If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen these “Misson: Small Business” links go by over the past few weeks. It’s a program that is offering a substantial sum of money to a group of small businesses who demonstrate some grassroots support and have a strong application outlining how they would use a grant to become more successful. Northwest Press is campaigning to be one of those small businesses and could really use your vote to get there.
I thought I would share with you some of what I wrote in the application for the grant, to let you know how much a good base of funding could do for this fledgling publisher.
Tell us about your business; how successful is it and why is it unique?
Northwest Press is a publisher dedicated to providing the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender graphic novels and comics. The queer comics scene has been growing steadily over the last decade, but due to the economic downturn and other factors, the possibilities for LGBT creators have been shrinking. Northwest Press was created to provide a home for these important works and ensure that they have the best possible support and exposure.
Northwest Press has accumulated loads of glowing reviews for its books and has been the recipient of prestigious awards. The company’s first two books were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards, and Jon Macy’s Teleny and Camille took home the award for Gay Erotica. OUT Magazine named Northwest Press’s owner and art partner to their “OUT 100” in 2011 for their work on the anti-bullying comic book The Power Within, over 1000 copies of which have been distributed for free to schools and other youth organizations. Northwest Press was named “Publisher of the Year” by Cartoonists Northwest at their annual Toonie Awards in 2012.
How is your business involved with the community you serve?
Northwest Press was started by one of the founding members of the nonprofit Prism Comics, which supports LGBT comics and creators, so community involvement is at its heart. For the past two years, it has been a major sponsor of the Lambda Literary Awards, and Seattle’s Geek Girl Con, and this year sponsored the first annual Seattle Queer Geek Pride float in Seattle’s Pride parade. In addition, Northwest Press does whatever it can to raise the profile of LGBT projects, providing free advertising to projects such as Jane Espenson’s web series Husbands and the all-LGBT comics and pop culture convention Bent-Con in Los Angeles.
Northwest Press regularly attends numerous comic book conventions on the west coast and beyond every year, and helps to encourage and promote other LGBT creators at these shows. In such a small community as the LGBT comics scene, we are all buoyed by each other’s successes, and will continue to promote all queer comics projects, as well as its own.
What would a $250k grant mean to your business plan and how will you utilize the funds to ensure long-term growth and stability?
The biggest financial challenge to a small publisher is the ability to print books in high enough quantity that the per-book cost is low. There are lots of print-on-demand options out there, of varying quality, but the profit margins on such books are extremely low, and the opportunities for outreach at events and conventions are minimal. Northwest is entering the digital market in a strong way and will continue to do so, but the market isn’t mature enough yet to sustain more niche audiences.
So far, every dollar made in direct sales, at conventions and through distributors has gone right back into producing new projects, but Northwest Press has only been able to release about three print projects a year, due to budget constraints. That’s despite the fact that as we’ve become more well-known, we’ve gotten requests from numerous creators with high-quality work.
Our long-term goal has always been to focus on quality and amass an amazing library of LGBT comics titles that will gain attention and audiences as the years go by, but at our current pace, it will be a long haul to get there. A solid funding base would enable Northwest Press to plan further ahead, guarantee timelines for releases, and operate more like a traditional publisher and less hand-to-mouth.
Northwest Press treats its authors very well, and is striving to be an appealing option for creators in an industry not famous for its treatment of artistic talents. Most comic creators are freelancers on tight budgets; we want to be able to offer larger advances to creators to allow them the breathing room to focus on the art, and to confirm their books on our schedule well in advance.
Funding will also enable Northwest Press to do more advertising and outreach than before. We are very confident about the quality of our books; we just need more people to know about them.
What types of challenges can you identify with your plan and how will you overcome them?
Readers have enjoyed the variety of books that Northwest Press has published, and appreciated the attention to detail and finish that we bring to each project. Our biggest problem is not the work that we release, but getting the word out about it and getting it in front of more potential readers. Right now, Northwest Press titles are carried by the largest comics distributor, Diamond Comic Distributors, as well as some other smaller outlets domestically and overseas, but we really need to secure much wider distribution and get into more bookstores.
One obstacle to that is not being able to plan a release schedule far enough in advance, which we hope to remedy with a more stable funding base to work from. Another is the number of titles; many larger distributors will only work with publishers who have a considerable portfolio of work. The sooner we can demonstrate that we will be releasing not only quality work but lots of it, we will be able to get our foot in the door and work with some larger players in the book world.
Describe the talent on your team and how they make your business successful.
Charles “Zan” Christensen, who runs Northwest Press, has a strong background in both marketing and community outreach as well as design and production, so he oversees every stage of every project, making sure it adheres to the standards of quality that Northwest has set. It is very important to have someone with a production background overseeing print projects to ensure that the artwork is ready to go to press, from resolution to color to margins to inks and finishes.
Northwest Press also has the support of its roster of artists and writers, who have stepped up and pitched in to promote their own projects like the pros they are, and been invaluable in getting the word out about their books and others’. I look forward to the day when I can give these people the VIP treatment they rightly deserve.
Funding or no funding, whether we get there quickly or if it takes years, we will succeed, and we’ll do so thanks to those who’ve bought Northwest Press books and supported this fledgling venture in a myriad of ways. I’ve always joked that the best way to demonstrate our dedication has been to start a publishing company in the midst of a recession when comics shops are folding left and right and print appears to be dying a slow death.
We do this because we love it, and we do it because we know there are countless people out there who love it, too.
We’ll find you.