The most frequent question I get asked by aspiring comic book writers is: what’s the easiest way to break into comics? It’s also the toughest question for me to answer because quite honestly—there is no easy way to break in. It’s a bitch. Plain and simple. I worked in comics for five years before someone would even consider giving me a comic book to write, and even then, I’m pretty sure very few people actually picked that book up to read. It’s a tight-knit community, the comics industry, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope. And NO, there are no gender, race, or any other biases you may have heard about keeping you from breaking in. I’ll fill you in on the one unmistakable trait that defines whether a publisher will take a chance on you—if you’re bankable. Will having your name on a book help sell units? We really don’t care if you’re a man, a woman, or a mer-man with superpowers. Take an honest look at yourself and answer that question. It’s not easy to do, but do it. The truth is there are working comic book writers that aren’t bankable yet on their own. It’s that tough. Now, I know your first response is: “Well how am I supposed to be a valued commodity if no one will give me a shot?” But guess what? That’s why it’s called professional comic books. It’s similar in a lot of ways to pro sports. The hard work isn’t in the craft or technique of making comics, it’s in the getting-there part. Here’s three quick tips I often suggest to aspiring writers that are usually completely ignored but can really help you make a name for yourself:
I often tell new writers to self publish their work first, make a name through their work, and then go to the known publishers and show them that. Often times, inexperienced or unpublished writers will approach a publisher with a complete comic book pitch: concept, art, colors, lettering, etc. And guess what? We don’t want that! A publisher doesn’t want to buy your complete story unless you’re a writer who’s sold hundreds of thousands of copies of something, or maybe have a best-selling novel, or some other tangible project that proves your worth and will help them turn a profit. Remember, there are living, breathing people who work at publishing companies who want to stay working. Taking a chance is not what we want to do. You’re essentially asking a publisher to commit thousands upon thousands of dollars to your work when they have no past work of your own to draw upon. And yes—every new writer I meet believes they are the next Hemmingway. You’re not. I’m sorry. Just because your Facebook friends tell you you’re the greatest, doesn’t mean I can’t read between the lines about how many copies your name will sell if it’s on a book if nobody’s ever heard of you. So go and make a name on your own first. Self publish your own work. Save up enough money and put out a graphic novel. If you can’t afford printing costs, try a webcomic. If you’re really set on having a printed version to show—heck, go beg for money on kickstarter. If you really believe you’re the next Hemmingway, hey that’s fine, then you don’t need a publisher to make your name sell. Go out and publish it and let your work speak for itself.
BE FORTHCOMING TO EDITORS WITH YOUR GOALS
It’s okay to approach publishers at a convention or through email and let them know what you’re looking to become. It’s detrimental to your cause, however, to outright ask for those goals if you’ve never been published. This is where the artists in this industry clearly have the better idea on how to succeed than the writers, in my opinion. Daily, I receive emails from aspiring artists looking for tips, knowledge–anything that will help them get better. The emails I get from writers usually consist of: read my pitch and tell me if you want to publish it. See the difference? I want to help the artist because they’re not asking for anything but to make themselves better. I know they eventually want to work in the biz. They know they eventually want to work in the biz. But, they know it takes a bunch of steps, not a giant leap to achieve those. So, open a line of communication with an editor. Let them know that you’re looking to get better; that one day you want to write comics, and believe me—they’ll know too. But outright asking for it is not the right way to go. Trust me.
WRITE DAILY, BUT ONLY WITH A FOCUSED APPROACH TO THE CRAFT OF COMIC BOOK STORYTELLING
This sounds obvious right? A writer should be writing all the time but somehow they’re not focused on the art of comic book writing. Or more likely, they’ll approach an editor with forty different ideas for comic books, but they’re all just concepts with no real plot or story. Or they’ll tell an editor they also have screenplays, novels, and poems they’ve written. Guess what? We don’t give a shit. We only want to know if you can write a good comic. And none of those mediums are the same as writing a comic. To say you do all the above is a bit pretentious unless you’re awesome at all of them (and this opinion should always be decided by a 3rd party, not your family, friends or your writing partner). If you’ve actually turned a profit in one of those other fields, then it’s worthwhile noting them. Otherwise, an editor just thinks your touting your shit with no real published or sold work to back it up. We only want to see your comic book skills and enthusiasm for that craft. Take a focused approach to the field you want to work in. Practice comic book writing–over and over and over. Find someone who will be willing to help, which brings me to…
CONNECT WITH AN ARTIST
The artist is key in comics. They are the ones who will ultimately turn your vision into reality—both literally and figuratively. This also plays into the self-publishing avenue if you can’t draw. If you can, all the more power to you as you can really complete your entire package minus the lettering and get your work out there. But, if you’re like most comic book writers, you’re gonna be relying on an artist for the rest of the career you seek. So, jump on deviant art or facebook, or tumbler or any other network site and connect with an artist that is in the same boat as you. Someone looking to break in. Chances are, they need a good writer to help turn their art into sequential work. The comic book industry is filled with writers who have set their sails to an artist’s ship, and together you can lean on each other for work opportunities and support. Sooner or later, you will be working daily with an artist so don’t wait for it to happen, go out and recruit on your own. But, don’t be a cheapskate. Save up some money and compensate them. Shit ain’t easy drawing, it’s a lot easier to write so know where your bread is buttered.
That’s a few for now, I’ll try to scrounge up some more tips soon for you guys, till next time friends.