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B&N Week 95: Become A Better Creator–Seeking Feedback

Written by on Oct 16, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

It’s yet another Tuesday! We’ve got rain and cloudy skies, we’ve got cool weather and some wind, we’ve got shortening days and turning leaves. It’s great, and I’m glad to get to share it with you.

This week, we’re still talking about being a better creator. This week, though, it’s all about feedback. Actually, it’s about seeking out feedback, and what to do with it when you have it. Ready? Let’s go!

Seeking out honest feedback is something that a mature creator does. (A mature creator? I’m mature!) Hm. I’d really call that debatable. Let me give the reasons why.

I’ve been to forums where creators don’t really want honest feedback. They want a pat on the head or on the back and to be told that their creation is the bestest ever. They want an ego stroke, and if they get anything besides what they’re looking for, then they flare up and show their true colors. These creators aren’t mature. They still have a lot of learning and a lot of growing to do before they’re ready for working with others.

These creators are easy to spot: they post work, and when they get responses that laud their efforts, all they say is thanks. What they should be doing instead is saying that they appreciate the comments, but to point out the flaws for how they can get better. These are the creators that are going to improve, and who will be able to take criticism well.

Why is feedback important? Well, it isn’t. (I don’t understand.) Feedback isn’t important unless a few criteria are met. The first is that it is honest. This is the most important criterion. Without it, nothing else matters. The next is that it identifies the problems and then either offers ways to fix them, or directs the creator in the direction where they can learn to fix them. The next criterion is that it comes from someone who is either a peer who is at your skill level, or above it. The last criterion is that it is actionable. Without all of that, “feedback” is useless, and useless is unimportant. (Ah! Got it.)

Everyone says that going to your friends and family to get their reactions to your creation. I’ve said it several times, myself. No, I’m not changing my stance about that.

Like I said, honest feedback is important. Without it, you won’t go far. That’s important to understand. Without honest feedback, your growth is going to be a long, slow process.

As a creator, you need gather to you a circle of friends that you trust. If at all possible, you should be the weakest link of your group. (That sounds downright stupid, Steven.) I know it sounds counterintuitive, but follow my reasoning.

If you’re joining a group, and you’re there to learn, you’re not going to learn all that much if you’re the top or the “leader” of the pack. If you’re the strongest member of the bunch, from whom are you supposed to learn? If you’re the weakest link, as long as you’re actively trying to get better, you should be learning a lot in a little bit of time. This cuts your time down considerably.

The thing about being the weakest link is something of a struggle, though. The reason being is that there’s the possibility that they will look down on you. That can be a challenge to overcome. I know the argument that if they’re really your friends, then they won’t look down on you. However, take a look at your personal relationships. If you have a group of mutual friends, there’s a hierarchy that forms. Someone is always the leader, and the leader always gets treated differently. Then there are those that are just below the leader, and so on. Everyone gets treated according to their place in the hierarchy. It happens in every group. Putting yourself in that place can be precarious. It could be really tough to escape from.

Bad advice? Maybe. The question is this, though: would it be worth it? That’s a question only you can answer.

So, you post some work, and you open yourself to honest feedback. And you get it, in spades. What are you supposed to do with it?

The first thing is to be gracious, and sometimes that can be damned difficult. If someone is aggressive in their critique of your work, thank them, and then see if they’re right. That’s the key. Seeing if they’re right. If they are, see if you can use their critique to improve your craft. If they aren’t, then see why they aren’t right. And don’t use the “because they’re a dick/bitch” filter, either. That isn’t going to get you where you want to be. You have to get past that so that you can actually see what’s going on with your work by using someone else’s eyes. That way leads to growth.

Remember, you’re asking for someone else’s perceptions. Do o they think your work sucks? So what! Did they say why? Did they say how it could be made better, or lead the way to it? That’s the important part. If all they said was that it sucked, then forget it and move on. If they at least said why, then you have to take ownership of that. See if what they’re saying is true, and then work on fixing it.

Dealing with someone else’s negative perceptions is never easy. Seeing the flaws in our work is never an awesome thing to be pointed out, not when you’re on the inside looking out. Sucks, right? I know. However, the great thing about it is that those are the perceptions you need in order to grow. Seeking out feedback helps you to grow in two ways.

The first way is simple: it’s a quantitative, quantifiable growth in skill in whatever your bailiwick is. Good art becomes better art; good writing becomes better writing. You can see your growth almost as a chart. Just as long as you are conscious of not continuing to make the same mistakes, you’re growing. Different mistakes are good. Just take it a step at a time.

The second way is subtler. It’s a growth in character, because it is teaching you how to deal with adversity. How you deal with the adversity of someone telling you how they perceive your work and how to make it better will tell you a lot not just about your work, but also about yourself. In some ways, this is more important than your growth in skill. Dealing with that adversity in a professional manner will get you more jobs. That’s important, folks. We’re all here to find work, and showing that you can remain professional in the face of adversity will go a long way to establishing you as someone to work with.

Want to be a better creator? There are a few steps: seek honest feedback, gather a circle of friends that you trust to give their honest opinion that will help raise your game, and react professionally when you get that feedback.

Where can you post to get feedback? For writers, there are The Proving Grounds, as well as the ComixTribe forums and the Digital Webbing Writer’s Showcase. With The Proving Grounds, your work is guaranteed to be commented on, good, bad, or indifferent. No punches are pulled, and no stone is left unturned with two editors looking over it. There is a standing rule at the CT forums about posting a script: make notes on other scripts first, and then you can post your own. For Digital Webbing, there is no guarantee that your work will be commented on in any meaningful, qualitative way.

When it comes to art, we have the infrequent Draw Over here, as well as Breaking the Page. However, everyone loves art, and there are places such as Digital Webbing and Penciljack where you can get crits of art. (Digital Webbing is something of a creator crit-site, having places for each stage of comic creation. However, not everyone posts on every piece of work that it put up.) There is also an art section here at the CT forum.

To be honest, you could probably trip over places to post work for feedback. Web searches are not hard. However, it is very important that you seek it out. Honest feedback is a very fast way to get better.

And that’s all I have for this week. Homework: submit! Find a place where you feel comfy, and submit. Just remember to read any and all relevant rules, and follow them before doing so.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts Nuts, Columns




B&N Week 70: Cover Time

Written by on May 1, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

With every Tuesday comes a song in my heart and a smile on my face. Truly, all of you make each and every Tuesday something special. Thank you for it.

 

This week, I wanted to talk about the very first thing your readers are going to see: the cover to your book. So, let’s get into the Bolts Nuts of that, shall we?

 

The cover to your book is going to be extremely important. It has to capture the eye of the customer, being striking enough to get them interested enough to pick up the book and hopefully buy it.

 

Back in the day, covers had to distill the story of the book into a single image. Think of one of the most striking covers of all time: Amazing Spider-Man #50, “Spider-Man No More!” You’ve got a large image of Spider-Man with its back turned toward the reader, looking back over its shoulder, and a small Peter Parker walking toward the reader, head down, shoulders slumped, and looking defeated. Striking imagery, and it distills exactly what’s happening in the book.

 

Modern [superhero] covers barely do this anymore. They’re barely more than pinups, and have little to nothing to do with the story inside.

 

Is one way better than the other? I think so. I would rather have a striking image that speaks to the story inside than have a generic pinup any day.

 

When it comes to covers, there are two schools of thought: the cover should be done by the artist that does the interiors, or the cover should be done by a specialist.

 

There are times when the interior artist isn’t a great match for doing the cover. Sometimes, they just don’t have that spark. There’s also the fact that there are times when you can hire a pro to do a cover, and that will help to sell your book. Let’s say you’re doing Pen-Man, and you have Graeme McFreelancer doing the interiors. Well, you now have a choice: Graeme can also do the cover, but covers aren’t his strong suit. Or, you could get a cover artist such as Wilson Coverington to do it [after paying Wilson’s price]. The choice will always be yours, though.

 

About 10 years ago [and before, going back as much as 20], you had to be on the lookout for cover artists. You’d pick up the book based on only the cover, get home, crack it open, and you’d see what you considered to be crap on the inside. It would happen time and again. Now, I believe readers are more savvy. They’ll pick up a book based on a cover, but will also crack it open to see what the art is like on the inside.

 

Some retailers are hesitant to pick up a book that has a different cover artist. This is not the case with the majority of retailers, but it would be fair to mention it. Also, there are some readers who are hesitant to pick up a book if the cover artist isn’t the same as the interior artist.

 

In the indies, especially today, I think it gets even worse. You can hire Wilson Coverinton to do your cover, and it looks great and is extremely attractive. And what is it doing? It’s being a shiny wrapper on the craptastic art that’s inside. (Craptastic, Steven? Isn’t that pretty harsh?) No, not at all.

 

Instead of shelling out for a decent artist, lots of creators are opting to save money on art, get their story told, and then wrap it in an attractive package [cover] so that it will sell. I’ve seen it time and again. Or, so as not to put as much onus on the interior artist, there are times when the interior art is adequate-to-good, but the cover artist is just superior. It’s akin to getting Jim Lee to do a cover on Gerry Conway interiors. You’re expecting a slick-looking book when you get home, and instead you have an old master. Nothing against having an old master doing your book, but getting a new master for the cover sets up a different expectation. See how that works?

 

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about cover construction.

 

Now, there are some elements that covers should address. This will be true of the majority of covers that you look at.

 

The very first thing is “facing.”

 

When you look at covers, characters are generally going to do one of three things: they are going to face straight out at the reader, they will face each other, or they will face to the right.

 

If they face straight out, then it seems like they’re engaging the reader. Think of the Uncle Sam posters, and you’ll get the idea. Facing out [even if they’re looking back behind them] is all about reader engagement. It’s about pulling you into the story so that you buy the book. It’s an enticement [as all covers should be].

 

When you have two or more characters on the cover, then a lot of times they’ll be facing each other. Think of it as a scene in a comic, distilled and stylized for the cover.

 

If it’s a single character, then if they are not facing out, they’ll face to the right. Why is this? Because they want you to open the book. They’re leading your eye to the right, where you get the first page turn. They’re all but telling you to open the book.

 

Generally, what you shouldn’t do is have a character facing to the left. [I’m generally talking American comics, folks.] That is leading them “out” of the book, “away” from cracking the book open and seeing what’s inside. The reader won’t be interested as much, because you’re “telling” them not to be when you have characters facing to the left. As a general rule, don’t have single characters facing to the left.

 

Next is color. Color is very important to a cover. While you can go very dark, when the cover goes on the shelf, it’s easier to get lost among all the other dark covers. You definitely want to have a balance of color on the cover, as well as colors that complement each other. (Well, duh! Complimentary colors! Thanks, Captain Obvious!) Trust me, if I didn’t have to say it, I wouldn’t. Make sure the colors compliment each other.

 

There’s something to be said about white covers, and here’s the place to say it. White covers are striking, because they have very few elements to them. Conventional wisdom tells us that white covers should be special event type covers: something special is happening inside, or a convention cover, or a sketch cover, or something like that. Do you have to go with conventional wisdom? Not at all. But if you go to this particular well too many times, then your covers will cease to stand out among your own output. Think long and hard about white covers before you do them.

 

Also, the colors on the cover should reflect the tone of the story inside. This is especially true if you’re distilling a scene from the story. For pinups [read: superhero], then the colors aren’t going to have much of an impact, but if you’re distilling a scene, then this will be important. If you have a bright, cheery palette, then your readers are going to expect bright cheeriness on the inside. Don’t jar them with a somber story. The reverse is true, as well.

 

Let’s talk about elements.

 

The cover should be balanced in their elements. You don’t want one side “heavier” than the other. By “heavy,” I mean elements bunched up on one side, with not as many elements on the other. Think of the cover as a seesaw. You want it balanced [or just slightly off] in order to make the most impact. A cover that is badly out of balance is a cover that is not going to work for the book or the story.

 

What do I mean by elements? “Elements” are everything that you see: characters, objects, words, colors—everything. Covers that are out of balance make for more difficult sales, psychologically speaking.

 

The cover image shouldn’t have anything important any other place than the middle of the cover. Think of the cover as having a smaller Live Area [that’s a lettering term—you have been studying how to letter, right?] where you only want to put certain elements. If it’s important, put it to the center and maybe even toward the right of center. [When you grow up, you can “hide” important story elements on the cover by placing them in areas that are not obvious.]

 

Anyway, if you put the important elements that are centered or to the right, then you have a better chance of those elements being seen, and not being lost in the shuffle.

 

Words. Besides the logo, you don’t often see them on today’s covers. From hyperbole to characters talking, either to one another or to the reader, you just don’t see it too often. It used to happen all the time, but now, it’s a rarity.

 

While on that subject, you also don’t see a lot of words on a cover that is not part of the trade dress, period. Modern fashion has taken certain elements out of the tool box for covers, and part of that are words, either spoken or chosen to highlight the story inside.

 

(Trade dress? You’re losing me, Steven.)

 

Trade dress is the logo of the book, the company logo, issue number, and price. I’m talking about the things that make the book recognizable as what it is and to whom it belongs. If I were to have a Pen-Man logo made using the font and color of the Wolverine logo, as well as using a company logo that is similar in shape and color to an old-style Marvel logo, then it could look like Pen-Man is not only being published by Marvel, but that it’s also a Wolverine spin-off. [Which would increase your sales, but also get you sued by Marvel: trade-dress is protectable, and you don’t need to register it in order to sue. It can be registered, but it doesn’t need to be.]

 

Generally, the company logo, issue number, and price are all within a single box, and that box is generally toward the upper left hand corner of the book. If you put an important element toward the upper left, it could get lost because of the elements that are already there.

 

And that’s all I have about covers for the moment. Does the make you an expert? Not at all. There are always things to learn.

 

Homework! When looking at covers on the shelves, look to see if the cover is doing the book justice. Could it be taken as a scene distilled from the book, or is it little more than a pinup? Is it a dark cover? Are there any elements that get lost? Is the trade dress attractive and not distracting from the overall aesthetic of the book? Go through your own collection and see what the covers tell you. See if there’s anything that drew you, or would have made you shy away from the book if you weren’t a completist. Be objective. Also, think about whether or not your interior artist will be the cover artist, or if you’re going to hire a ringer.

 

There’s the bell! See you in seven.

 

 

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B&N Week 69: Creator or Consumer Mindset?

Written by on Apr 17, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

Tuesdays are pretty special to me. They go by too fast, too. I mean, I wait all week long, just to have a chance to spend some time with you, and before you know it, our time is over. Can’t we make Tuesday stretch over 48 hours or so?

Anyway, I want to talk about something that you’re all going to have to come to terms with, whether you realize it or not. I’m talking about your mindset. The basic question to answer is this: are you a consumer posing as a creator, or are you a creator who wants to give things to consumers?

Let’s explore the Bolts Nuts of that, and see if we can’t see what your mindset is, and what you can do to change it [if it needs changing].

As a creator, the world has to be broken into two segments: consumers, and content creators. Content creators are those who, for whatever reason, feel the need to create something that other people can enjoy and/or learn from. Content creators are all around us: every news site you visit, every time you go to the movies, turn on your television, read a book or magazine—all of that content is created by someone with the intent of it being consumed by someone.

Okay, let’s get a little closer to home. You come to this site every week to hear the writers spout off on one subject or another. All of the writers here are content creators, and we’re wanting you to consume what we’ve created, in the hopes that you’ll then go out and create your own content for consumption.

Consumers? Consumers consume. They go out and they buy stuff that we create, or they read for free what we give away.

Consumers are difficult, to say the least. The overwhelming majority of them don’t know what they want until we tell them. Then, there’s the very vocal minority that know what they want, and do their best to shape what the rest of the majority wants, in order to fit the needs and whims of the few. (Steven, did you just call the majority of the population sheep?) [Yes. The majority of the population are “sheeple.” This isn’t just in comics. This is in everything. Look around and see: political lobbyists, special interest groups, single individuals that take it upon themselves to try and change the world, or who change the world because of a wrong done to them. Sheeple aren’t difficult to find. I’m one, in a way, and so are you.]

The vocal minority will do everything in their power to get what they want. What they want is power over the content creator to provide the content that they want to read. Never mind what the creator wants to provide—that has no bearing on the conversation. They want what they want, and the creator has to do their best to resist the urge to give in to the minority and serve both themselves and the silent majority.

It just gets extremely tough, because the creator doesn’t know what the silent majority wants. [Hence, “silent majority.”] They should just create, and let the chips fall where they may.

Then comes the problem. [You knew it was coming, right?] (I was waiting for it.)

Content creators are also consumers, and most often, part of the silent majority.

What does this mean?

This means that, as a creator, you have an opinion as to how you want your content disseminated, and are often in a position to make sure it gets done the way you want it to. You look at the market, you see what’s being done, and say, “I’m going to do it differently.” Sometimes, “differently” means shooting yourself in the foot. And if you haven’t guessed, shooting yourself in the foot is not a good thing.

There are some extremely uncomfortable realities that, as a creator, you need to understand:

· The comic book market is dominated by two companies—Marvel and DC. Without these two companies, everything else crumbles.

· Comic book shops buy from these two companies first. This is how their shop makes money. Everything else is a secondary consideration. Image? Secondary. Boom!? Secondary. Dark Horse? (Secondary?) [Exactly. Secondary.]

· As yet, there is no money in digital comics. Graphic.ly just got out of the storefront business, leaving comiXology as the digital equivalent of Diamond.

· The direct market is dominated by Diamond. Most comic shops won’t carry a book that isn’t carried by Diamond. The larger the shop, the lower the possibility that it will carry your independently created comic.

· Diamond is in business to make money. If your book is not of quality, they will not carry it for distribution. And make no mistake, Diamond watches the market, they watch comics, and the reps, even though they have their own tastes, know what they’re talking about. If they passed, it means they can’t make money off your book.

· Webcomics are a dime a dozen, and it takes a lot to not only create one, but maintain it in obscurity long enough for it to gain an audience and for the creator to start making money from it.

See that? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve read that and understood it, you would see that your options are extremely limited.

With limited options of getting your book seen, why are you doing things to make sure your book continues to wallow in obscurity? (No I’m not! There are just certain things I think I can achieve by doing things my way, that’s all.) Yes, I know. And “your way” will make it harder for your book to catch on and break even, if not make a profit.

You’ve spent a lot of time and money in getting Pen-Man off the ground. If you’ve listened to me, this is what you’ve done: you’ve done a lot of prep work in getting the script ready to be written while saving your money; after you’ve written the script, you hired an editor to help you get it polished and ready for the creative team; you’ve hired a creative team within your means so that you can bring a new book into the world. Now what? Remember that creating comics is expensive in both time and money. Ever see the movie The Money Pit? Tom Hanks and Shelly Long pour tons of money into this house with hilarious results.

Comics is a money pit, and you’re going to have to work long and hard in order to make your investment back. Why make it harder on yourself than absolutely necessary? Why not give your creation every opportunity to thrive, even if it means doing something you normally wouldn’t do?

What you’re doing is letting your silent majority consumerist opinion influence your content creator stance. Extremely often, the two do not mesh. It’s a dog with two bones, and you’re going to be forced to make a choice.

As a content creator, it is your job not to just create content, but to give that content the best chance possible of being consumed. That means you have to do everything in your power to give the content the widest dissemination possible. As a content creator, that is your job. Never forget that.

Your silent majority consumerist opinion can and should be informing your content creative mind, but it shouldn’t be skewing it in such a way that it hampers your ability to sell or give away your content. And that happens all too often.

Take a look at Mark Millar. He’s a shill, selling himself as his brand so that he can sell his comics. He knows that people want to be entertained, and want to be entertained well. It works for him. Why? Because he’s telling quality stories, and they sell in droves. The silent majority has spoken with their wallets, and that has led Millar’s stories to be made into movies.

Do you have to be a shill? No, not at all. But it doesn’t hurt. Not as long as you have a quality product backing you up.

Don’t throw money and time away. Give your content every opportunity to thrive. Step outside of the box your consumer mind has put your creator mind into. Take every avenue, every possibility, every opportunity to get your work in front of people.

You’re a content creator. It’s time for you to start thinking like one.

No homework this week. Enjoy the break.

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B&N Week 67: Project Management

Written by on Apr 3, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

Guess what? It’s Tuesday! Was I missed? Even if I wasn’t, I sure missed all of you. It felt like an eternity since the last time we talked. It isn’t fair, I tell you. A whole week separating us like this. Something has to be done. I’ll work on it.

In the meantime, I wanted to talk about project management this week. Give you some tips and tools to help make your projects run more smoothly than they have been. (What makes you think my project has been running roughly?) [Because you haven’t been thinking past your nose. I know. You’ll see. Just follow me.]

Okay, so you’ve got Pen-Man all hashed out, right? You’ve got a completed scripts to fill a storyarc, you’ve got your creative team onboard, and you’re ready to rock and roll. Everything is right with the world!

Well, no, it isn’t. You’ve left out some crucial details, and we’re going to fill those holes together.

The very first, the biggest hole, is that you don’t have a production schedule in order to get to print. Let’s start by looking at the timeframes it takes for the steps of the process.

Writing can take the longest. (No, it doesn’t.) Yes, it can. Depending on the story, writing has to be researched and cross-referenced to make sure the story being told is done so accurately. Or, sometimes, the inspiration for the story just isn’t there. Or, you haven’t matured enough yet to be able to tell the story you want to. That doesn’t take into account the plotting and the pacing and character creation and backstory and everything else that goes into making a compelling story. Writing can take years, with only the physical act of writing taking a short time to do. For the physical act, IF the writer has done everything they needed to beforehand, and depending on how technical they want to get, the actual scripting itself should only take a few hours for the whole 22 page story. [That’s for a single script, and if they aren’t doing anything else. This is the physical act only, folks.]

Penciling. A pro who is not wunderkind Mark Bagley can do a page a day. [Bagley can do about two.] The speed of creating art has gone down, because art has become more complex to create. So, call it 8-10 hours to create a single page of penciled art. That’s a pro/freelancer who isn’t doing anything else besides sitting at a desk all day long, doing the work. If the artist also has a day job, then for that single page of art, it will take 3-4 days. [You paying attention?] (Rapturously.)

Inking takes roughly half to one third the time it takes to pencil. A lot of it depends on the pencils themselves, and the amount of fine lines that have to be done. So, an inker can do two to three pages a day if that’s all they’re doing; if they have a day job, call it a page a day.

Colors can take a bit of time, depending on the type of coloring being done. (Type of coloring?) [Cell shading, painting, and more.] If you’re just going for straight colors without too much rendering [fine shading] being done, it should take about as long as it takes to ink a page.

Letters are the fastest. A pro letterer has templates for captions, balloons, and tails already set up and saved, so they just have to pick a font and then cut and paste. A regular book that doesn’t call for too much work [not a lot of signage or sound effects] can be done in a day. (Excuse me?) A day. That’s just straight lettering, and doesn’t take into account any prepress preparation, nor does it incorporate anything special that needs to be done, such as lettering tricks. This is a pro letterer who isn’t doing anything else. A day for an entire book, two maximum. [An aside: letterers HATE to be pressured. While lettering the book takes the shortest amount of time, it still has to be done right. Give a letterer a good four or five days for a 22 page book.] If the letterer also has a day job, they should still be able to do five to eight pages a day, and that’s not even breathing hard. [Again, this does not account for prepress or anything special that needs to be done.]

Here’s something that’s new: the printer. Printing doesn’t take much time at all, to tell the truth. They get the files, and then they print however many copies that are asked for. You’re in the indies. Generally, you’re not going to be asking for thousands of copies. You’re going to be lucky to print up hundreds of copies [that you’ll be able to sell]. But let’s look at a timeframe. You may have to wait a little bit if the printer itself is doing only comics [especially if it’s around convention time]. What’s a little bit? Maybe a few days, up to a week. The printing itself should only take a few hours [depending on the size of the run], but first you have to wait for the proof. (Proof?) The proof is the copy of the comic that the printer should send you so you can see the quality, note any defects in the pages, make sure the pages are in order, nothing is cut off where it isn’t supposed to be, and a myriad of other things. The proof is a physical copy, and unless the printer is in town, it will take a few days to come to you in the mail. Then you communicate with the printer about anything you find, and then they print up your comic. Delivery will be wherever you want it to be: your domicile, the convention center, the cat’s litter box [assuming it has a mailing address].

When should you contact the printer? I’d do it near the end of the cycle—when the colors are nearing completion. (Le WHAT? That’s pretty late!) Contacting the printer beforehand can get you a ballpark estimate for a timeframe, but it won’t reserve you a place in line. Printing is done on a first come, first serve basis. If they get a huge influx of jobs coming in, then the timeframe may not be accurate. Give it at least two weeks, and you can adjust accordingly once you have files ready to print.

Now, you need to know all of this information in order to create your production schedule. You have to build certain things into the schedule in order to make sure deadlines are both fair and attainable.

The first thing you need to build into your production schedule are the edits. Each stage needs to have time to be edited, fixed, and resubmitted for another round of edits. How long should editing take? I can edit a 22 page script in a day, and it takes less time than that to go over every other stage. The rest of it can be done in minutes per stage. Editing the script is the longest, hardest part of editing. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I do do it. A working editor has a lot of other things on their plate, so editing the script can take up to a week. If they’re working a day job, then it can take about the same amount of time. Build that into the schedule, as well as time for revisions. That’s for every stage.

The next thing you want to build into the schedule is crucial. If you don’t do it, you’re asking for failure. Don’t ask for failure. Do it.

Build a buffer into the schedule. Let me say that again, because it’s important. Build a buffer into the production schedule.

Why are you building a buffer? Because Life happens. Things get in the way, and you have no control over it. Build a buffer into every stage.

But here’s the trick: you don’t tell the creative team about the buffer. The buffer is for you, and you alone. (Why am I not telling the team about it?) The reason is simple: they’ll take advantage of it and of you. If you tell them you need something by the 5th but you really don’t need it until the 10th, when Life comes and slaps someone around and they get it to you by the 8th, you’re still covered. If you tell them you don’t need until the 10th and that’s when you really need it, you’re asking for trouble. Life can come and slap people about at any time. With you building that buffer into the schedule, you’re giving yourself leeway if things go wrong.

Now, if things hum along smoothly and there are no bumps, then you get to have everything “early.” This is a great thing, especially if you have to answer to someone else. It makes you look good. And if Life happens, then you still have the possibility of bringing it in on time, which still makes you look good. You got it in despite adversity. Good on ya!

The next thing about project management is also pretty key. Communication. (This again?) Yes, this again. Haven’t you noticed that everything is interlocked with everything else?

When I’m talking communication, I’m talking about communicating with the entire team. Letting the team know where the project stands on a regular basis. A simple e-mail that gives a breakdown of what’s going on is all that’s necessary. It can look like this:

 

Hey, folks! We’re knee-deep in Pen-Man, and I’m back with another update. Let’s take a look and see, shall we?

Script for issue 100: Complete

Layouts for issue 100: Complete

Pencils for issue 100: 20 of 40 done

Inks for issue 100: 15 of 40 done

Colors for issue 100: 8 of 40 done

Letters for issue 100: None yet

That’s where we stand. Anyone have anything for me?

 

See? Simple and to the point.

How often should you communicate? It depends on the schedule. I advocate no less than once every couple of weeks. If you’re moving faster than that because the schedule demands it, then once a week.

What else should you be communicating to the team? If there are any problems or delays. If you’ve given them the production schedule, then the team should know when to expect work. One person being late can put pressure on everyone else behind them in order to get things done on time. You talk to that person in private, letting them know the score. Ask them what the problem is, when they can get back on it, and so on. You don’t ask if they need help with the work. This is the indies, and if you’re paying Graeme McFreelancer to pencil Pen-Man, you more than likely won’t be able to afford Percival Leadbottom to lend Graeme a helping hand. And if worse comes to worst, then you can always replace Graeme with Percival. Don’t do that unless there’s no other choice, though.

Don’t forget that part of project management is also managing personalities. Some people need to be massaged, some need to be bludgeoned. Talk to the creators and see who needs what. Some people work better under pressure. Hopefully, they will let you know this, and not leave you to find it out for yourself.

So, let’s review: in order to make a production schedule, you have to know the timeframes it takes for each step of the process. [Tip: ask creators how fast they are, and then add a day to it. This is not the buffer, this is making sure you don’t overestimate their abilities, because they’re looking for a job, and they’ll say what needs to be said in order to get it.] Don’t forget to contact the printer to see how fast they are and how long the wait time will be.

Build in editorial time [revisions, fixes, resubmitting].

Build in a buffer. Let me say that again, because it’s important. Build in a buffer. (So, you want me to build in a buffer?) [Yes, I want you to build in a buffer.]

Communicate with the team on a regular basis.

You do this, and your projects should run a lot more smoothly.

That’s all I have for this week. Homework: start thinking in terms of time for production. I want you to assess yourself in how much time it takes you to do what you do, so that you’ll know when asked. I also want you to come up with a production schedule for your own project.

There’s the bell. See you in seven!

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B&N Week 65: Copyright Time

Written by on Mar 21, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

Hello, and welcome to another glorious Tuesday! I’ve a lot to cover this week, so no flowery intro’s. This week, it’s all about the Copyright, so let’s get into the Bolts Nuts of that.

Yes, this may be boring to most of you, but it is also important. Make sure you have your listening caps on.

For today’s discussion, I’m going to assume one thing, and one thing only: you’re creating in the United States. If you’re creating in a different country, none of this is going to apply to you. [Maybe if you’re part of a treaty nation, but your mileage may vary.]

When it comes to copyright, your ideas are protected as soon as you put them into a fixed form. Let’s take Pen-Man. You’ve been thinking about him for a long time, but don’t have anything on paper or in a computer. It’s all in your head. Then, someone else comes along and publishes Pen-Man. Know what? As soon as they put pen to paper [or fingers to keyboard], they were protected, and you’re out of the concept of Pen-Man. It now belongs to them.

The “fixed form” is very important. You cannot copyright an idea. It has to be in a fixed form—tangible. Someone else needs to be able to see it. So you either write it down, or you put it in a computer. You’re protected automatically, without telling anyone at all.

[Le huh? How’s that possible? What about filing for the copyright notice?] Yeah, it makes little sense. I won’t lie. But US law specifically allows for it. Now, you could submit the fixed-form idea for registration [paying a fee of about $35], which will allow you to use a type of notation we’ll get into later.

Copyright is all about protecting the author’s original work. According to the US Copyright Office, this covers “literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain intellectual works.”

Copyrights generally last for the life of the author, plus 70 years, unless it is passed to someone such as an heir. [There is a thought that the extension is due to the Disney corporation not wanting Mickey Mouse to go into the public domain. The length of the copyright used to be about 20 years after the author’s death. Walt Disney died in 1966, and under the current law, Mickey isn’t due to hit the public domain until 2036. If it gets extended again before then, then you’ll have your answer.]

Anyway, a lot of you are copyright infringers. A lot of you. Yes, you. I’m looking right at ya. (Why?) Because you want to include lyrics to songs you love or are popular in your comic scripts, and you didn’t get permission. Permission is given in one of two ways: the original author either says yes [which could be easy if they’re not that big/popular], or you have to pay a fee for a license [which happens much more often]. Every time you put song lyrics that you didn’t write into a script and you don’t have permission, you’re opening yourself up to be sued. Don’t get sued. Stop infringing.

The same goes for artists. Every time you create and sell a print/sketch of a character you don’t own and for which you don’t have permission, you’re infringing.

The big news about this is Gary Friedrich, the creator of Ghost Rider. He sued Marvel over the movie and lost, and Marvel sued him for creating reproductions of their licensed character, and won to the tune of $17k. Now, Joe Quesada [Chief Creative Officer of Marvel] and Dan Buckley [Publisher of Marvel] have publicly said they are not in the business of suing artists for selling depictions of their characters in Artist Alley, but Marvel is now owned by Disney, and you don’t often see artists selling depictions of Mickey, because Disney is sue-happy. [First, generally, you’ll get a Cease and Desist letter first. Ignore it to your peril.]

So, if things are protected by copyright as soon as they’re in a fixed form, how do magazines, newspapers, and others get away with using copyrighted characters? No, they don’t have licenses, and they don’t have permission.

What they have are exceptions.

There are protections for the protections of copyright. They are fair use, freedom of speech, market failure, education, and equality of access.

You’re not going to be concerned overmuch with most of that. The one you’re going to be most concerned with is Fair Use. Fair Use includes commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving, and scholarship. Fair Use generally also covers parody [poking fun of the thing itself] but not satire [using the thing to comment/poke fun of something else]. Notice I said “generally.” The courts can always start covering satire, but in general, they haven’t yet.

Now, parody is coverable basically only once. Think of it as a one-time “get out of jail free” card. If you keep going back to one particular well, you’re going to be infringing, and will open yourself up to a suit.

So, since you can claim a copyright as soon as you have your ideas in a fixed form, you can use a symbol to show you claim copyright. That symbol, for most things, will be the letter “c” in a circle, like this ©. If you decide to send it in to the Copyright Office and pay the fee to register it [it’s a little more involved than that, but that’s the gist], you can then use a different symbol, the letter “R” in a circle, like this ®.

For comics, you’d put this info in the minutia you find on either the first page, or the credits page. That small print that you never read? That’s where it would go, along with the year. As an example, this site would read something like ComixTribe © 2011-2012.

Do you know everything you need to know about copyrights? No, not at all. You know just enough to be dangerous. There are a few things I want you to take away from this, though.

  • In the United States, your work is protected as soon as you put it in a fixed form.
  • Unless you have permission [and explicit “yes” from the copyright holder or paid a fee for a license], you will be infringing if you put song lyrics you didn’t write in your comic.
  • There are exceptions to copyright, and the one that will be of concern to most of you is Fair Use, with the parody subset. [Don’t forget scholarship, either. That can be powerful, as well.]
  • You do not need to register in order to claim copyright [but registering helps].

Now, here are the most important things I want you to know about this entire article: you can always go to the US Copyright Office to get information. It will always be there for you. The second thing is that copyright is always being contested and revised. People are always doing something that calls into question copyright law. The biggest revisions were in music [rap music, to be exact, because of sampling].

One more word about copyright before I let you go.

There’s a method called the Poor Man’s Copyright that was being used to try to establish a timeline that something had been in someone’s possession for a certain amount of time. It works like this: you create the visual form of Pen-Man, but you don’t have the money for the fee in order to register it. Instead of sending it in to be registered, you then mail the sheet of paper to yourself, and you NEVER OPEN THE ENVELOPE.

The act of mailing puts a government stamp and date on the envelope, and as long as you never open the envelope, the theory goes, you won’t have any problems in proving you had the idea first, and therefore, you have the copyright.

This method may not hold up in a court of law today. A lot of it will depend upon the judge. [A judge that is not versed in copyright law may allow it—one that is may laugh you out of court.] The reasoning is simple.

Let’s say you mailed the visual of Pen-Man to yourself. There are various ways to unseal the envelope without it looking like the seal was broken. [A quick, simple method is to steam it open, or you could put the envelope in the freezer for an hour or so.] That’s if you want to go the long way around. The easy way? Just mail the unsealed envelope to yourself. Then you can stuff it with whatever you want, created whenever necessary, and then seal the envelope.

Because the methods of defeating the Poor Man’s Copyright are easy and well-known, I do not recommend using this method to try to protect yourself. If the judge allows it, consider yourself lucky. More than likely, you’re going to be out of luck with it.

That’s all I have for this week. Homework: go to the US Copyright Office and poke around. Do your own learning. Download the Copyright Basics pdf and read it. Stop infringing on other’s work by putting song lyrics in your scripts.

See you in seven!

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B&N Week 64: Hustle

Written by on Mar 13, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

Every Tuesday, I have an extra bounce in my step, and I feel energized. I think it’s your presence. You make me feel special. Thank you.

This week, I want to talk about hustle. Let’s just get right into the Bolts Nuts of that, shall we?

What do I mean when I talk about hustle? I’m talking about getting your brand known, of getting out there and letting the world know that you’ve created something worthwhile.

I’m going to tell you a secret. The secret is about me, and you know that I don’t like talking about myself all that much. I’m terrible at hustle, just like most of you are. There are reasons for that, and I’m pretty sure you and I share many of these same traits. Let’s talk about them, and the ways to overcome them.

The first, biggest thing is that, despite all appearances, I’m shy. Almost painfully so, to tell the truth. And hustling means I have to break out of that mold and into something different. It means I have to draw attention to myself, and that’s something I’m uncomfortable with. I don’t mind being in the spotlight, it’s that I don’t like drawing it upon me. It feels like a cheat. I’d rather things be about the work, and not the fact that I did it.

I’m willing to bet that many of you share some of that with me. But it isn’t going to get you far. I have two columns that I write per week, and haven’t missed a date yet. Do I crow about it? Do I go out on social media and shout it to the heavens?

No. I don’t. And that’s a problem.

It’s not that I don’t want to, and it’s not that I don’t know how to hustle. It just makes me uncomfortable.

However, making comics is only the beginning of the work. First, you have to make sure the comic is of quality, and second, you have to market it. The marketing is where the hustle comes in.

Hustle means getting out there and showing off. Being shameless. Showing your wares in their best light, and letting the world know that the work exists. This is also very easy to overdo. Extremely easy.

The trick about hustle means that while you’re getting the word out about your book, you’re also not being annoying about it. Annoyance turns people off, and if you turn people off, they will actively avoid you. Active avoidance hurts sales/eyes.

There’s someone on Twitter who was killing me. Every day, a few times a day, this person would tweet about a single portion of their site. EVERY DAY. It was almost the same tweet, word for word. And if it wasn’t the same tweet, the wording would change, but it would be about the same thing. While that’s shameless hustle, it’s also annoying and turned me off. I’m willing to bet it turned off a few other people as well.

But this is what the need for eyes and mindshare will do to you. It will force you to go overboard, and then it’s hard to come back from that.

Getting your hustle on means you’re trying to enter into a contract with the public. You have something you want to give them, something you think they want. You’re bringing attention to that. You then have to keep up your side of the implied contract: the thing you’re bringing attention to should be of worth to the public you’re damn-near hassling. If it isn’t, you’re going to hear about it in the Internet Age.

So how do you go about getting your hustle on? Interaction! Not just about what you’re bringing attention to, but also being interesting in yourself. Have something to say outside of just peddling your wares.

This means being engaging. Talk to people, and have a true interest in them. If you treat them as though they’re a means to an end, they’ll be able to tell, and then you’re done.

Who do you need to have hustle for?

Retailers! Readers will come, but retailers are the ones who are going to sell your book, unless you’re selling it yourself. You get a retailer onboard for your book, and you’ll be able to move more copies.

But you have to be engaging. You have to have the wares to sell, and you have to have the follow through. Your product also has to be of Quality (just as your hustle has to be of Quality). If you don’t have the wares or the follow through, then you’re doing something worse than spinning your wheels and wasting your time: you’re crying wolf, and you can only do that so many times before people [retailers] stop listening. Then you’ll have more work to do in order to make up that lost ground. Even then, you’ve set up an expectation that you’re not going to follow through sometime in the future, and they’ll just be waiting for it.

You also have to let the main news agencies know about your wares. Lots of people read Heidi McDonald’s The Beat, as well as Rich Johnston’s Bleeding Cool. (What about Newsarama and CBR?) [Yes, people read those, too, but Newsarama has new owners that have turned it into a Top 10 List clickfest, which is more interested in traffic than actual reporting; and CBR doesn’t give much coverage to small press. Take that as you will.]

When the reviews of your book comes out, do your best to thank the reviewer, either in email or on the reviewing site. Even if the review is negative.

The next thing about hustle is being somewhat tireless. Being tireless does not mean going overboard and saying the same thing every day, but being pertinent and informative at every opportunity.

Let’s say you’ve got an entire arc of Pen-Man to sell, and you’ve just collected it into a trade. Well, you can go on Twitter [and make sure you’ve connected your Twitter to Facebook and whatever else you can, like LinkedIn] and tell people about it. Talk about the singles in one instance, talk about the arc in another, and then about the trade in a third. Then you could focus on important things or cliffhangers in individual issues. When people [retailers] ask about more, show them! Send them previews of the book. Get them onboard. Reviewers? Send them review copies [physical or, more than likely, digital].

Now, when the reviews are up, and the stores are selling the books, TELL PEOPLE. This is about hustle, as well. Send those reviewers traffic. Send those retailers sales. And when the readers interact with you, thank them for buying and taking the time to speak/write.

Go do in-store signings. This will have the effect of giving more traffic to the store, and have you interacting directly with your readers/potential readers.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of hustling. Done right, it is very time consuming, but it is also very rewarding.

Homework: start your hustle! I’ll be starting mine. Follow me on Twitter [@stevedforbes], I’m barely on Facebook [facebook.com/stevedforbes], and I’m also on LinkedIn. I’ve got columns to talk about, and people to interact with. Come join me!

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B&N Week 63: Ownership Is Tricky

Written by on Mar 6, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

It’s Tuesday, and as always, it’s a glorious one! That means I’m going to cut the intro short, and let’s jump right into some Bolts Nuts!

This week, I wanted to talk about ownership. It’s been on a lot of people’s minds recently, due to two things: Gary Friedrich not only losing his case against Marvel for the ownership of Ghost Rider, but also being sued by Marvel and owing them $17k; and Tony Moore suing Robert Kirkman over accounting of The Walking Dead.

This is just the most recent round of ownership disputes. The oldest, most well-known is Jack Kirby vs Marvel, but you also have Stan Lee Media vs Marvel, Neil Gaiman vs Todd McFarlane, Steve Gerber vs Marvel, Marvelman, and more.

Ownership disputes are an ugly thing. Most of these are about one thing: money. However, in order for it to be about money, the property, whatever it is, has to be successful.

Most of you are going after collaborations, and the reason for that is simple: you’re all broke. Because you’re broke, you go after the cheapest way to get your book done. The cheapest way is to give up part of your intellectual property: Pen-Man. You sink all of your money into getting Pen-Man on the shelves, and there it is, in all its glory.

And, surprise surprise, it’s selling! You’ve got a runway hit on your hands: the press coverage is great, leading to more sales, leading to more eyes, leading to more sales, leading to Hollywood, leading to more coverage, leading to more sales, leading to a cartoon that gets Pen-Man on television for a season, leading to more coverage, leading to more sales.

See a trend there?

Popularity equals sales equals money.

You know what Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Sean Combs said? More money, more problems.

Your biggest problem is the fact that you don’t have a contract stating who owns what. You have an agreement to have the work done on Pen-Man, but you’re making real money now: Hollywood came calling, and with the cartoon deal, you’ve also got all kinds of merchandise selling: toys, apparel, toothpaste, band-aids, even a cereal.

You hired Graeme McFreelancer to do the work, and you have little more than a handshake between you, as well as some friendly feelings as time progressed and the work continues to flow. When the money started to come in, you started paying Graeme a page rate [and a livable one at that], but now, Graeme feels he’s owed more money.

He asks nicely. He wants to be paid appropriately for bringing and continuing to bring Pen-Man to life.

Your stance has changed, though. Instead of it being about telling the stories you’ve always wanted to tell, you’re now unwilling to share the money that’s flowing in to you from your licensing deals. You’ve got your house paid off, you’re expecting a child, and you’re saving up a nest egg for yourself [read: your family] as well as saving to put your child/children through college.

After asking nicely and getting nowhere, Graeme decides he’s going to sue.

What happens next is in the hands of lawyers and judges.

Why is all of this happening? The lack of a contract.

(Wait. You said that I gave up part of my IP in order to get Pen-Man done. What happened to that?)

Nothing. When the case goes to court, during the discovery phase, your emails will act as something of a contract, and then Graeme should get whatever he is owed.

Ownership. Ownership can be tricky. Here’s what I recommend and what I think is fair: give the artist no more than 49%. You can definitely give less, but I don’t recommend more.

The reason why is this: there can only be one boss. If you each have an equal stake, there’s no tiebreaker. That can kill a beautiful thing.

Ownership can be listed in the credits of your comics. Generally, that’s stated as “Created by.” As an example, Pen-Man would say in the credits “Created By Kletus Jerkovitch and Graeme McFreelancer.” The amount of ownership doesn’t matter. That’s between the creators. If a creation only lists one creator, then that person is the owner. Simple.

If you are the lone creator and you let others create within your world, I’m going to give you a simple rule to follow: DON’T. Don’t let them create anything new. Not a character, not a concept, not even a car. Don’t let them create any backstory. Don’t let them embellish much on anything that isn’t there already. Don’t. Because if the property becomes popular and you continue to use it, then you could end up owing them money. Neil Gaiman vs Todd McFarlane has set precedent on just this type of thing with Medieval Spawn and Angela. Neil created them, and even though the work is derivative, the court said that Todd owed him money.

Don’t.

Even though Bob Kane created the look of Batman, Bill Finger created everything else in the early days of the character. However, whenever you see anything about Batman [movie, tv show, old serial], the only person listed as creating Batman is Bob Kane. [Bob’s widow even had a small role in a couple of the Batman movies of the 80s/90s.] Swindle? Possibly. Legally, it’s fine. Morally? That’s for you to decide.

The heirs of Jack Kirby are trying to get the founding characters of the Marvel Universe turned over to them. Stan Lee Media, on behalf of Stan Lee [who is no longer associated in any way, shape, or form with the company that bears his name], is trying to get Spider-Man and other characters turned over to them.

No matter what you say, you cannot deny that there are a handful of architects for the Marvel Universe. They created, curated, and shepherded early Marvel, allowing it to reach the heights it now holds. And none of these architects own any of it. [The last I checked, Stan was Chairman Emeritus of Marvel, and getting paid something like $1M/year just because he’s breathing. That might have been lessened.] All of the founding characters are owned by the corporations.

This is why ownership can be tricky, and why I recommend contracts and entertainment lawyers. This is to protect you, sometimes from yourself.

No homework this week. Enjoy the break!

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B&N Week 62: Quality Is Job One

Written by on Feb 28, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

It’s Tuesday! Here in NC, it’s been a mild winter. I haven’t needed much more than a medium jacket for most of this winter. Terrible. I used to live in Arizona, and living there during the winter was about the same, but with less humidity. I’m looking for actual winter, here: cold, snow, and cold snow. As winters go, this sucks. There’s no quality to this winter.

And that’s what I want to talk about this week. I want to talk about quality, and the effect it has on your creations. So, let’s get into the Bolts Nuts of that, shall we?

 

I’m just going to come right out and say it: most of you are putting out extremely crappy comics. I’m talking all around, straight up crap: writing, art, and lettering. No, don’t get upset. Don’t start looking at one another, either. You’re all at fault. In the indies, I’m going to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of two people: the writer, and the editor.

(Why them?) In the indies, writers are generally the prime movers. They’re the ones with the ideas, and they want to see them come to life. That means they have to pay for it. Simple. As for editors, I’m generally talking about small press editors. They either don’t know what they’re doing, or they’re too afraid to ask for changes, or both.

Let’s talk about the writer first. (Of course you were.) [Of course I was.]

Go look at the Help Wanted sections of any comic board you care to frequent. The overwhelming majority [99%] of those ads are from writers who are looking to create a comic. That’s great! That means comics are getting made! Love it, right?

Until you start to run the numbers. When writers run the numbers, they then start to cut corners. The first thing to go, if it’s even thought of, is the editor. Right after that, the letterer goes [because everyone knows that putting words on the page is simple]. Then, the colorist, because color isn’t that important, right? That leaves the writer and the artist, who’s going to do their own inks.

This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster.

Go pick up almost any small-press book, and look at it. Sucks, right? Not up there with the polished look you’re used to from Marvel and DC [and Image and Dark Horse and Oni and…] The characters look the same, except for their clothes, the anatomy is off, as is the perspective, the storytelling in the art is unintelligible, and that’s just the art. The story itself is uninteresting, drags, and has places where it just doesn’t make any sense. If there’s color, then you have all kinds of tricks that new colorists like to pull out: over-saturation, lens flares, blurs, photo-realism.

All of it goes into making a crappy book that was brought to market, and then won’t get sold much beyond local markets [a few comic shops in the creator’s immediate area]. (Isn’t that harsh?) No, that’s not harsh at all. This is truth. Your story, Sunrise of the Mummy, which is about mummies rising up and taking over the world because it moves too fast and they want it to shuffle along, just like them—that story isn’t interestingly told from a writing perspective, and visually, it’s little more than an eyesore. It won’t gain traction outside of your immediate circle of friends, your local comic shop(s) may not take more than three or four issues, and Diamond won’t touch it. You tried to get it into Image and Dark Horse, but they aren’t returning your calls.

You’re trying to peddle crap.

As for small-press editors, they need to grow some balls. (Ouch! Not looking to make friends much, are you?) [This isn’t about me making friends. This is about the truth.]

I’ve seen/read too many small press books that were “edited”, and there are simple mistakes in the writing/storytelling, as well as in the art. I mean the complete visual language of the book: art, colors, letters.

I have a friend whom I edited for part of a story. He then was able to get that part of a story into a publisher, and the publisher assigned him an editor. The editor then made some suggestions, but didn’t really edit the story. “How about this” was said, instead of saying “this is wrong, and this is why it’s wrong—fix it.”

Small-press editors are too afraid of rocking the boat, and it shows in what’s being published. Either a lack of fortitude, or a lack of vision for what the book should be putting out in the world. Both of these things are lowering the quality of your book.

It’s quite simple: without quality, your book will not sell. Something about the book has to say “quality” about it. Without that core of quality, your book will languish. This is a simple fact.

How do you inject quality into your books?

That’s the million dollar question. There’s no magic bullet, but there are ways to raise the odds of injecting that quality.

The first way, writers, is to save your money. Remember when I ran the numbers a while back? Hone your skills, stop going after straight collaborations, and pay your creative team. Trying out an artist who’s just learning is nice, but it isn’t going to sell your book. Selling your book is the ultimate goal. If you’re not thinking about that, then you’ve already lost.

The second thing to do is to hire an editor. Not just any editor, either. New editors are great, but if they don’t have vision, then they aren’t going to be able to help you. I have very strong views as to what a comic should look like, and how a story should be told. I will let you know in no uncertain terms what works and what doesn’t, and why. I’m not saying that you have to hire me, or an editor like myself; what I’m saying is that if you don’t hire an editor with vision, your book is going to suffer if you don’t have a strong vision yourself.

If you’re able to get your book into a small-press publisher, don’t be afraid to ask about the editor and their style. Ask to talk to them, either on the phone or through email. You’re looking for vision, you’re looking for compatibility, you’re looking for someone who’s going to guide your story if it starts to go off the rails [starting with you]. Talk to other creators that the editor has worked with, and ask about the editor. [For that matter, ask the freelance editor for references. They should have no problem in providing them.]

You do these things, the quality of your book should go up. When the quality go goes up, then good things get said about your book, and the more critical acclaim your book gets, the better your odds are of getting your book into Diamond, or moving up into Marvel/DC.

A prime, recent example of this is Sam Humphries. (I vaguely remember that name…) He wrote two books: Our Love Is Real, and Sacrifice. Both books are independently published, and both sold out. He was able to get a second printing of Our Love Is Real published through Image, and due to the success of Sacrifice, he gained the eyes of Marvel, and is now co-writing Ultimate Comics: Ultimates with Jonathan Hickman. How did he do that? Quality. He brought a former Marvel editor onboard to edit Sacrifice, and he also worked with pros on the covers and book design. He focused on quality, because cutting corners would have left him with a crappy book.

Quality books. Quality is job one.

Homework: save your money! The more you save, the better a creative team you can hire. As you’re saving your money, write down questions you’d like to ask your prospective editor. Also write down the answers you’d like to hear. As long as they hit those notes, you should be good to go.

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B&N Week 61: Grow A Thick Skin

Written by on Feb 20, 2012
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »


Straight talk only on Tuesdays.

Yes, okay, I’m in a Freddy Krueger state of mind. I need to watch Nightmare on Elm St 3: Dream Warriors again. Yes, all the movies are bad after the second one, but you have to admit that Freddy was funny.

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for Bolts Nuts! This week, I’m going to talk about growing a thicker skin. You’re going to need it, let me tell you.

What does growing a thick skin mean? It means not letting things get to you. It means not going off on tirades when things don’t go your way. It means never letting them see you sweat.

Let’s say you’re an artist, and you hand your portfolio over to an editor that you’ve been standing in line for hours to see, in hopes of getting a job. You hand it over, and the editor tells you that you need to work on anatomy, perspective, and storytelling, and that you shouldn’t ink yourself because you’re destroying your pencils.

You, however, are Graeme McFreelancer, and instead of taking the advice, saying thank you, and walking away, you get all butt-hurt, and throw a little tantrum, making sure your name is remembered in a bad way, and ensuring you won’t get a job anytime soon.

Or, you’re writer Kletus Jerkovitch, and you manage to get a first issue of Pen-Man into the hands of an editor, who promises to read it and get back to you. The editor does, and tells you that you need to work on characterization, dialogue, storyarc, pacing, and making sure the story makes sense.

Instead of saying thank you and working harder at getting better, Kletus gets butt-hurt and sandy as well, also being remembered for the wrong things.

Don’t do this. Don’t do it. Learn to say “thank you,” and even if you aren’t, at least sound sincere when you say it, and then leave it be. Don’t take to the internet in any capacity to show just how raw your butt is. Don’t. It will only succeed in making you look bad, and then you won’t get the work you’re looking for.

You need to get a thick skin.

A couple of years ago, I was on Digital Webbing. The Writer’s Showcase was dead, so I thought I’d liven it up some with a couple of pitches I had sent to my editor. I was unable to sell the pitches, not because they weren’t good, but because the editor was having a hard time placing books in the trade book market. One was a romance, and another was something in the horror vein.

The posters at DW ripped the pitches to shreds. Part of it was misunderstanding the market that the pitches were for, but most of it was in retaliation against me for being “mean” to writers who posted their scripts.

Know what I did? I said thank you. I attempted to explain, but they weren’t hearing it. They wanted what they wanted, and that was that. Did I get upset? Sure did. Did I let them see me sweat? Sure didn’t. I said thank you for your thoughts and your criticisms, and I kept it moving. I didn’t try to defend, I didn’t try to retaliate. I kept it moving.

This is the information age, folks. The internet age. Once you put something online, it’s there forever. You can try to delete it, but more than likely there’s an archive of it somewhere. Once you put it online, you’re stuck with it. Forever.

Here’s what’s going on, folks. You’re in a competition, whether you know it or not. You’re in a competition with everyone else who wants to break into comics, as well as those who are already in and are making them. If you’re trying to get work at Marvel or DC, then you have to be a cut above the rest, and even then, you have to elbow your way in. I personally know a guy who has a check from Marvel for a short story he wrote. He made it to The Show. And you know what? No one’s calling him back to continue making comics fro them. Instead of getting pissed off and taking to social media and airing out the fact that he can’t break the barrier again, he’s out there getting his hustle on. Butt-hurt and sandy? Not where the public can see it.

Why is it a competition for those jobs? Because the jobs are extremely finite. Literally, Marvel and DC could employ twenty writers between them, and have both of their universes covered. That’s ten apiece. Obviously they hire more than that, but they don’t need to if they don’t want to. Ten apiece. And what are the odds of you making it into that extremely rarified air? [Artists, you’re a little different. Gone are the days when an artist could handle two books a month. Most can barely handle one. The reason for that is because the art is more complex to create. That takes time. Most of today’s artists can barely hold a monthly schedule. That’s why some titles have a rotating team of artists that work on storyarcs.]

So, if you’re in competition for the jobs, what makes you think an editor is going to hire you if you’re thin skinned? You may be talented, but when the first internet poster blasts you for incorrect characterization, or what they think is bad storytelling, you’ll fly off the handle, responding from a very unstable, emotional place, instead of waiting and thinking it through.

If you’re on someone’s radar, they’re going to be checking you out: your blog, whatever social media you’re on [Twitter, Facebook], and possibly even the forums you frequent. Editors want to get a sense of who you are and what you’re like. If you’re thin skinned and blasting everyone who’s trying to be helpful, then you’re going to be slow in your development. Being thin skinned is a headache editors don’t need. They have too many other things on their plate to deal with you and your attitude.

Grow a thicker skin. Learn to say thank you, be sincere with it, and keep it moving. I know it hurts, and I know you think you’re just as good as anyone on the shelves now, and better than some. You may even be right about it. It doesn’t give you the “right” to go anywhere people will listen and talk about how wrong someone is for not recognizing your genius. Remember, you went there with your hat in your hand, looking for a job. They have the ability to give you the job, or to give it to someone else. If they see you’re easily hurt, then you’re more than likely not going to get the job.

Grow a thick skin.

Homework? None. Enjoy the break. See you in seven.

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B&N Week 51: What Happens Next

Written by on Dec 13, 2011
Filed in: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)  |  No Comments »

Once more, Tuesday is upon us! I swear, the weeks have just been flying by. Who’d have thunk it, eh?

This week, we’re going to talk about something that doesn’t get mentioned much. I’ve already spoken a LOT about the creation of comics, as have many, many books on the subject. However, not many go into what happens after you’ve created your book. That’s what I want to talk about now. So, let’s get into the Bolts Nuts of it, shall we?

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: just because you’ve created it does NOT mean they will come. One does not follow the other. But, let’s go through it.

You’ve written the comic, paid the creative team, found a printer, and you’re now holding the book in your hand. Let’s call it a graphic novel about clowns and their love of cars. With me so far?

Okay, so you’ve got the book in your hot little hands. You’ve read all the books, you’re looking for clues for the very big question: what happens next?

Well, there are several ways to go about it. On all of them, your mileage may vary.

You can talk about and be cryptic with your idea, dropping hints here and there in order to build buzz with it. That also means doing some advertising and giving preview pages in strategic locations. That’s always a good way to get buzz about your book.

Another way is to get to your local comic shop. Hopefully, you have a relationship with your local shop(s), and you spend a decent amount of money in them. [One way, if they offer it, is to do two or more pull lists, depending on the number of retailers are in your area. Break your list into different parts, and get some comics from one retailer, and some from another.] Let them know ahead of time you’re working on a book, and ask them if they’d look it over to see if they’ll carry it.

Now, this is not guaranteed. Some retailers are NOT indy friendly. They just won’t carry your book if you’re not in Previews. Others will. But you won’t know if you don’t ask.

To talk about ourselves for a moment, ComixTribe is seeing movement with Tyler’s title, The Red Ten. Tyler is a patron of Larry’s Comics, and Larry is a big believer in indy books. Larry is also extremely active on Twitter. Follow #comicmarket if you’re not already doing so. Don’t be afraid to interact, either. Anyway, Larry is pushing The Red Ten. If you’re able to get retailer support for your book, then you’ve won a very big battle.

Like I said before, if you’ve created a physical book, you’re really going to be marketing to the retailers. They are the ones you have to get on board with your book, because they’re the ones who know their readers tastes. And if they really believe in your book, they’ll bend over backwards in the marketing of the book for you.

Distribution. Either for physical books or digital distribution, the effect is the same: you want readers to read the story. If you’ve got a highly salable book, then you can try to get it through Diamond, and we’ve already talked about that. If you’re going the digital route, then you’re going to look at Graphic.ly and ComiXology, among others. [And no, nothing is stopping you from creating both a physical and a digital book. Just be sure to price them differently if you want them to sell. People see digital as a throw away or an impulse buy, which means you have to price accordingly. Don’t be afraid to give the first issue away for free, and have the second issue be something that’s paid for.]

Reviews.

Reviews are important, because the reviewers tell people whether or not they think your book is worth it; however, reviews are also extremely hard to gauge when it comes to sales.

There is something that doesn’t get spoken about when it comes to reviews. Not from the creative standpoint. First, let’s look at it from the point of view of the customer.

The simple question reviews attempt to answer is whether or not a book should be bought. That’s the most basic use of a review, but reviewers are rarely able to answer the question in such simple terms. They’ll break it down into some arbitrary system that measures the worthiness of the book. A scale of 1 to 5, or a number of stars, or whatever other system of measure they care to use. All to answer a “yes/no” question. And does that review sway the customer? More than likely not. Oh, some are swayed, to be sure, but the amount is negligible. But in the indies, every sale is a sale, so we take what we can get.

From the reviewer’s standpoint, you have to remember that this is going through the filter of their personal taste. Most reviewers aren’t qualified to review. They’re like Monday morning quarterbacks: they review the work, but haven’t created a book. Most reviewers know what they do and don’t like, but are unable to adequately express either. Then, it is also a matter of their taste, rather than a matter of looking at the work and studying it for what it is. I don’t like Will Ferrell movies because I don’t like movies about man-children, but I’m not qualified to say that the movies he makes are good or bad from an artistic point of view. I’m just going by my taste. So are most reviewers.

Now, keeping that in mind, you also must keep this next part in mind. It is very important.

No review is wrong.

Let me say that again, because it is important: no review is wrong.

The reviewers are not talking about the merits of the work, and they’re not talking about the amount of time and effort and money put into the work. The reviewers are talking about how the work struck THEM, and that is an important thing to keep in mind.

Maybe they didn’t get it, or they didn’t understand it, or they just didn’t like it. None of the reviews are wrong. The fault may lie with you as the creator.

Let’s talk about me for a moment.

I wrote a book called Runners. Most people will make the comparison that it is The Walking Dead, with vampires. I sent out preview copies to reviewers so that some buzz could start to be built over the book. Most of the reviews were positive, but a decent portion of the reviewers didn’t necessarily “get” the book, saying it was about this or about that.

Is that the fault of the reviewer, or the creator? [For my part, I’ll take some of the blame, but at the same time, I don’t want to give everything away right at the beginning.]

We also got a negative review. (Really, now! Dish!) [Listen to the podcast. The talk on Runners starts around the 54 minute mark.] What did I do with it? How did I react?

I thanked the reviewers for their time. For everyone that reviewed the book, good, bad, on point and missed marks, I thanked them for their time. I didn’t point fingers, I didn’t say they didn’t get it, I didn’t try to defend the work at all. I thanked them, and left it at that.

Why?

Because while it is much easier to throw a tantrum, it generally doesn’t do any good. In fact, it could have a negative effect on how you and your book are perceived. Your goal is to make the best book possible. Reviewers are part of the front line. They are the ones who are going to be saying the first words about your book. Do you want to leave a bad taste in their mouth by being a jerk? Remember, Malefactor Nein doesn’t have a face, but Kletus Jerkovitch does, and it is Kletus’ name that will be on the front cover of the book.

What else do you do once the book is created? Simple. You create the next book. Actually, you should have been creating the next book while the first book was being created.

Sam Humphries created a book entitled Our Love Is Real. He studied the market, he did a limited run, he did a lot of things right. He did them so right [to include creating a quality book—that is the caveat in everything we do] that he was able to get Image comics to pick up the book.

And for an encore, his next book has already sold out of the first printing—and it hasn’t even come out yet!

If you’re a writer, it doesn’t take that long to come up with a story. If you’re an artist, you’re looking for work when you get near the middle to the end of your current assignment. But you’ve got to create the next book. (And it has to be on time?) [Every time!]

And that’s it for this week! Homework is to think about what happens after you’ve created your book. How are you going to get it into the hands of your soon-to-be adoring fans?

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