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B&N Week 89: Become A Better Creator–Finish What You Start

| September 4, 2012

We’ve reached yet another glorious Tuesday! Here in NC, we have hot temperatures, high humidity, and few clouds to provide cover. Summer is drawing to a close, though, because the days are getting shorter. Mother Nature seems intent on finishing what she started in the spring.

That’s what I want to talk about this week, as well. You want to be a better creator? You have to finish what you start.

Creating comics is a long, hard, expensive road to travel. I will never tell anyone anything different. There are also certain things that I can’t do in good conscience: I can’t tell someone to start picking up comics due to the inordinate expense, and I can’t tell people to get into comics due to the inordinate expense. You read and create comics because you love them, not because you think you’re going to get rich doing it. Remember: things are only worth what another person is willing to pay for. That goes for everything. If you didn’t make it yourself, from scratch, then, to you, it was worth paying for.

In a creative field, especially when you’re beholden to no one but yourself, finishing what you start is much more difficult. As creators, we have dozens of new ideas on a weekly basis, and we scribble them down or [more recently] talk to our electronic device in order to remember a thought, or take a picture of something, so that we can retrieve it later. Simple ideas that add up over time, mostly to be discarded, but some to be used in the future.

New ideas are a draw, though. They’re there, waiting to be explored. They’re like a caterpillar: in their infancy, they’re just going about their business, bumbling here and there; when you start to explore and write it, that’s their cocoon phase; and when they reach the shelves, they are butterflies.

It’s during the cocoon phase that most ideas die. That’s where most creators find something new to do, and they reason that they’ll explore this new idea, and will eventually make their way back to the one they’re currently working on. But then the cycle repeats itself, and the current project gets more and more removed, until, eventually, it’s no longer important.

If you haven’t yet contracted anyone else to help you with the comic, then you’re good to go. (Really?) [No, not really, but sorta kinda yes.] (Huh?) [Listen.]

By “good to go,” I mean that no one is waiting for you to do anything. You don’t have to make excuses as to why you haven’t completed the story in front of you. You can do whatever it is you wish. You’re good to go.

Kinda.

By not finishing what you’ve started, you’re training yourself to not finish what you start. Instead of finishing the story, you get halfway through, you get a new idea, and you’re off in a different direction. And you keep doing that. And you keep doing it. And then suddenly, you don’t have anything finished for editors to look at. A lot of [literally] half baked ideas, but nothing that they can follow through to the end.

And then you get frustrated and upset, wondering why no one’s hiring you.

You have to finish what you’ve started.

It gets worse when you actually have a book out on the shelves. A single book, which you’ve planned as an ongoing, and suddenly, there’s no money for the continuation of the series. Most of that is due to bad planning on your part. You can make plenty of excuses, but generally, that’s exactly what they are: excuses. Rarely are there true extenuating circumstances as to why you haven’t continued on with a series when a first issue has hit the shelves.

You aren’t in Hollywood, so you don’t have better things to do like direct movies or television shows. You have a comic out on the shelves, and if you have no follow-up for months on end, then what happens is that you lose reader mind-share, and the money they set aside to spend on your comic now goes to another comic they see. When your comic eventually comes out, they may or may not be interested. Hell, they may or may not remember that they read it.

Long gone are the startup days of Image, where they would have a pretty long period between issues of supposedly ongoing series. Remember: you have to deliver on time, every time.

How do you finish what you start?

First, start with smaller stories. There are anthologies all over the place, just looking for stories to be told in them. Read the rules, submit, and see if you get in.

If you feel you must publish your own book, then do a limited series instead. Or, take your proposed ongoing, and just do the first arc. Something that is smaller, more manageable, and more financially feasible.

Look, I know: all of us dream of having an ongoing series under our belt. There’s no doubt at all about that. But here’s the reality of the situation: in order to have an ongoing, it has to be at least semi-successful, which means that it has to break even at the very least. You have to sell enough copies to cover creation, any marketing, printing, and shipping. If you don’t, then your ongoing series is nothing more than an ongoing drain to your pocket, and you won’t be able to continue, anyway.

You won’t be able to finish what you start.

Whatever you do, always make sure you have a plan. An exit strategy. Have that in mind before you start. This way, you know exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish—and if you accomplish more than that, then you’re that much more successful. That means you’ll have something to build on.

But in order to do that, you have to finish that first book/graphic novel/storyarc. Nothing else matters.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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