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B&N Week 133: Calling Your Shots

| July 9, 2013

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It’s another wonderful Tuesday, folks! We’ve supposedly entered monsoon season here in Tucson, but aside from the occasional rain, it hasn’t been anything really worth writing home about. There were bigger, more violent thunderstorms where I was in NC. We haven’t even had enough rain to cause any flooding, let alone flash flooding. In all, the weather has been disappointing.

That’s what I want to talk about this week. Disappointment, and what you can do to try to either avoid or mitigate it. I like to call it “picking your shots,” or “selling out.” The latter definitely has negative connotations to it, while the former is a more politic way of saying the latter.

Do you know when you should go shopping for a publisher? (When the comic is finished and ready!) No. (When I have a submission ready?) Nope.

You should go looking for a publisher as soon as you have a concrete idea in your head. (Huh?) Yes. As soon as you have a concrete idea in your head, one that you believe you want to get published, you should start looking for a publisher. Not to pitch to them, but to see if what you just thought up fits within their publishing aesthetic.

I’m going to tell you right now, a lot of your stories won’t work for a publisher. They’re either too derivative of something else, they’re too personal and only make sense to you, they’re too out there and trippy, or they’re too run of the mill. And that’s for pitches with good writing and art. Writing and art that would have otherwise gotten the job.

You have to pick your shots. Creating comics is too expensive and too time consuming for you to just pick a project and run with it willy-nilly, and figure out publishing later. Not if you’re looking for someone else to publish the story.

Yes, I’m saying that the bulk of you are doing it backwards. And that’s if you’re doing it right at all.

What can you do to mitigate the damage? Give yourself better odds on getting published? The first thing you can do is to be open for new ideas. If you’ve got a black and white story you want to tell and you’re thinking about pitching it to Archaia, then you’re wrong. A little bit of research will tell you that they only want full-color books.

(Steven, none of this matters. I’m getting in at Image.)

Well, no, you’re not.

Take a look at not only what Image is publishing, but who, as well. Big name creators are doing the creator-owned thing at Image. Even though it’s basically self-publishing, you still have some things that Image takes care for you upfront that will have to be paid back before you get a check. [We’ll worry about the specifics of that later.]

What this means for you is that you have to be better than these big-name creators who are doing gangbusters work for themselves instead of Marvel/DC. That’s your competition. For the overwhelming majority of you, you’re not ready for that. [And by “overwhelming majority, I mean 99.7% of you.]

Your silence tells me you’re either thinking this doesn’t apply to you, or that you’re finally realizing the battle you have ahead of you.

What should you be doing? Lots of things.

First and foremost, you should be watching the market. Seeing who’s releasing what, when, and how long those stories are going to run. We’re deep into convention season, with SDCC right around the corner. This is going to be a time where lots of publishers are going to be revealing tons of news about titles, storylines, creators, and so on. If you’re going, don’t expect to do much pitching. You and everyone else are going to be doing the same thing, and the editors are going to be extremely busy. If you don’t already have a relationship with an editor and some time set aside, just go and enjoy yourself. You’ll have a much better time.

You should be aware of each publisher’s aesthetic. Some do genre, others do theme, and so on. You can help yourself by knowing who does what. This will help you weed out the stories you want to tell.

(Okay, so I shouldn’t tell run-of-the-mill stories, derivative, personal, or those that are too out there. What’s left?)

Ever notice how the same stories get told over and over again? Sometimes there’s a twist, and sometimes there isn’t? However, when broken down, it’s the same story, easily told. Know how many times Shakespeare has been adapted? You can do the same thing, as long as you have a solid foundation for a story. A good friend of mine has a great idea for a zombie story. Zombie stories have been done to death, but this is an original take, filled with humor and a slant that has to be seen to be believed. One of those “I wish I thought of that!” things we as creators all run into at some point.

The story you tell has to sell. Plain and simple. And by sell, it has to sell big. It has to sell out. [Being a sellout isn’t a bad thing, folks. As creators, this is what we want.] How do you accomplish this? It starts by telling a simple, solid tale, and telling it extremely well. This is much harder than it seems. You need to have a simple yet catchy title, a good logo, great artwork, and a story that will catch publishers and retailers.

This is a simple formula. It’s the execution that we invariably fail at. It’s always something: the story is lacking, the artwork is lacking, the colors are lacking, the letters are lacking. Everything that concerns what is visually seen can be fixed with one thing: money. Bad art? Hire a better artist. The same goes for every step of the way when it comes to visuals.

What cannot be fixed with money is the story. Well, it can, but not easily. Most writers don’t want to give up the actual writing aspect of the story. They have a story to tell, and they don’t want any help in telling it. Having someone else onboard to tell the story will change it. While money is the great greaser of the way, it’s more of a challenge to accomplish when we’re talking about the story.

The story is what gets people to pick up a book. The way it is told, combined with the art, is what will keep them and get them to come back. The easier it is to tell the story, the easier it is for a retailer to sell it. The harder it is for a retailer to keep a book in stock, the more your cachet grows.

Despite the cost, making a comic is easy. Getting it into the hands of readers is something of a challenge, but that can also be overcome. The hard part is making sure the story is worth telling. We’re generally blinded by our own creative excitement that we can’t see where the problem lies, and we’re often stunned when a publisher passes on what we believe would be a hit title. It happens time and again.

Watch the market, folks. Make sure that the story you’re trying to pitch goes beyond just being a story you want to tell. Make sure there’s a market for it, and that market can support it. Make sure you’re able to get a unique spin on whatever your story is, and sell the hell out of it.

Finally, understand that self-publishing is where you go when no one else wants your book. This is your backup plan. (No, it–) Yes, it is. Too often I’ve worked with creators who spend a decent amount of money on a comic that they plan to pitch here, there, and everywhere, and when no company wants it, they let the project languish. Self-publishing is where you finish the job. This is where you show that you believe in your project enough that you’re going to do it anyway.

Self-publishing is nothing to laugh at. It means you’ve put something out into the world, and have learned things while doing so. That is something that cannot be taken away from you. You can use those lessons to make your next project that much better.

And that’s really all I have for this week. Homework: take a look at your ideas, and see if they fit within different publishers. Can you change them to work within those publishers? Have you saved your money to afford a good creative team? Have you explored the self-publishing option?

Lots of stuff to think about. 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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