi site, you’ve of course offered me a great set-up by asking me whether I could screw with a Japanese businessman.")

  4. ButterflyFomori,

    I'm really glad to hear you liked it and found it informative! :-D

  5. artdjmaster says:

    (This is also posted on menonyaoi, but I didn't know if you were going back there to read it, so here it is)

    @Alex:

    Thank-you for your detailed message about the Yaoi industry and I do agree with you that it has different factors affecting it.

    I guess licensing choice was only bothering me because I really thought the line-up DQ offered was exceptional.

    I saw the industry as over-saturated because there are many Yaoi-only publishers offering good products that it's hard for some poor fans to choose. Also, the fact that June releases approx. 7 books a month factored into my thinking.

    Thanks again for providing insight on Yaoi in North America!

    -Oliver

  6. Oliver is too cool to spam my comments, but for those interested, the post Oliver is referring to that I commented on can be found here: http://menonyaoi.blogspot.com/2008/06/end-of-dram

    Oliver,

    I guess licensing choice was only bothering me because I really thought the line-up DQ offered was exceptional.

    DQ does offer (did offer?) nice titles – I was especially looking forward to <a name="evtst|a|1933809310" href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html%3FASIN=1933809310%26tag=yaoi911-20%26lcode=xm2%26cID=2025%26ccmID=165953%26location=/Tyrant-Falls-Love-v01-Yaoi/dp/1933809310%253FSubscriptionId=02E5W5871AJF7PMMMS82&quot; rel="nofollow">The Tyrant Falls in Love. And I, too, will regret them closing their doors, if that is what ultimately happens.

    I saw the industry as over-saturated because there are many Yaoi-only publishers offering good products that it’s hard for some poor fans to choose. Also, the fact that June releases approx. 7 books a month factored into my thinking.

    I see your reasoning here, and I think Simon Jones spoke to this when he said that "readership has become segmented" for yaoi. The days of a yaoi fan buying every single English translation of every yaoi book are most likely over. And here is where your point is well taken — a yaoi publisher can't just assume (if they ever could) that every single book they publish will be bought by every rabid yaoi fan. Smarter choices must be made with appeals to specific segments of the market in mind.

    That said, it still doesn't necessarily speak ill for the yaoi genre. As yaoi becomes more widely known, there are more and more readers who might find an individual "segment" appealing. For example, non-consensual sex leaves me icy cold in a romance book — now that there are more choices, I'm not likely to purchase such titles for my own pleasure — but, by the same token, I'd be willing to bet that the number of English-language readers who do like the non-con has increased along with the awareness of the genre, so the market as a whole could very well still be growing. Make sense?

    Anyway, thank you for the thought-provoking post — and for stopping by!

    Alex

  7. Kingdemon says:

    Hey! Alex! Thanks for the great advice, but some of that is a little bit of a problem.

    I give some info first.

    I am a guy and I write stories. Most of my "yaoi" stories have already been viewed by others via the internet and, due to their encouragement, I've chosen to publish some of my stories.

    The problems: I live with my parents still, I'm seventeen, and I can't get to the bookstore without risking my life. My parents have no clue about my stories or my orientation (and I don't intend to tell them for a long time).

    My stories are all about a "yaoi-type" and geared towards all audiences willing to read them (teen and up). I don't hold back so most of my stories are rated "adult." They've been viewed by yaoi-loving women and men alike.

    Next, my stories tend to be fantasy, sci-fi, and graphic (some more gothic including vampires). I don't know if this helps. If it does, please let me know! Thanks for all the help so far!

  8. Kingdemon,

    OK, thank you for clarifying your situation. First off, a word of encouragement — not that you've asked for any. Having been where you are, things are about to get a whole lot better in your life very, very soon. I assume that you're about to head off to college — or are looking at colleges anyway — and let me tell you, once I was out of high school, out of my parents' home and at college my whole world improved 1000%. It's not just that I didn't have to hide who I was from the people I lived with — it's that I was suddenly surrounded by really cool people and a really cool environment — and for the first time in my life I could truly be myself and my whole world suddenly became so much better. It was an amazing feeling — a revelation, really. I didn't know life could be so sweet. Really. :-D

    Try to choose a university as liberal and as far away from home as your circumstances will allow. And ideally in a more metropolitan area — although, for me, Burlington, Vermont turned out to be metropolitan enough. ;-)

    And as for coming out to the parents, well, you might find that they surprise you — love has a strange way of eventually helping even the most stubborn folks grow –but you certainly know them better than I do and there's absolutely no rush. Better for you to feel solid in your self and your life before taking that on. Just be aware, they might turn out to be a bigger support in your life than seems possible right now. Mine did.

    (Oh, and if you currently don't have plans to go to college? CHANGE YOUR MIND! FIND A WAY! I'm telling you — for a young gay man, it's like stepping from black and white into color… And I hear that there are even a few with fine writing programs — which is a great way to make contacts in the industry……)

    ….which leads me off of my soapbox and onto answering the question you really asked me. ^^;

    Sooooo…. you can't get into a bookstore for fear of filicide. Seeing as you're seventeen, I find it a little hard to believe that you never have an afternoon off to pop into a bookstore for a little research, but maybe you live in a small town filled with busybody gossips, or you don't drive and Barnes & Noble is 50 miles away, or whatever. I'll take your word for it. :)

    I'm still going to recommend you get your hands on that Writers' Market book I mentioned. First off, it's 100% parent safe (unless your parents have something against writers, in which case, God help you…). Secondly, as I said, it has good advice about formats, rights, query letters, etc. — all that stuff you'll need to know if you're looking to get published professionally. And thirdly, they've already done the research for you about what kinds of magazines and book publishers would be interested in your work.

    Yep, that's right, they have sections for the gay fiction market in this book (right alongside the sections for Christian fiction — and if your folks ask, I suppose you could point to that section [or some variation] in a pinch ;-) ). The gay fiction section will list buyers for both short stories and longer works, tell you what those publishers are looking for, payment terms, who to send it to, etc. And you don't even need to set foot into a bookstore to get it — you can buy it right from Amazon.

    It's still preferable, once you've narrowed things down, to go actually buy some other works from the publishers you think are likely candidates — just so you can see for yourself what they publish and also so it looks like you've done your homework when you send them a query letter: ("I just loved Bareback Mountain Majesty which you published last year and my book Sweaty Ukes in Love is just like it, only hotter!") But if you can't do that, you can't do it. The Writers' Market book will give you a lot of what you need to get started.

    And again, as you say your stories tend to be fantasy and sci-fi, I'm going to recommend you check in with the folks over at <a href = "http://www.blindeyebooks.com/&quot; rel="nofollow">Blind Eye Books — on the surface, your work looks like it might be right up their alley. The publisher also has a <a href = "http://kimnik.livejournal.com/&quot; rel="nofollow"> blog — perhaps she might be willing to offer advice as well.

    Anyway, I hope that's helpful. Glad to hear that folks have been encouraging about your writing — let me join in that chorus. :-)

    If you have any other questions, feel free to keep asking. And good luck — with everything!

    Alex

  9. Kingdemon says:

    HEY! THANKS A BUNCH, ALEX!

    That helps out a lot. Your guess was pretty good too. I live in a tiny Northern Californian city (where gossiping is the main entertainment around here). I don't drive and my extremely religious parents follow me everywhere. (they're actually my adoptive parents so all my family support comes from my biological dad, who's gay, which works out awesome for me!)

    THANK YOU for the advice and I'll be checking out this stuff as soon as I can! THANKS!

  10. You're very welcome, Kingdemon. I'm very glad to hear what I said was helpful. :-)

    Please keep coming back — if for no other reason than to let us know how things are progressing for you. And if you like our work here, check out the book when it comes out — by then you'll be old enough to buy it yourself — at whatever cool campus you land at…. ;-)

  11. Kingdemon says:

    Alex! It's me again! Sorry for bothering! I talked to the editor at Blind Eye Books and she said she needed my whole manuscript. She's willing to look at it, at least, and so I'll be sending it in! Thank you so much for your support!

    Also, I finally got up the courage to make myself a website for a few of my stories to see what others have to say. I was wondering if you'd be interested to read it or if others would be so I've been sending certain people the site's name…

    I'll post it here, if you're interested, or you can ignore. I understand if you don't want to read it…(I've actually only got the first three chapters of one story up right now anyway…)

    so the site is…
    http://kingdemonstories.weebly.com
    I hope you will, at least, check it out…maybe…thank you for your support!

    • Originally Posted By KingdemonAlex! It’s me again! Sorry for bothering! I talked to the editor at Blind Eye Books and she said she needed my whole manuscript. She’s willing to look at it, at least, and so I’ll be sending it in! Thank you so much for your support!

      Hey Kingdemon! You certainly aren't bothering — and I'm delighted to hear that the editor at Blind Eye Books is interested in seeing your work. That's awesome! Many editors will give a thanks, but no thanks, so this is great news, regardless of what happens next. If she accepts it for publication or wants to work with you on it, so much the better. :-) (But remember that most published authors have to submit their work dozens of times to different places before they get published, so if this book turns out not to be right for their company, don't give up! Keep sending it [and your other works] out! But damn, good work, man — you're already ahead of the game!)

      Also, I finally got up the courage to make myself a website for a few of my stories to see what others have to say.

      Very cool. I'll certainly poke my head around it — thanks for the invitation. Good for you for putting yourself out there. I hope you get a lot of great feedback.

      And you're very welcome for any support I've been able to offer. Take care of yourself — and keep us posted! :-D

  12. <a href='#comment-425' rel="nofollow">@JRBrown –

    Howdy JRBrown,

    Yeah, you're probably right about Tyrant not being my thing, but it's <a href="http://www.yaoi911.com/?s=hinako+takanaga&x=0&y=0&quot; rel="nofollow">Hinako Takanaga — for whom I definitely have a soft spot — and it's so popular, so recommended, and so anticipated, there's probably not any way of me getting out of reviewing it for my blog. No matter what, I think I'm reading its first volume. ;-)

    (That said, I've been sitting on my review of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/1934129224/ref=nosim/yaoi911-20&quot; rel="nofollow">The Devil's Secret for, what, 5 months now? So there may be protective levels of procrastination I've only just begun to tap… )

    I appreciate the warning, but Takanaga-sensei has pleasantly surprised me before. Who knows — maybe she'll win me over with this one as well. ;-)

    Thanks for commenting,

    Alex

  13. JRBrown says:

    Alex,

    Hinako Takanaga is like unto crack and Tyrant is how I got into yaoi in the first place, so if it wins you over that'll be one for the dark side. :) Just didn't want you to go into it thinking it was going to be a hilarious romp like Challengers, because it most definitely isn't. Keep up the good work!

  14. @JRBrown

    Well, thanks for the heads up and thanks for the props. I hope to see you here again sometime. :-)

    Alex

  15. JRBrown says:

    Hi Alex;

    Noises are being made that Drama Queen is trying to get back on their feet and that The Tyrant Falls in Love will be their first post-resurrection release, but they’ve been saying this for a while now and I’m not holding my breath. In any case, you may wish to give Tyrant a miss; it’s a terrific series but it features a really stormy and twisted relationship with lots of non-con (seme-on-uke) and physical abuse (uke-on-seme). By some inexplicable feat of prestidigitation it also manages to be a sweetly romantic comedy, but one with a fairly high squick quotient. Based on my understanding of your tastes (as reflected in your reviews and comments) it’s probably not your kind of thing!

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