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B&N Week 143: Top 10 Things Creators Can Do To Help Themselves

| September 17, 2013

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It’s another Tuesday! What do we have? Kids are back in school across the country, the days have gotten noticeably shorter, and weather has cooled off for many of us because this is the last week of summer. The Autumnal Equinox is on Sunday. Kinda seems like the year is racing by, doesn’t it?

This week, I wanted to do something a little different. I don’t like countdowns, but lists are something totally different. So, this week, I thought I’d do a list of the Top Ten Things Creators Can Do To Help Themselves. This is in no particular order, folks, so don’t read anything into that. Each and every single thing on this list is as important as the others.  So, let’s get to it!

1. Save Your Money.

I know I say this a lot, but really, you have no idea how many times I’ve heard creators say they didn’t understand the costs of creation. Creating comics is not a cheap endeavor. Not if you want to do it with quality, and not if you want to do it for the audience instead of just doing it for yourself. It’s a damned expensive hobby/calling/passion. Saving your money is one thing that can be done to make the path a smooth one. You’ll save yourself a lot of headache and frustration just by simply throwing money at the problem.

2. Study Your Craft.

It is extremely easy to see when you don’t study. It doesn’t matter what your bailiwick is: if you don’t study it in order to understand it, then you’re doing both yourself and your audience a disservice. Actually, you’re more than likely wasting your time. Here is my simple philosophy: if you’re going to do it, then do it to the best of your ability. But here’s a little-known secret: anyone can learn anything. This means abilities can grow. Talents have to be honed. How do you do that? Study. Study your craft.

3. Have A Plan.

Sounds simple, but you have no idea how many people use the Underpants Gnomes Profit Plan. Make a comic, something in the middle, PROFIT! That’s how the overwhelming bulk of you think, because you don’t have a plan. You’re all doing the Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” I’m going to tell you this right now: that is a lie. It’s a damned dirty lie. No one cares what you build. You have to make them care. You do that with a plan. A real plan, not the Underpants Gnomes Profit Plan.

 4. Study The Market.

This is a bit more difficult to do. I’ll tell you this: the market is much bigger than Marvel/DC. They may take the most sales, but they aren’t the only sales. Other companies are making money some way, aren’t they? They continue to publish, which means they’re making a profit somehow. What are they publishing? What market needs are they filling? There are trends and cycles. You can either be at the tail end of one, or ride the crest of one. If you’re lucky, you can create one yourself.

5. Treat Comics As A Business.

Hobbyist? That’s great. Want to make money at this? Gain comic book fame? Gain some measure of security? Then you have to treat this as a business. What does that mean? It means you have to get serious. Keep track of and measure your expenses. Know what you can give away and what you can’t. [Everyone wants something for free—especially family and friends.] Know what your time, ability, and experience are worth, and bill accordingly. Once you start taking it seriously as a business, then others will take you seriously as well. One thing follows the other.

6. Know Everything About The Process.

Comics are relatively simple, but there are things that are unique to the process of creating comics. It doesn’t matter where you are in that process, you should learn everything about not just who does what, but which steps are done and why. Knowledge is power, and if you know all the steps in the process, you’ll know what it looks like when someone is trying to get over on you. When it comes to knowing the process, know the prices and timeframes, too. If you can’t keep them in your head, make a little document for it. Print out several copies and put them places like on the computer, in a folder on the computer, in your wallet… Know where to get the info.

 7. Don’t Get Discouraged.

Getting discouraged is easily done. It doesn’t take much, believe me. Comics is a long, often lonely road. You send out pitch after pitch, and have doors closed on your left, right, and center. You start around the same time as a group of people, and you see them get ahead while you’re in the same place you were. It’s disheartening. You see other creators seemingly coming out from nowhere, and you wonder how they got a Marvel deal, or who they knew at DC in order to get work. Don’t get discouraged. You do the work to the best of your ability and you keep striving, and it will eventually pay off.

8. Bring Other Things Back To Comics.

You can learn a lot from reading comics, but that shouldn’t be the only thing you consume, no matter how varied your tastes. Read the classics. Read the newspaper. Read novels outside of your favorite authors. Discover something “new.” Watch tv of all stripes: reality, sitcoms, drama (medical, police procedural), nature, mysteries, sci-fi and horror… Watch movies. Record them, break them down, get to understand how they work, and then bring it back to comics. Let other mediums help you to grow into being a better creator.

9. Have Realistic Expectations.

We deal in fantasy every day and in every way in comics. However, while dreaming of fame and fortune are great things to do, you have to have realistic expectations about what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Expect that Image will not only not pick up your book, you’ll probably never hear from them. Expect that your book will not be made into a movie or show. Expect that you won’t become rich and famous [not even comic book famous]. Expect to work hard, though, in order to make the best book you can. Expect to struggle. Expect to learn from your mistakes. These are all real things that are going to happen as you go through this journey. That’s what you should expect.

10. Hire A Competent Editor.

What, you thought I wasn’t going to say it? No, such luck. Hiring a competent editor is one of the best things you can do to help yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you can’t afford to hire a competent editor, you can’t afford to make comics. That’s pretty simple. If you don’t know what an editor can do for you, then you’re either a new reader here, or you haven’t been paying attention. Did I say hire your friend? No. I said hire a competent editor. Someone who knows what the hell they’re looking at, and will help you make the best book you can. Friends more than likely will not be able to do that. Hire a competent editor. (Need help finding one? Shoot me an e-mail at stevedforbes@gmail.com and I’ll give you some names.)

That’s it! That’s ten! Ten things you can do to help yourselves. Are there more? Sure there are. But if you follow these ten things, you’ll be that much further ahead of your competition.

Homework this week is very, very simple: Follow these ten things! Doesn’t get easier than that. 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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