THE BEST 5 PIECES OF ADVICE I CAN GIVE YOU AS AN ASPIRING COMIC BOOK WRITER!
So while I do get a nice deal of attention as being an artist and graphic type. I am also a fairly good writer (At least in my ego addled mind.) or at least one that has managed to sell a few books and get a couple of readers to his web comic. I do get asked the question a lot on the best advice that I can give in regards to either becoming a better writer or breaking into the industry. Here are the top five that I can come up with…
- WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!: It is the most tired cliché all English and communication students have to hear. It on the surface sounds like uninspired malarkey that is spewed out of every self-help book and motivational speaker in the country. The funny part though…IT’S ABSOLUTELY TRUE!
Whether you are a plumber, carpenter, computer programmer, writer, or of any profession, you can only improve by PLYING YOUR CRAFT; It’s that simple!
- KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS: A lot of folks think that the key to a great story lies in these massive worlds, earth shattering events, intricate and involved intertwining of circumstance and intrigue. Those are nice window dressings and all. But the trick to making all that work is HOW YOUR CHARACTERS ARE GOING TO REACT TO ALL OF THAT FUN. The best example I can give to that premise is SHAUN OF THE DEAD. It on the surface it’s another in a series of zombie films. The outbreak happens; some survivors seek refuge, and fend off the undead in a closed environment. What makes this story unique is HOW those characters react to that very used scenario. The writers knew the attributes and more importantly the quirks and failings of those characters which made their telling of that story more interesting and endearing to the readers.
- CONCENTRIC CIRCLES OF STORYTELLING: I usually hear a lot of people at cons, shows and online how deep and involved their particular story universe is. Now that is fine if you think you can handle it and size and detail about the world is not absolutely necessary to tell a good tale. But if you decide to go big. Make sure you have a relatable point of reference to this world you created. The best example I can come up with is FRODO IN LORD OF THE RINGS. That universe is quite possibly the largest, most involved and highly detailed storyverse ever created. So many imitators try to make something approaching or at least trying to hit the parking lot of this kind of involvement, only to find when they do, they have failed to grip and involve their readers into caring what happens in the story. One of the reasons Tolkien succeeds here is because of Frodo Baggins. In this fantasy landscape of vast kingdoms, dragons, legions of monsters, dozens of different species, conflicting cultures, and a myriad of characters so large that scholars and fans have dedicated multiple websites and encyclopedic print He decides to make the character you center in on and be the vicarious observer through, is one Frodo Baggins: An unassuming, simple, small town guy that seems innocuous and relatable enough to even the most uninitiated of readers. Every character and monster and fight somehow gets seen directly or indirectly through him; whether it is him going straight through whatever is happening, or what is happening to his friends and acquaintances. Everything gets linked back to him. So the social, global and cultural complexity of that particular world has a very HOW DOES THIS ALL AFFECT ME approach because of Frodo. So if you are going to be big and involved…FINE! Just remember to give your reader a sense of perspective. It’s like putting someone 2 inches in front of the Empire State Building, have them stare at it and ask what the building is all about.
- WORK ON YOUR PITCH: At last some practical business/marketing advice! When you are at a convention either with a booth set up pitching your comic, or trying to market yourself for writing work. You have to work on your pitch. This is where the artist has it much easier than you do. They have that portfolio of work that literally speaks for itself to a large degree. Comics are a visual medium, and the adage: A PICTURE IS LIKE A 1000 WORDS, speaks rather true in this case. A writer may have a finished comic to fall back on to help as a selling tool. But if not, people are not going to sit there for 5 to 20 minutes to read your script. I have spoken about this before but most folks at a con will give an average of 15 to 30 seconds for you to get their interest in your little creative gem. You have to figure a way to boil your entire story into a compact, powerful soundbyte that will grab their initial attention. If they show interest. Then sure expand a bit into some details. But not overly much to where they are overloaded and feel that it’s too big and involved to pick up. Make your story seem easily immersible and ready to jump into but full of great twists and turns that will keep your reader coming back.
- COMMIT TO THE DAMN WORK: This kind of goes hand in hand with WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! But goes one step further. This is taking that precept and giving it a direction to head in. If you have an idea for a story you really like and believe in. Go for it. Then sit down and do the damn work. This is where so many people fall behind. I have so many people I see at multiple cons over a period of time that do tell me how they are going to sit down and commit to writing a comic story or any book. That this is the great tale they plan to write. That this idea will turn the industry on its ear! Then BAM!…Nothing. They have some loose notes maybe at the next con, and the con after that. But they do not make the effort to do the work. They don’t put that loose bible/synopsis of their comic. They don’t write that first draft. They don’t do revisions and further drafts. They never follow up and try to pitch this masterpiece to other companies or find an artist that can help close the gap. Or find out that maybe they can revise it and turn it into a novel or movie screenplay. It all seems too daunting or impossible to achieve. Again hate sounding like a motivational speaker but: If you never try you have roughly a 100% chance of achieving your goals. You don’t put in the time and the effort you do not get the result.
So that about sums it up. There are other tidbits I could throw in there. But those I tend to think are the most helpful I can deliver. Let me know what you think friends and enemies! Until next time, I won’t be here!
21st Century Sandshark Studios
Okay folks! Time for me to put on my embittered old man cap and ramble on about inane nonsense that has no direct impact on the world at large, Yes it’s time for…
THE OBSERVATION OF THE WEEK:
5 Pieces of Advice I Can Give Comic Creators on The Craft:
I am now a close to 13 year professional of the comics industry. Im a lower rank and file in the trenches, that has a small but loyal and rabid fan base, that supports me in my insane efforts to avoid a 9 to 5 job. I often have people trying to break into comics, graphic arts, writing or like professions that ask me for advice. Here are my best 5 pieces of advice I think I can possibly give.
- UNLESS THIS IS THE ONLY PROFESSION YOU CAN THINK OF YOURSELF DOING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE AND BE PROUD AND HAPPY WITH YOURSELF. THEN DON’T DO IT!…I cannot stress this one enough. For every story of a Robert Kirkman, Todd McFarlane, or Rob Liefeld. There are literally THOUSANDS of tales of those who tried to break into comics, learning quickly that it’s a steep pyramid to the top that few ever get to. It’s either trying to maintain a day job and sink every spare moment into trying to get 10 new readers to pick up your indie gem. Or try to make comics a full time career and see how little money actually means to you. Because bills falling behind, eating top ramen with syrup for breakfast and being fearful you will turn your faucet to the sound of dry pipes is an ever looming reality. The starving artist adage has some very deep roots in reality for sure. So if you are not willing to put up with the inevitable hardship that comes with attaining your dream. Do something else…. Anything else!
- THERE IS A DIFERENCE BETWEEN BEING AN ARTIST AND A MARKETER: So many creators do not get this bullet point. Many live in a very provincial self-contained box of their own self-image of artistic awesomeness. That they are convinced the work they put out will literally jump to life, jump up on stage, and make the world fall enthrall with all they are and all they do. Then when they do their first con or put out that book, artwork, or web series, and no one is checking it out, they lash out and curse everyone but themselves for not acknowledging their greatness. You have to learn some personal interaction skills. So many artists don’t have the first clue on how to market or salesmanship or building a fan base, and as such, quickly lose heart. Being your own good PR agent is how any good creator will survive in this business; and it is a business. The quicker you learn and adapt to that. The better off you will be.
- NEVER STOP LEARNING: This means if you are a writer: WRITE! If you are an artist: DRAW! Never think “I am as good as I am going to get.” Because the day you do…Sadly you will NEVER get better. There is always room to get better. It’s a big world with tons of unexplored territory, both physical and intellectual for you to discover. Be a student as long as you can. It makes life more interesting and your work something to approach anew.
- COMICS ARE A MEDIUM, NOT A GENRE: Don’t limit yourself to the preconceived notions of what a comic story or characters are supposed to be. If you are a writer. Don’t Pidgeon-hole yourself in all the conventions and trappings of a sci-fi fantasy super hero story. If that is your deal and you truly feel like you can bring something new and fresh, then by all means. KNOCK YOURSELF OUT! But flex your muscles and explore all areas that your creative pallet can venture. If you are an artist. Don’t limit yourself to hot chicks with big boobs and uber jacked body builders posing and fighting. Yeah, I know that may be the where the big bucks are for those who do it well. But you will never learn how to be a good storyteller with your art through that caging of your artistic range.
- BUILD YOUR NETWORK- Whether it be through conventions or social networking. Your contacts can be the difference between quick sketching to amusing yourself and getting good gigs, attending worthwhile cons, and making a good paycheck plying your trade. Your artist friends are a great resource as to where to get supplies, places to crash at a con, where you can show off your work. My convention and artist pals have been invaluable as I hope I have to them to maintaining myself in this business for almost 13 years.
I’m sure I can think of more. But that is a good start. Like to know what you think, feel free to contact me with your thoughts or posers!
Take care and until next time…I won’t be here….
21st CENTURY SANDSHARK STUDIOS
This is small press guru Dan Nokes with another hard look at the industry and culture I inhabit and work in. Yup! It’s time for….
THE OBSERVATION OF THE WEEK!
GETTING PEOPLE TO BUY YOUR BOOK AT A CON: A FEW HELPFUL TIPS
I have been involved in the comic and fan convention scene as a professional for what will be 13 years in October. I have seen that venue and its various parts change dramatically in that time. Technology has improved. Fads have come and gone. Trends have changed altered and swerved back into themselves. One thing that I have noticed that while creators who make actual comic books are still around, they are a distinct minority among geek crafters, fan art print artists, graphic designers, handmade fan clothing designers and a host of other dealers, vendors and other sale and artisan folk at any given type of con.
This can have both advantages and disadvantages. While this influx of different artist and crafter sometimes attracts a crowd that has no interest in comic books. The fact that I and many others are in fact: A minority that we do make comic books also makes us a novelty. Add to that the growing dissatisfaction with “Big Two” comics blandness and myopic approach to much of their comic line makes those who are hungry for something new in the medium, more open to try an independent comic book with a new spin on current convention or tackles new subject matter that the comic medium isn’t well known for.
But as I walk around the convention floor, I see a lot of creators, artists, writers and publishers make the same mistakes over and over again. I’ve been doing this long enough to where I’ve managed to put food on my table and water coming out of my faucet consistently. To where maybe, I can offer a few tips as to how I am able to sell my comic books to an audience that is often weary to try their creative vegetables… Here are a few of my favorites, STARTING WITH:
GET YOUR DAMN HEAD OUT OF YOUR ARTWORK AND ENGAGE WITH YOUR POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: I see so many young artist/creators with their heads either buried in a sketchpad or IPad, with ear buds firmly fastened, and paying absolutely no attention to attendees hoving into their booth airspace to check out their wares. That to me is the equivalent of when I went into a 90’s record store with no price tags on anything and the kid at the counter is on his Walkman, looking smug and disinterested in trying to answer any question you may have. Now while I am not saying to jump in people’s face. I am telling you to SAY HI, shake people’s hand, tell them your name. Let them know a quick thing about what you do or any specials you may have. Ask them what they like. You are to a large degree, selling yourself. You have to make you seem appealing and attractive enough for these folks to drop 3 to25 dollars a pop for your book.
WORK ON YOUR INITIAL PITCH: About 2 years before I started my publishing company. I went to Wizard World Chicago along with a great deal of other conventions to try and learn how to make and sell a comic book. I sat on a panel being hosted by Brian Pulido. I will say that that 45 minutes I spent there formed a large chunk of my salesmanship core of how I conduct myself at a convention. One thing he said that stuck with me was that, from the time a potential customer wrangles into your booth’s sphere of influence. You have about 15-30 seconds of their attention to deliver an initial pitch. This is where I see so many creators screw up regally. This is mostly due to the fact that they worked so hard, and so long, and are so impressed with every minute detail, that they want to unload every factoid and nuance of their creation onto whomever steps up to the plate. But with an average con having dozens to hundreds of vendors and so many things to catch their attention, not to mention the age of the internet widdling away the average attention span, you are stuck with about 30 seconds to distill your grand magnum opus, into a bite sized factoid. You have to sum up your creative baby into a one two punch that will grab their imagination and interest. Here is an example of what I do with my book THE PARANORMALS
PARANORMALS: ITS X-MEN MEETS SCOOBY DOO
If that catches them, I expand with my remaining 25 seconds with this:
IT’S AN END OF THE WORLD TALE WHERE YOUR SAVIORS INCLUDE: A FEEBLE MINDED ROBOT, CHAIN SMOKING VAMPIRE, ALCHOLIC WEREWOLF, TEENAGE WITCH, AND ANGRY SCOTTISH DWARF.
That quick pitch can make or break a sale. Give them a visual that makes them want to find out more. Then you can do a few details that separate what you are doing from everything else.
GIVE THEM COMPARISONS: Now I know I hate to compare my stuff to anything else. I want to feel like my books are like nothing else out there. And to a certain degree you should sell what makes you different from everything else. But people also want to feel like there is a sense of the familiar. That they have some idea as to what to expect from your book that they can relate to. Sometimes I go with a quote a reviewer said of my book ADAM AND EVE: BIZARRE LOVE TRIANGLE IN THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. “It’s like WALKING DEAD…But funny” The Walking Dead portion gives visuals and concepts that they know and can relate too. The funny part is the spin on the convention that appeals to their wish to try something new. It’s kind of starting in in the shallow side of the pool, before venturing to the deep end with a new book, as a way to sell to them.
HAVE A WEB PRESENCE: In a day and age where the internet plays such a huge roll in any market. Comic books are no exception. Your average customer has the ability to do a Google search on you and your works at your booth while looking through your wares. Have a website, Tumblr site, social networking presence. Have something that shows off you and the work. If you can have a free preview online of your creative wares, ALL THE BETTER! Sometimes these folks won’t buy initially. But will check you out online, come back later or buy from home. Not often. But again, the web is a tool there to use.
SWEETEN THE POT: I myself have a pretty sweet deal when I get people to buy my trade paperbacks. They range from $13-$20 a pop; which I throw in a few very inexpensive freebees to seal the deal. For example: If someone buys a copy of my book: ADAM AND EVE: BIZARRE LOVE TRIANGLE IN THE ZOMBIE APOCALYSPE. I tell them if they get the book, they A) Get the entire run of the series from start to finish, B) Over two hundred pages of story material, C) A book signed by me D) Bonus pinups from various other artists, whom many times at least a couple of them are at the show and would also sign the book. E) A quick sketch of them as a zombie in the book. And F) A pick of a print from the print section of my art book, ALL FOR COVER PRICE. Now while that seems like I am ripping myself off a bit. The quick sketch and signature cost me nothing but a couple of minutes of my time. The print is less than 2 bucks to make and helps me push a $15 book that I want to get in other people’s hands. You can always find something that makes your book appealing to potential buyers that costs you little or nothing to put together.
DISPLAY YOUR BOOKS WITH PRIDE: Have your books at eye level, with the cover on a stand so people can see it eye level. Maybe a small sign with the price tag, quick tag line, and what are the addition goodies you get with book purchase.
MAKE YOUR BOOTH YOUR OWN: Unless you are a famous entity in the industry. You kind of have to rely on your booth to say who you are and what you are all about. Signage, decoration, backdrops and other equipment can help greatly in this task. You are going to capture your potential customer’s eye long before you do the mammalian part of their brain. A blank featureless table can often be your worst enemy. You have to create some window shopping to draw folks in for that award winning pitch. I myself do little things like have a stuffed chicken, a leopard skin table cloth (Fake of course!) Clever signs, and other little knick knacks that make people scratch their heads, and hover in to find out more.
CALLING CARDS: Make sure to leave contact information with both those who stop by and pick up a book from you. This is a gateway for making a reader turn into a regular fan. Then they can follow you online as you go to other shows in their area and put out more material.
That about covers a few of the more important tips from me and I hope I passed on something useful. Feel free to comment or send questions to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks and until next time. I won’t be here!
21st Century Sandshark Studios