Hope Nicholson and Bedside Press: A Dream Realized
Last Saturday, July 15, marked the beginning of another Hope Nicholson Kickstarter, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love–a Kickstarter discussed more throughly here— Nicholson has been publishing comics under the Bedside Press imprint and running successful Kickstarter campaigns for years.
At first, Nicholson didn’t expect Bedside Press to become as big of a part of her life as it is now.
In fact, when she started the imprint in 2014, she “just wanted to do this one reprint book because [she] didn’t see it in the market! But what [she] learned about the process is not only did [she] really, really enjoy it but [she] had the seeds to be good at it too. Ever since Nelvana of the Northern Lights [she has] been trying to nurture these seeds and grow as a publisher.”
Her “first project was a reprint, but after [she] caught the publishing bug from Nelvana [she] knew that [she] wanted to do new content too. Getting the pinups for Nelvana and Brok was [her] first experience with working with artists and it was a rush.”
Working on Brok didn’t only just become a fun experience because of working with the artists. In fact, “Brok Windsor is [her] pride and joy”, the comic she’s proudest of so far.
Nicholson holds this comic in a special place in her heart, because it’s “a beautiful comic, so iconic of Canadian history, and of [her] own city Winnipeg in particular, and completely forgotten.”
As mentioned before, “that project really was [her[ first solo outing, and it was a joy to be able to reach out and see what [she] was capable of in all avenues. Discovering the real Brok Windsor, finding ALL of these lost 1940s comics to reprint, hiring a new artist to reinvision a comic only available as a text script and reaching out to over 30 artists to draw pinups of Brok made [her] really proud of my abilities.”
And it seems like she was onto something–since starting Bedside Press, Nicholson has published 11 books, sometimes graphic novels and sometimes a mix of traditional text and comics. As the Kickstarter shows too, she’s only getting started.
Refreshingly, Nicholson seems to enjoy “the feeling of satisfaction in producing books and working with really talented creators”, and focus on that feeling more than trying to be a publisher only focused on the bottom line.
“Plus,” Nicholson adds “all the readers seem really happy!”
A Diverse Touch
Maybe the reason the readers seem happy stems from that personal touch and from a focus on producing a wide range of texts from a wide range of creators.
Early on, she knew “that [she] wanted to focus on diverse content” although that focus is still on hiring “people who tell good stories”.
However, Nicholson noted that when a publisher focuses on good stories, they’ll find that “people who tell good stories come from everywhere. It’s important to tell their stories”.
And one of those stories is making it’s way into Gothic Tales of Haunted Love:
“One [story] really caught [her] eye, so much so that [she] had to hire a restorationist so [she] could reprint it in this collection…[that story] was Sanho Kim’s ‘The Promise’. It’s an exceptional gothic romance, set in Korea, created by a Korean artist, and lettered in both Korean and English. It’s proof that there are always resistance and exceptions to dominant genres and [she’s] really excited to showcase it.”
This is just one of many diverse stories, however, both in Gothic Tales of Haunted Love and in the rest of Bedside’s publishing catalog.
Nicholson attributes her success at attracting diverse voices to a few things:
“At first when [she] did open calls, [she] didn’t have as far of a reach, so a lot of creators outside of [her] immediate circle never even heard of [her] projects, let alone could apply for them. But over the years [she has] had more and more standing in the industry and since [she] promote[s] a lot of different creators…people who aren’t white, who aren’t straight, who aren’t binary gender.. [diverse creators] are now within [her] social sphere.”
But she knew she had to do more than just rely on her social sphere:
“[She had] to put the work into research and asking for specific recommendations in order to compensate for [a social sphere’s] limitation. For example when [she] did The Secret Loves of Geeks, it was a bit of an attempt to fix an issue that feminism has with binary gender. [She] didn’t want just stories from men, just stories from women–[she] wanted stories from people where the gender binary just wasn’t accurate for them. So [she] asked specifically for stories from nonbinary creators, and received several!”
Although Nicholson has been successful in her publishing experience so far, she does admit that there have been a few bumps in the road, mainly stemming from her steadfast commitment to publish stories she loves instead of only pursuing commercially successful stories.
Distribution and finances are the biggest bumps she’s experienced so far:
“In Canada because of our sparse population base most publishers exist on grants, and grant eligibility is restricted to very strict criteria. [Because of this limited funding, she] fund[s] most of [her] projects through Kickstarters, but this only reaches an audience of usually 400-3,000 funders, and is usually only done two-three times a year.“
She adds that “distributors don’t want niche projects for the most part, so it limits [her] reach to what [she] can hand-sell. That’s tough”.
It’s so tough that Nicholson has had to adjust her life a little. “Because [she uses] almost all of [her] freelance income to put into new projects, it also means [she has] had to cut personal costs as much as [she] can” so she lives with her parents.
On the bright side, though, she’s “had better luck licensing the projects to publishers later (like with The Secret Loves of Geek Girls through Dark Horse), and using all [her] freelance payments from other projects (like writing The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen for Quirk Books) to fund additional books.”
For example, “The Spectacular Sisterhood paid for all the production and printing fees for Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time!”
Part of her success as a publisher comes from running successful Kickstarters; Nicholson has run six successful Kickstarter campaigns and is looking to add a seventh. In fact, she’s been so successful in this area that Kickstarter has made her one of their Thought Leaders, an honor only bestowed on seven creators so far.
When describing this experience and honor, Nicholson says that “ it’s been nice!”
But she adds that, “not too much has changed for [her], since unofficially [she] was already giving a lot of advice and panels and seminars on how to use Kickstarter and tips on how to succeed. It’s basically just given [her] a degree of legitimacy when [she says she’s] an expert!”
Nicholson was more than happy to share some of those Kickstarter tips in this interview.
One of her biggest pieces of advice is to “keep a lot of spreadsheets of lists! It’s tough to re-do all your research from scratch for each campaign.”
While Nicholson has raised enough funds with all of her Kickstarters, she does offer some light for those who don’t have her track record. She reminds them that “failure is OK.”
Not only is it OK, it’s so much a part of life that she prepares “as much for the failure of a campaign as [she does] for its success.”
Sometimes this means asking the right questions, such as “at what point would [she] be comfortable making a personal investment in the project if funding doesn’t push [her] over the edge”?
Does she think that she would “try the project again at a later date or through a different method”?
“Would [she] approach a publisher with the project instead, or would [she] let the project die and encourage the creators to apply with their story for other projects?”
Even though she prepares for failure, she hasn’t had to answer those questions outside of the abstract yet.
And she attributes that success to many things:
“[A big part of success is] putting the work in. And that goes from every aspect. It includes having and maintaining a newsletter, having an active social media life (yes, life not just promotion! People want to know who you are before they feel connected), chatting to press and journalists like they are human beings (so many creators treat press like a necessary evil which is ridiculous. We’re all in this equally together!), identifying your weak spots ([hers] is design) and hiring appropriately (S.M. Beiko did all the amazing design for the kickstarter!)”
Despite this success, she made a point to say that she is ”always learning, and anything outside of comics kickstart-ing is still a bit foreign to” her”.
*Note* All quoted material is from Hope Nicholson.