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B&N Week 157: Top 10 Things Creators Forget

| December 25, 2013

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Not only is it Tuesday, but it’s also Christmas Eve! No, I’m not going to do a “present” themed B&N this week. Instead, I want to talk about the top things that creators forget to do as they do their thing.

These are in no particular order. Let’s get to it, shall we?

10. Creators Forget To Count. Let’s face it, folks: there’s a lot of counting going on in comics. Most of the time, creators forget to do some sort of counting, and when that happens, this means their accounting is also suspect.

Aside from forgetting to count the number of words per panel/page, creators forget to take the amount of pages into account. Everyone “knows” you have twenty-two pages of story to fill, but remember that you have to divide by 4, and the last time I checked, you can’t divide four into twenty-two. It just doesn’t work. So you need at least two more pages of filler, right? Sure, you could fill it up with story, or you could create backmatter, or you could try to sell ad space. Those are all options.

Another thing that creators forget to count are the number of pages the cover takes up. Remember that the cover takes up four pages: front, inside front, inside rear, and rear. All of that can be filled up as well. At the very least, the front and rear, if not the insides, but if you just leave the insides blank, you’ve either run out of money or you don’t have as much imagination as you thought you do. I’m willing to bet on the latter.

9. Creators Forget To Set Realistic Expectations. Do this: go to any place that allows creators to put up help wanted ads. Look at the ads. This is what you’ll generally find: they are poorly written; they are paying extremely low rates; they are trying to get into Image; they are looking to get deals in Hollywood. Mix and match, or just pour all of them into the pot.

Ugly mental image, I know, but this is what happens.

Few creators, especially newer creators, have realistic expectations. They think that this is easy. Make a few pages, sit back, and get an Oscar for their book. While I don’t like dashing dreams, but when you know how hard and how long you’ve been working on your career, it’s very hard not to snigger when you see a misguided new creator try to set the world on fire with mediocre ideas and absolutely no idea as to what they’re doing or getting into.

8. Creators Forget To Have The Hard Conversations. Most of the time, contracts between two parties are crap, and aren’t worth the time to go through and write. The reason for that is because most of the things being created are sub-par in some form or fashion, so the book isn’t going to go far. For those few that make it through, there is little more than a gentleman’s agreement in place.

Contracts are a guide to show who’s responsible for what when things go wrong. A lot of this can be done at the outset, if you know what it is you want and where you want to go and have a workable plan on how to get there. This is where the hard conversations come into play.

A good example is ComixTribe. Tyler and I came together because we’re two guys who were trying to do something, and we also liked to teach. We both have our strengths and weaknesses, and I think we cover each other pretty well. However, we didn’t have any really hard conversations until later.

Those hard conversations have made us stronger, lets us see the other more clearly, and we’re able to move forward together because we have a shared goal. Most creators forget to have these hard conversations, and their relationships suffer for it.

7. Creators Forget To Take Time For Themselves. Doing comics is a grind. Most of us are doing this on the side, trying to make a go to where they can make a living doing this. So it isn’t just a regular full time job to contend with, but also family time, and everything that entails. Doing comics just adds to that.

When doing comics, when do you have time to do things for yourself? Work at it hard enough and long enough, and comics will start to feel like a job. And then you feel trapped in the grind, instead of doing the sane thing: taking a vacation.

Your regular job lets you accrue vacation time. This is federally mandated. There is an understanding that there has to be a work/life balance, and vacation time is there to help with that. If you take vacation at your regular job, why don’t you take one from comics? It’s important. Batteries need to be recharged.

6. Creators Forget To Be Personable. Being on the grind when it comes to doing the work and looking for more work can make us a bit terse at times. Being in that zone can make us forget that people have feelings, too, and that there is life away from the drawing table or the computer. So we become short tempered with people in our real lives, or terse in our communications such as email or instant messaging chats.

Sometimes, this can spread out to the people who ultimately buy our books. Instead of being honored that the work is being seen and commented on, we can sometimes nip at the hands that feed us. This can turn readers off. Don’t forget to be personable.

5. Creators Forget To Make A Production Schedule. Here’s what happens: you’ve created a book, and took your ever-loving time in doing it. The pace was leisurely, and there was no real push to get the book done. You go through this for a few projects that are rejected by Diamond and every other publisher out there. You are lulled, and grow complacent.

However, while growing complacent, you’ve also learned a few things, and the next project you submit to Diamond is actually accepted! What does Diamond do? They tell you when they want the book [usually bi-monthly], and now, you have to light a fire under yourself and the creative team in order to get the book done on time.

Since you’ve never set a production schedule for any of the prior projects, you have no real idea as to how to make one. You don’t know what to do, how far you can push your team, or anything.

You have to work backwards. Know when Diamond wants their info, so you can then work accordingly: solicitation date, write the solicitation, know how long each creator takes to do their part of the job, do your work. Build two buffers into the schedule so that you’re never behind the eight ball. The first issue is going to suck, but after the first issue, things should be much easier.

4. Creators Forget The Editor’s Role. A lot of creators look at editors as a blockade between them and their vision, instead of looking at them as a lens that brings their vision into focus.

That’s the first, last, and only job of the editor. Everything else the editor does is in relation to that one job. The writing isn’t up to par? Get the writer to fix it. Something wrong with the lettering? Get the letterer to fix it. Colors not consistent or over-saturated? Get the colorist to fix it. Having a problem with the penciler? Talk to them about the problem, and if that doesn’t work, start talking about replacing them.

The editor can be your friend, but they also have to sometimes play the heavy. That can be a weight off your shoulders, because the editor can do the unpleasant things you don’t want to, such as telling a part of the creative team that something needs fixing.

3. Creators Forget To Create Salable Comics. Know that story you have about the alien crustacean who falls in love with the llama and together they fight cyber-crime while doing office work as high-powered attorneys and janitors? That story is both stupid and terrible, and you’re not going to sell any copies outside of your immediate family. Your immediate family, who believes they should be getting the comic for free, because they had to live with you as you tortured them with this terrible, terrible idea, and wasted part of the college fund for your children in bringing it to life. If they don’t want to buy it, what makes you think the public wants to?

Understand that not all of your ideas are going to be good ones. Not all of your ideas are going to be salable. You may think so, but I’m here to help disabuse you of the notion. Even Stephen King, who could sell his grocery list and people would buy it, understands that not everything he writes is salable. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you can let go of bad ideas, and the sooner the market will stop being flooded with bad ideas.

2. Creators Forget To Read Their Dialogue Aloud. There is a simple yet effective way to check for authenticity to dialogue: read it aloud. This is, of course, dependent on whether or not you are deluding yourself as to how your characters sound. Here’s the thing with reading things aloud—you read what’s there, instead of putting in words that aren’t there when you read to yourself.

There are times when newer creators don’t put in all the words that a character should say. That, or when creators have English as a second or third language. This is not to disparage those who speak a different native tongue. Those who can speak and write in multiple languages are to be commended, since most of us can speak only a single language and know a smattering of words in different languages, those words usually being vulgar. However, you have to read the dialogue aloud in order to make sure you’re saying what you want [or get someone else to read it aloud for you].

1. Creators Forget To Have Fun. This is called comics, and the base for that is fun and laughter. Sure, superheroes get all broody, and there are books out there that are slice of life, depressing, or just serious because of the subject matter. Yes, this is a business that we’re in, and business is supposed to be serious. All of that is true.

However, at the end of the day, comics are supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun while doing this, then you’re doing it wrong.

Simple, right?

And that’s the list, folks. There’s going to be one more at the end of the year, and then we’re off to the races again. Is this list complete? Not even close. You can tell me what you think creators forget in the comments.

There’s still no homework. Enjoy the break.

And while this usually isn’t the place for it, all of us here at ComixTribe wish you and yours a very happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.

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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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