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Writers Blocked

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Welcome to VOX POPULI Week V. I’d like to start off by addressing a comment that was made to me by a reader. According to this reader, I come off “as a bit of an ass” in my column. I really hope that isn’t true, but I realize that when writing an OP-ED column—no matter who the columnist is—it’s hard not to sound like an ass. We are, after all, stating our opinions.

I feel strongly about my opinions, just as any other opinion column author does. I don’t make apologies for my opinions, but who does? “I feel that we need to tighten border security to keep illegal immigrants out. Sorry… I apologize…” Does anyone actually think—or speak like this? What you will find in VOX POPULI is nothing more than my opinion. Sure, I am able to speak with several small press publishers and creators—and I have four years experience in the biz—which hopefully makes me more informed than the average joe. But when it comes right down to it, if you’re looking for fair and balanced, please try Fox News. If you want to find out what I have learned and experienced—from my perspective—please stick around and I’ll tell you everything I know.

Enough about that.

This week, we will talk about the struggles facing a creator breaking into the biz. I will share firsthand experiences as well as experiences of several published writer friends as well. But the main gist of this column is my experiences in this wacky world of funny books. I will do this by first listing my misconceptions—and then state the realities. Trust me: I was naïve going in, and if I can save you some of my letdowns and frustrations I’ve experienced, I will be content.

Misconceptions and realities:

1. “It can’t be that hard to break into the biz.”

Oh boy. Yes, as I wrote my first work: Dead Men Tell No Tales in my rack at Camp Casey, Korea, I didn’t think it would be difficult to break into the biz. After all, I had a killer story, motivation, drive and dedication. I wouldn’t give up until I got my book published. It couldn’t be that hard, after all.

And then I began putting together a team.

I love artists to death, please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. But during the course of finding an artist, I sent the first issue script to several prospective artists. There were a few who expressed interest and committed to doing the project—only to disappear in a puff of smoke. And the ones who didn’t disappear wanted exorbitant page rates to draw the book. Folks, most small press publishers give what is known as a “back-end deal.” That is, you sign a contract to receive X% of the profits collected from the sales of your book.

If you are able to pay your artistic team up front, please do so, because 99% of the time, the back-end profit you will receive is a big fat goose egg—or so little that you will end up owing your creative staff a lot of money. Trust me… I’m still trying to settle the score with my artistic team over Dead Men. Being a disabled veteran who is unable to work a “real job,” let’s just say that the money isn’t pouring in.

If you cannot afford to pay your creative team up front, you’d better pray to God that you have written the next pop culture sensation—or that you score a major publisher. Of course, when we talk about paying for an artistic team up front, you had also better plan to pay your publisher up front for printing costs if your book is accepted by various publishers. Of course, they may offer to defer this cost, but if your book is a mini-series, there’s a very good chance that you will end up owing them a rather large sum of money. Sure, you may get excellent exposure and brilliant marketing and advertising representation for your book, but that does not equate to sales. You can easily spend $25,000 getting advertisement out there—and lose your shirt.

So, as you can see, simply writing the next Spawn isn’t going to ensure that your book is successful. And finding the perfect team isn’t going to ensure your success. And getting in with a good publisher isn’t going to ensure success. The reality: it is extremely difficult to break into the comic biz. One novelist told me that it’s harder to break into comics than it is to get a novel published. He’s right.

2. “All publishers are honest.”

I must say that the publishers I have worked with thus far have honored their agreements overall. Most small press publishers are honest, but you have the occasional publisher that will not look out for you. I will mention the name “Tightlip Entertainment” in passing. If you frequent the CBR Forums, I don’t have to say any more about the atrocities perpetrated by this publisher. And then you have Alias Comics who informed creators—creators currently under contract with Alias—that they have dropped their books because they are changing their publishing focus to the Christian market. I’m sorry, but I am going to name names here.

Pistolfist, created by longtime friend Jeff Earls, is one book that has been dropped abruptly due to the publisher’s “shift.” Before you say “What do you know about it, Scotsman?” I will say that I am the editor on this book, so I know plenty about it. Alias agreed to a contract with Jeff to publish a four-issue mini-series. And now, after one issue has been released and the second issue’s release pushed back repeatedly, Jeff has been told that he needs to find another publisher.

Another book in this same situation is Revere by creators Ed Lavallee and Grant Bond. The first three issues of their four-issue mini-series have been released, but the fourth issue has been pushed back repeatedly.  Alias continues to tell Ed and Grant that it’s coming—and Ed and Grant continue to tell their fans that it’s coming. I would hope that fans can see that it is Alias’ fault and the creators are just as upset about the set-backs as fans are.

When it comes to Alias, I guess it’s okay to break the 9th Commandment as long as you honor the others.

Be careful when it comes to publishers. Have your contract checked out by an attorney and see my first column for more about how to recognize a publisher who is on the level—and those who are not. Talk to published creators. They won’t steer you wrong.

3. “I’m going to make money.”

Oh, man… was I ever an idiot naïf. Aspiring writers please—prepare to do some free work. Prepare to do a lot of free work. Even if your book is published and sells out, don’t expect to get paid.  Don’t get me wrong. I was not expecting to get rich from having my book published, but I did not even dream that I would be left owing money. If you can look at it as doing something you love—just for the sheer love of it—and if the money comes, great; then you will do well in this biz.

Sorry to end so abruptly, but that’s all I have time for this installment. I have several things going on this week between working on my various projects, homework and house work. Yes, I said house work. My dad says that one day I’ll make someone a good wife. That’s… a joke.

Thank you for reading another installment of VOX POPULI. The response has been fantastic thus far. I’ve received several e-mails and PMs about the column and, if we can get you over to the forum, I will consider it a major victory. The column sparked an excellent debate at my friends Leah Moore and John Reppion’s forum, but I’d really like to get everyone to register on the Broken Frontier forum so I don’t miss posts about the column. Sure, I’m darn near omnipresent, but I do occasionally miss replies to various forum threads. I’m a member of almost 100 forums after all.

On a personal note, my new webcomic THE SURREAL ADVENTURES OF EDGAR ALLAN POO has now been visited by over 10,000 viewers! Thank you so very much for checking it out and helping us make this unique webcomic an overwhelming success thus far. I guess it’s true… people love Poo.

And that concludes another installment of VOX POPULI. Please keep those e-mails and PMs coming, folks! Each column is designed to spark conversation and is not all-inclusive in any way, shape or form. Please join us next week when I’ll be discussing how bad small press publishers are really hurting. I think you will find it shocking.

###

Dwight L. MacPherson is a creator, writer, editor, pedestrian and poet. He lives in an abandoned outhouse with his three children in the mystical land of Tennessee. Dwight makes up for his deserted whereabouts by being present all over cyberspace:

- E-mail: dwightmacpherson@brokenfrontier.com
- Personal site:
www.dwightlmacpherson.com
- Writer’s café site:
http://www.writerscafe.org/profile.php?id=4190
- Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/dwightlmacpherson

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