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B&N Week 156: Top 10 Habits Of Successful Creators

| December 17, 2013

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It’s another wonderful Tuesday, and we’re still doing countdowns! This week, I wanted to count the ten habits that successful creators have.

These will not be in any particular order. So, with that said, let’s get to it!

10. Successful Creators Are Free With Ideas and Information. Now, of course, there are different types of freedoms and different types of ideas. Here’s what I’m talking about: you’re having a problem with a story, and you bring it to your creative friends. Your friends have a choice: they can either help you, or they can keep their ideas for themselves. Usually, they’ll help you out of your spot, and it isn’t out of a sense of being reciprocal in the future; the real reason is much simpler.

Ideas are cheap. Ideas are something that you get in a flash—they don’t become useful until you start to explore them. You will have more ideas than you will ever be able to follow through on, so giving them away means you aren’t hording them for yourself. You’re spreading ideas, and spreading yourself. Believe me when I say that it will come back around for you.

Successful creators are willing to help you become successful as well—especially today. Just 20 years ago, there were few places to go to get published, and jobs were scarce. Now, with more publishers publishing a variety of things, there are more opportunities to become successful doing your own thing, and successful creators are freely sharing information to help you reach whatever level you can. You can find information all over the internet, on message boards, books, interviews, columns, and more. The information is there, if you’re willing to look for it.

9. Successful Creators Create Every Day. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. It requires discipline in order to sit down and do the work. Most people don’t know how to accomplish this one task. They let other things distract them, and while that’s natural, you also have to learn to fight it.

If it is important, if you plan to learn and grow, then you have to put in the work. Talent alone won’t get you there. Talent has to be honed, sharpened, and tested. Talent alone doesn’t mean anything. It’s part of the foundation you get to build on, and the building of that foundation is the work you put in as you create every day.

8. Successful Creators Don’t Complain. There is a difference between complaining and bringing up an actual grievance. Complaining means you’re telling anyone who will listen about your plight. No one wants to work with a complainer. Complaining sounds like whining, and usually, the plight is the fault of the one doing the complaining. When it isn’t their fault, they’re going about being heard in the wrong way.

Instead of complaining, the successful creator brings their grievance to the person who can help, or the responsible party. They make their approach in a calm, rational manner, laying out their case and their proposed remedy. This is non-confrontational, but it is also standing up for yourself. It is a fine line to walk.

This also means that the successful creator does not bite the hand that feeds them. They don’t badmouth editors in public, and they try hard not to badmouth other creators in public. Sure, there are others who do this, but these instances are the exception, not the rule.

7. Successful Creators Know Their Business. Okay, here’s the thing: there are different comic book businesses, and knowing yours will be paramount. There is the Direct Market, serviced by Diamond Comic Distributors; there are digital comics, mainly serviced by comiXology; there are tons of webcomics, and there are various print-on-demand solutions.

You can do one of these, you could try all of these, you could mix and match. But what you have to do, as a creator, is understand which business you are in, and then do your utmost to understand that business. If you’re trying to sell your comic through multiple channels, then you have multiple businesses to understand.

And by understand, I mean knowing the ins and outs at every stage: creation costs, production costs, distribution costs, break even point, how much profit you generate per issue per business model, and more. This is knowing your business.

6. Successful Creators Are Constantly Creating. This is not always a given. Some creators get a book on the shelves, and then they think that they can rest on their laurels, because jobs will come pouring in. It doesn’t work that way. The successful creators always have something in the pipeline, always have something in their back pocket that they are working on that they’re trying to bring to the public.

This means that they’re constantly pitching books. Some ideas get picked up, some don’t, but they’re always working toward that next gig.

5. Successful Creators Are Accessible. In today’s connected world, you don’t see creators only at conventions anymore. The internet has made the world smaller, so the successful creators have to schedule time to be accessible to the public. Message boards, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and hosted forums are all now part of the landscape. It isn’t just a letter column or a convention meeting anymore.

The creators you like to interact with by asking questions of them? That’s planned. That’s premeditated. That access is what helps keep them in business. Success is no longer just about having a good book on the shelves. It is also becoming about your public personality.

4. Successful Creators Gather With Other Successful Creators. Ever notice how creators seem to know one another? Sure, creators know of one another, but lots of creators really know one another, despite geographic barriers. Why is that?

It’s a club. Once you’re in the club, then you’re in. You can bridge the two worlds, but more of your friends will be among other successful creators. Just like rich people congregate with other rich people—possibly those that are more rich than themselves—comic creators are the same way. They congregate, they swap stories, they talk business…but until you’re successful, you won’t be part of the club.

3. Successful Creators Are Always Looking For Work. This is how successful creators get successful: they look for work. Want to know why certain creators seem to be all over the place at times? Because they looked for and received work, and it comes out either steadily or all in a rush. And after one gig is finished, they’re looking for the next.

The only way to continue in a certain lifestyle is to continue to work, and the only way to continue to work as a creative person is to look for the work. You have to continually look for it, and while it can be a grind, it can also be very rewarding.

2. Successful Creators Schedule Their Workload Well. This can be a challenge. You have to look for the work, but that money is only for right now. You also have to have money for the future, and that means you have to work in the future. Getting the gig, lining work up for the future, and knowing and understanding just how much work you can handle is all on you.

Some creators will accept money upfront, and then spend that money [because it’s right now money] and then be on the hook for getting that work done. Then, they’ll need more money, so they’ll book more work, get paid for it, and be on the hook for that work, too—even though they haven’t finished the first set of work. Then it just spirals out of control. It happens very easily.

The successful creator will book the work, and then do it [and get paid for it] as they come free—hopefully, within the timeframe they specified. Proper scheduling is important, and the successful creator knows this, and will do whatever it takes in order to make good on their promises.

1. Successful Creators Are Humble. Sometimes it’s sickening, isn’t it? How nice and humble is Jim Lee? He’s a great artist, but he doesn’t let it go to his head. Why? Because he understands that the readers [and the retailers] pay his bills. He doesn’t bit the hand that feeds him. The successful creator is allowed to have opinions and a personality, but they also generally know that they aren’t much of anything without the readers, and as such, they try to stay in the good graces of their readership.

This is not to say that successful creators are without personality. Far from it. However, they do their best not to be offensive, or to have internet fights. Every fan is a boon, and not only do they understand this, but they are also very grateful for them. That humbleness, when genuine, can also garner more fans.

And that’s it! Are there more? Definitely. Would your list be different? I’m certain. What would be in your top ten? Let me know in the comments!

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 for rate inquiries.

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