[New Release] For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher

For Exposure

Happy to announce that For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher is now available!

With rebuttal essays from Maurice Broaddus, Monica Valentinelli, Lesley Conner, and more, For Exposure tells Jason’s story with insight from key players along his road to success. It is a comprehensive and frank look at what Apex and the genre publishing business is about. Take a shot with the publisher, dance the night away, and become a legend. And do it all For Exposure.

If you’re interested in a copy of For Exposure, please consider buying direct from Apex Book Company.

Comics and Opportunity

Marvel Thor

This conversation started on my Facebook page, but I’m continuing it here so you understand my perspective on the subject. I read comics and prefer graphic novels to the stand-alone issues. There is something very visual about a graphic novel and I love the art form. I’ve got my first comic coming out in the Unfashioned Creatures anthology this Summer from Red Stylo Media and I’ve got *at least* two graphic novels I need to script.

Now, I frequent a comic book store. I walk in and it’s depressing — because the majority of the comics in the store are written by men. You have to really dig to find one written by a woman and this discourages me because my gut reaction is this: it’ll be that much harder to get on the shelf. A handful of female writers for mainstream publishers doesn’t qualify as saying “Oh, yeah… There are women in comics.” Women are under-represented in the print art form. No, this isn’t true across the board, so what I’ve found valuable is to follow up on a publisher’s catalog — like Archaia or Dark Horse, for example — to see what I’m interested in and get to know the creators.

The question came up about whether or not there was opportunity in comics for women writers.

This is where the disconnect comes in, right? If you go to a comics book convention, you will see lots and lots of women there: fans, small presses, artists, etc. Webcomics offers ways for many women to get into comics because it allows them to participate in the form without going through a traditional publisher like Marvel or DC or any of the other mid-tier folks. But here’s the thing: webcomics may be booming, but it’s a separate form than a stand-alone comic or graphic novel, and as such — it’s a different business model.

I can “distribute” webcomics online if I had a) a reliable artist b) a way to pay said person c) costs associated with hosting and d) time to dedicate one-to-three times weekly to grow and audience and promote it there. Or, to put it in a fiction context, this is very much like self-or-small publishing to get readers to get the “book deal” and generate demand. This is more time-consuming and less financially viable for me to do than to focus on original storytelling. Twenty years ago? When I was first starting out as a writer? Sure, but not now, in part because I’d have to draw folks to read a free webcomic. But what are they buying to help me off-set costs? Monetizing a webcomic takes time. If I self-to-small publish stories, novellas, and novels, I can get polished work up for sale.

The way comics is set up, though, I have less chance of bridging from webcomics to traditional comic publishing and get in *stores* than I would with self-to-small publishing fiction. Part of this is how comics distribution has changed, but it’s also how small-to-medium size comic book presses are featured in stores. I’m ignoring the larger comic book publishers for the moment, because there is a serious lack of opportunity for new writers — both male and female. Comic book writers are a dime a dozen and, to be truthful, this form cannot exist fully without an artist, colorist, and letterer. Writing is the “easy” part.

Now, I “could” write a best-selling novel and get the opportunity to write a graphic novel based on that. Plenty of female writers in that sphere. Novels are on my writing plate, but two things: a) can’t predict success and b) I’m not writing novels just to break into comics. I’m writing novels because I want to write novels as part of my overall plan.

Ergo…

What am I left with? Contests and open calls for existing properties, self-publishing, or pitching. Most likely, I’d take the latter option, write the full script, then pitch to a publisher. Or, have an agent do that for me. The question is: who will I be pitching to? And what? Well, if it’s my original work, I would typically need to find/hire an artist to do the pitch, have the novel totally completed/polished, and find a publisher with comic book store distribution (e.g. through Diamond) that accepts pitches. I would do that knowing the artist may leave in favor of other projects, too, but pitches are usually done with a creative team in place.

Of course, I “could” pitch without writing the full script, but that would be unprofessional. It’s in everybody’s best interests if the script is done and polished with the knowledge that the publisher may request changes to fit their needs. However, I have no control over the art, so even if I have my script done and find an artist to join me on a creative team, AND get accepted — if the artist leaves halfway through the project or doesn’t finish? I have to start over or cancel the project, which affects my reputation.

I could get everything done art-wise and written out of the gate for the pitch, but then I’m back to hiring artists to do work-for-hire on a project that is on “spec.” I could ask an artist to work for free, but if you’ve ever been involved with comics, you should know that they are a LOT of work. For many reasons, I cannot do that and won’t do that — especially if I want good art.

Contests and open calls are *very* rare and competition is fierce. Most companies with comic book distribution don’t accept pitches, either, though there are exceptions (Dark Horse being one of them) and this changes frequently. But, the ability to accept pitches based on the script *alone* is the exception rather than the rule. Being in the position that I am, Marvel and DC aren’t going to reach out to me unless I have a proven ability to write and publish comics in a more mainstream fashion. Even if they’ve done that in the past with new writers, again… This is the exception rather than the rule.

Is this doom and gloom? For male and female comic book writers? No, it’s not. Both exist and both are abundant. Just because you don’t see equal amounts of male and female comic book writers sitting on the shelf at your local comic book store don’t think there aren’t any women who love the form. There are loads and loads of fans, too, and the internet has helped change that. It’s given more people access to comics because they’re not required to go into a store. Something I hope publishers will continue to keep in mind: there isn’t one comic book customer, anymore. That’s why these kinds of talks exist, because there’s an audience out there begging to be heard, and if folks aren’t listening, they’ll speak out anyway. (See The Hawkeye Initiative as an example.)

The only thing any of this means, is that though the road to a graphic novel in comic book stores may be narrow, I know what direction *I* need to take and will seek a way forward.

I’m not giving up, I’m just doing what I do with fiction: pay attention and when I’m ready to submit and pitch I do. I have a vision and everybody who knows me understands how passionate I am about my work, but I have no intention of waiting around for 40 years for that right moment or going broke because I banked everything on one piece of my overall dream. I have to be smart about what I’m doing, because though writing is my calling, it’s also my career.

.

A Hearty Thanks

Fire She-Ra Avatar

Just wanted to pop in and say “Thank You!” today. I told you either late last year (or earlier this one) that my intent for this website was to focus on my publishing endeavors while highlighting some day-to-day aspects of my employment and life here in the Mad, Mad City.

My goal, while not I didn’t express this overtly, was to emphasize my work as a creator by spotlighting new publications and minimize the draw to my marketing or business-related content. I rearranged my website which allowed me to blog about life, the universe, and everything in a varied, haphazard fashion to share with you who I am as opposed to focusing on articles that educate or demand that you listen. You’ve responded to the change. Now, my publication announcements are the most-read on this site and you’ve also been following my blog more readily than you have in the past. For that? I say “THANK YOU!”

I know a few of you are disappointed that I’m not blogging about business-related activities very frequently anymore. I feel there’s enough free commentary and other ephemera here to give you a sample of what I’ve done (and the teeniest taste of what I can do). I’m always open to writing paid articles on a variety of non-fiction subject, but now that I have a repertoire of sample business-related articles/posts out in the wilds, I feel if anyone wants more hands-on consulting from me, you can always contact me and ask for my rates.

For those of you who joined me later this year, part of the reason why I used to blog about more nuts and bolts business-related topics (whether they be job-related or not) is because most writers cannot afford to live off of their works. I’m a strong believer in “pay it forward.” Remember, a lot of Creative Writing programs don’t talk about the fiscal realities of writing. I hope that what I’ve posted on the site will help you determine your own path in a sensible, pragmatic fashion (while still reaching for the stars!).

2013 is going to be a VERY exciting year in a lot of ways. I can’t wait! Yay!

    Mood: Inspired
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: If I said less than the day before, that would be a lie.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: The Gym.
    In My Ears: Winter Rhapsody by Nox Arcana
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Awakenings
    Movie Last Viewed: The Lord of the Rings trilogy
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “The Dig” The Lovecraft eZine Issue No. 19

The Other Half of Perception is Managing Expectations

After my post earlier this week about managing perceptions as a freelancer, I saw a comment from Keith Anderson about how essential it was to manage expectations.

I absolutely agree.

For me, this is a no-brainer that can be summed up in two words: good communication. When that communication breaks down? That’s when things go wrong. I’ve seen this time and time and time again in many businesses, both as an outsider or when I’m involved on a project. Miscommunication happens in cases when one hand is doing one thing and the other is possessed by another mindset. Management says one thing to one employee and something else to another. A lack of consistency is the other thing that can get very confusing, too, especially when you’re dealing with someone who has little to no experience managing professionals.

My technique is based on asking questions and setting goals. It is extremely rare for me to not fulfill the expectations that are required of me. I am always asking: Is this what you want? Sometimes, the company does not know the answer to that question. By exploring that answer up front you’d be shocked how much money, time and energy is saved.

Having said that, however, there are times when going that extra mile isn’t warranted. That’s where the contract, a style guide and submission guidelines all come into play. The project doesn’t require exploration, it demands production. How many bouts of revisions are required? What format does the work need to be submitted in? Expectations can be very technical, but they are also thematic, too. Research is an invisible cost. An artist needs reference material. A writer needs to find good sources for attribution, reference material on a subject, etc. Creativity is another “cost,” in the sense that bursts of inspiration don’t just happen on a nine-to-five job. They happen at any time, in any place, for any reason. Again, this goes back to why creatives don’t budget based off of hours.

This entire conversation circles back to something I’ve found to be extraordinarily true. There is a huge difference between being proactive and reactive, between providing a service or selling an asset, between building business relationships or focusing on the one-offs. There are so many different ways to manage a business it’s not even funny. The trick I’ve found is this: as an employee or a freelancer, you have to figure out what your core business principles are. Once you have that foundation in place, you can manage expectations with ease. Why? Because then you’re looking at those expectations as a two-way street. It’s not what you can do for someone else. It’s what you can do for each other.

My Predictions for the Economy and Freelancing in 2009

Every day we read more and more headlines. Layoffs. Record numbers of foreclosures. Bailout. Inflation. While many of these headlines come as no surprise to us, when the word “recession” turns into something that affects our shopping habits, we tend to feel the pinch on a more personal level. Economic recovery is not a “switch” that can be flipped, however. It could take months, maybe even a few years before we see true, steady growth. The idea that the economy takes a long time to develop is something we all know, but sometimes forget — especially since the way we communicate is so rapid and instantaneous.

Regardless of your opinions about how long the economic recovery might take are, we can all agree that it will affect us in different ways. (Like my April post where I described ways freelancers can navigate a recession.) Already we’re seeing activities that directly affect freelancers, so without further ado here are my predictions how the economy will affect freelancers in 2009.

Top 15 Ways the Economy will Affect Freelancers in 2009

1. When Jobs Get Cut, Outsourcing Goes Up – The biggest expense any employer has is payroll, which is one of the reasons why there have been so many layoffs as of late. Unfortunately, when workers are cut the business may experience a different kind of cost — the cost of smart, intelligent, capable people that know their business and can get the job done. Watch for more businesses hiring and outsourcing contractors in 2009 as a way to cut costs and prolong hiring full-time employees.

2. More People will try to Break Into Freelancing – The flip side to layoffs, is that there are a lot of unemployed people out there. Qualified, skilled workers who may (or may not) have freelanced before will ply their hand at it. Already you can see this might be the case based on natural search trends for the term “freelancing jobs.” (I used Google Trends and tailored my results to the US.) Additionally, more people will be attracted to freelancing as a way to cut down on their cost-of-living (i.e. car, clothing, etc.).

3. Freelancing Rates Will Drop – Content networks are offering pennies on the dollar now for posts that either require research, as a result of a bidding service or a large social network to be able to monetize your writing. Associated Content, eLance, Demand Studios and oDesk are just a few of those places. With more competition, expect a lack of clarity as to what clients will expect to pay. This is especially true for writing; I can’t speak for the other fields.

4. Clients Will Want More “Value-Add” Service Than What They’re Paying You For – A flood of available contract positions in the market, coupled with more competition and a larger disparity in pricing will push clients in the direction of asking more for their money. Whether this be an additional layer of edits or consulting time, freelancers will not only have to prove why they charger higher rates, but negotiate more.

5. Clients Will Look for “Proof” of Delivery and Work – Based on how freelance writers charge, clients will be watching more closely what is delivered (and when). I predict that this will be especially true of any project where the budget is based on how many hours that are billed. Clients will want to know a) how long does a project take and b) what did you do during that hour.

6. Clients Will Learn about Quality – The flip side to hiring a writer on the “cheap” side is that the quality can suffer. I feel that eventually clients will come to understand this after going through the painful cycle of hire-and-fire a few times before understanding that hiring the right writer for the right job may mean looking for an experienced freelancer.

7. More Freelance Writers Will Become Web 2.0 Savvy – In order to become more competitive, existing freelancers will research ways to enhance their writing skills and learn more about search engine optimization, social media and other “value-adds” to integrate into their work and find better positions.

8. New Freelance Writers Will Work More for Less – The natural tendency when freelance writers just start out, is to undercut their profit by charging less to get more work. If new freelance writers are in dire financial straits, they will take whatever they can get.

9. Good Freelance Jobs Will be Harder to Find – Because there will be a flood of new freelance jobs on the market, coupled with the assumption that companies will ask their existing employees to do more than they have in the past, good freelance jobs will be harder to find. The time that it will take to find a freelance job does have an impact on the overall profit margin of a project, and seasoned freelancers may find they have to look longer than they have in the past for work.

10. Clients Will Initially Hire Based on Specialization – If a financial business lays off two dozen people in their business publications divison, they will probably look for someone with a background in writing for financial publications. To that business, they want someone who understands the industry and its language — even if it’s not expressly written in the communication a freelancer is delivering — because they want to save time “educating” someone new. To them, a financial background might also ensure “quality.” This may change, however, when companies realize that their demands are too specific. A writer who only writes about junk bonds, for example, may not exist.

11. Expect a High Turnover Rate for Freelancers – Burn out, job placement, life… Even though there will be a flood of freelancers in 2009, don’t expect every one of them to stick around. Much of this activity is directly related to economic conditions, and will continue to be in flux until the full-time job market improves.

12. Seasoned Freelance Writers Will Work Smarter, Not Harder – From asking for referrals to making smarter decisions about what they’ll work on, seasoned freelance writers will use their experience to their advantage. In other words, the economy will have less of an impact on seasoned freelance writers than on those who are new to the fold.

13. Freelancing Projects Will Be Shorter – Depending upon how challenging things get for some clients, you may see shorter freelance assignments. Word conservation will be increasingly important this year, depending upon whether or not the project is for online work (i.e. related to natural search) or offline. To a client, a shorter project equates to less money they have to pay a freelancer.

14. Freelancers Will Be More Competitive Amongst Ourselves – Unfortunately, I think that if things get really desperate, there will be more competition between freelancers than teamwork. Healthy competition is a part of freelancing, but it can also turn ugly when inexperienced writers come into the fray, undercutting prices and services. I would like to think that there won’t be more competition among freelancers, but when quality jobs are harder to find I do think you’ll see more, not less.

15. More Freelancers Will Pursue Start-up Websites and eBooks to Make $$$ – On the flip side, I think that experienced freelance writers will move beyond “just” freelance writing this year, offering more additional services including niche websites, non-fiction eBooks and How-Tos. You’ll probably see even more eBooks from savvy professionals geared toward “how-to-break-into-freelancing” as a result.

Agree? Disagree? How do you think the economy will affect the freelancing business in 2009?

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