Thoughts on Self-Publishing on Anime/Manga

What are the options that an author interested in publishing a full-length book on anime/manga can reasonably pursue? And are publishers actually interested in books on anime/manga? The easy answer seems to be ‘yes’ – or at least, some publishers certainly are. Palgrave Macmillan, one of the most prominent English-language corporate/for-profit publishing houses, has published Susan Napier’s Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke (2001) and From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Culture in the Eyes of the West) (2007), Steven Brown’s Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture (2010) and just earlier this month, a new edition of Brian Ruh’s Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii. Non-profit university presses that may consider a book on Japanese animation or comics include the University Press of Mississippi (God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post-World War II Manga, 2009), the University of Hawaii Press (Straight from the Heart: Gender, Intimacy, and the Cultural Production of Shojo Manga, 2011), and the University of Minnesota Press (The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation, 2009). The University of Iowa Press, which recently launched a line of books specifically on “fan studies” is certainly worth keeping in mind as well. And of course, beyond those two types of publishers, there are also the smaller companies like M.E. Sharpe, Edwin Mellen, Stone Bridge Press, with a long tradition of publishing books about Japan, Open Court Publishing, Kamera Books, and various others.

But is going the “traditional” route the only way to go? Is it possible for an author to self-publish a book on Japanese animation or Japanese comics? What kinds of challenges would a self-publishing author face? And are there other, alternate ways beyond either working with an established publishing house, or self-publishing?

Before anything else,  one thing needs to be said. To most people, “self-publishing” means fiction, and “entertainment” or genre fiction at that. But “self-publishing” is merely a production and distribution model, and has nothing to do with content. Precise numbers are difficult to locate, but according to one report, in 2011, although fiction was the largest single category of books self-published in the U.S., it accounted for only 45% of all self-published books . Non-fiction as a separate category was more profitable, although it was not clear if that also included academic books, or if those were treated separately from either.

For an author writing a book on anime, what does publishing with an established or “traditional” publisher mean? Does it mean that the book will be read? And maybe, putting it more bluntly, how big of an audience is there, really, for a book of this kind?

One thing that working with an established publisher definitely does ensure is potential availability – when a book on a specific, relatively narrow topic is brought out, college or university libraries will buy it solely because it fits the potential needs of their students and faculty. For example, over 500 libraries around the world have copies of Ian Condry’s The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story (Duke University Press, 2013). Anne Cooper-Chen’s Cartoon Cultures: The Globalization of Japanese Popular Media (Peter Lang Publishers, 2010) appear in the catalogs of close to 200 different libraries. Over 70 libraries have records for Kinko Ito’s A Sociology of Japanese Ladies’ Comics: Images of the Life, Loves, and Sexual Fantasies of Adult Japanese Women (Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), and 250 or so have copies of The World is Watching: Video as Multinational Aesthetics, 1968-1995 (Southern Illinois University Press, 2003), Dennis Redmond’s comparative reading of The Prisoner, The Decalogue, and Neon Genesis: Evangelion that “explores the origins and implications of this powerful visual medium which crosses national, cultural, and political boundaries to present provocative tales of the highest quality.”

Granted, compared to what one would expect of the sales figures of a novel, a comic, or a DVD, these numbers are shockingly low. And it’s not very likely that any of these books were bought in significant quantities by individual readers, either. But, again, that in of itself does not matter. The goal of academic publishing is to generate knowledge, not to sell units or maximize profits at the level of in the individual author. Plus, the presumption is that for the author of an academic book, writing it is just one of the components of their job as an academic, not their sole job or source of income – and the author of an academic book does not depend on that book’s sales for his or her livelihood.

But of course, working with an established publisher also demands several things. In order to have a book proposal accepted, an author must have a background and probably a complete curriculum vitae that would show give some indication that they are qualified to author a book. They must then follow the publisher’s fairly strict guidelines. And ultimately, the decision to commit to publishing the book or pass on it is out of the author’s hands.

Bypassing the traditional route, and self-publishing then avoids these demands. And thinking about it, there are actually several factors that make self-publishing a book on anime/manga an appealing, or at least a viable, option.

  • Anime/manga studies is inherently a humanities area based on working with low-cost or free primary materials, It does not require an academic affiliation or access to resources for labs and fieldwork, only the ability to “interact” with, respond to, and interpret the source or text.
  • Public libraries now frequently offer patrons remote desktop access to academic databases, so an author does not to be able to access an academic library in order to be able to access previous scholarship, at least as far as journals articles are concerned.
  • Writing about anime/manga is still essentially a hobby. Very few, if any, authors can realistically expect to have their work as an anime/manga scholar factor significantly into their academic standing. For an author writing on anime/manga, decisions about their tenure, promotion, etc., will be based on their work in other, more established fields. That frees the author from having to pursue the credentialing value of working with an established publisher.
  • Anime/manga studies as a field has the benefit of potential connections to readers. Even if a self-published author is not able to get his or her books into libraries as they would when working with a publisher, they may be able to achieve similar (if not better) sales figures by reaching out directly to audiences via appearances at anime conventions, social media, and the extensive semi-professional anime/manga press.
  • A related issue is the question of “branding” – given the size of the field of anime/manga studies at this point, an author can leverage the status of being one of a small number of people who have published a book related to anime/manga traditionally to present themselves as being “worth” listening to.

On the other hand, what are some of the negatives or challenges?

  • At the most basic, self-publishing requires a real financial investment, with no guarantee whatsoever of a return.
  • Similarly, self-publishing foregoes the certainty of a book’s definite sales to and availability in a small number of libraries for the uncertain potential of larger sales to individual readers.
  • Self-publishing also calls for a significant effort in actually preparing a book for publication – the production process, and more importantly, marketing and outreach.
  • Because of the particular emphasis that is placed on the author of a self-published book, the author needs to be able to convince readers why his or her views on the topic are worth considering.

So, have authors actually tried self-publishing on Japanese animation or Japanese comics?

…sort of.

Probably the best example that comes to mind is Patrick Drazen. His “traditionally” published Anime Explosion: The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation (Stone Bridge Press, 2002) was one of the earliest full-length books on anime to appear in the U.S. For many readers, it remains a basic introduction to the standard thematic elements of Japanese animation. Google Scholar (unreliable as it is) indicates that it has been cited 90 times, the book is held by over 1,100 libraries around the U.S. and in other countries. Drazen is a writer first and foremost, not currently affiliated with an academic institution, though he has since contributed additional work on anime/manga in Mechademia and the essay collection Mangatopia: Essays on Manga and Anime in the Modern World. But, for his next book, A Gathering of Spirits: Japan’s Ghost Story Tradition from Folklore and Kabuki to Anime and Manga, he pursued the self-publishing route, working with iUniverse. Two others that I know of are Derek Padula’s Dragon Ball Z “It’s Over 9000!”: When Worldviews Collide, and Otaku Journalism: A Guide to Geek Reporting in the Digital Age, by Lauren Orsini.

One caveat here, of course, is that these books are non-fiction or commentary, but not what you would call scholarly. The question of whether a self-published book would be accepted into the collection of an academic library or cited in a scholarly paper remains open, and so far, and unanswered.

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