Top 7 Things Every Young Artist or Writer Needs To Know

May 31st, 2009

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival is next weekend. I believe I have said this before, but I will keep saying it – if you go to one comic event a year, it should be this one. Comic-Con is fun, and it is interesting and cool and overwhelming, and it crosses a crazy number of media boundaries right now. But MoCCA is *AMAZING*. This is the home of independent, original, unique illustrative art in America. I get a total contact high off the sheer energy, talent and electricity of the people who gather there.

ALC Publishing will be there at the PRISM Comics booth. There’ll be fabulous, fun times there, so please drop by and meet some amazing comic artists from the only LGBTQ comics consortium that is full of awesome and win.

If you love independent comics, original ideas, meeting young artists and people who do what they want, the way they want, because they want to – the hardest row to hoe, but the most rewarding – MoCCA is the place to be. I feel more at home there than at any other event I’ve ever attended.

Because I’ll be there, yesterday on Twitter, I posted a few pieces of advice for young, upcoming artists. I get many queries, in person and by email, and I find that my answers to most of them go along the same lines. There are some rather harsh facts that most kids who want to “get into the industry” haven’t really thought through. Because professional artist and Twitter gadfly MariKurisato forced me suggested I do so, I’ve gathered these thoughts and offer these pieces of advice for you here.

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Top 7 Things Every Young Artist or Writer Needs To Know

7. No one is going to discover you if you sit home and draw/write for friends

Making your work public means you’ll risk criticism and ridicule. If you cannot deal with this, you will not make it as a professional artist or writer.

6. Putting your work on Deviantart/Your Blog is not “publishing.”

Your blog or website can definitely function as an online portfolio. But publishers do not trawl Deviantart or WordPress looking for new talent. *If* a publisher is interested in your work, they *may* take a moment to look at your website. Don’t be fooled into thinking that posting a webcomic irregularly means that you’ve published.

5. More than anything else, Publishers need you to meet a deadline without excuses.

No matter how much time you *think* you have, Life will invariably take most of it away. Your publisher does not care that your scanner broke, your dog was sick, work is making you do overtime. Deadlines are deadlines and must be met.

4. You are not as good an artist/writer as you (and your friends) think you are.

An editor or artistic director knows what makes a story or piece of art better. Listen to them, because you can gain valuable critical feedback from them. Don’t just roll your eyes and claim that it’s your “style.”

3. You may be an *amazing* artist/writer, but that won’t get you a job. Professionalism and flexibility will.

An editor may need you to draw in a slightly different way, or in a completely different style. It’s true that you want to develop your own work, but many artists start by doing assistant work for other artists. Being the go-to person is a good way to build up a great work reputation and experience. How you handle a request for this sort of thing will be a major factor in whether an editor or director turns to you later. Now is not the time to be a Diva.

2. What you do is not as important as who you know. Spend equal time on your networking as you do on your art.

Attend as many book or comic events as you can, get on Twitter and follow agents and editors. Meet and befriend agents, publishers, managers, art directors. Talk to people, listen to people and make an effort to be as visible as possible. Make a LinkedIn profile, join organizations, go to open networking events. You have no idea when your big break may happen, but if you’re at the right place at the right time with the right people, it’ll happen.

1. And lastly, no matter how stupid s/he is, your editor or publisher is always right.

Nobody likes criticism. The bottom line is – this is a job and you are a professional. Changes will be made and you will have to make them. Don’t explain why you did it that way, don’t whine. Listen to the people who are responsible for the publication and do what they need you to do they way they need you to do it. When you’re the editor or publisher, you can call the shots.

Extra Tip #1: Everyone is busy. None one has time for you. Before you email a publication, read the Submission Guidelines and **actually follow them.** Don’t email artwork if it says to not email artwork. Don’t focus on your experience writing historical drama, when the publisher is looking for superhero work. Start your email off with:

Dear Sir or Madam –

My name is /yourname/. I am writing to you to /why you are writing/.

Write a short, polite, coherent introduction, followed by a discussion of whatever it is you are writing about.

Do NOT write a long, rambling introduction of you, your story, your lifework.

You have 3 lines to impress the person on the other end that you are professional, coherent, sane and have some reasonable talent. 3 lines. That’s it. This is your chance to market your work – so, use those three lines wisely.

I hope that this gives you a clearer idea of what is important in “the industry.” Of course, I wish you all the very best of luck as well!

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20 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the suggestions Erica. I’ve been trying to break into the graphic novel writing business for years now…it isn’t easy. Note to self: Attend more conventions.

  2. @Anonymous – You’re going to need to more than just attend conventions. Look at the *very few* companies that publish graphic novels. How many of them publish newcomers? What kinds of things do they publish? How did the people who got published get there?

    If you’re talking manga industry you’ve got about four companies to choose from – one two of them are specialized in one genre. If you don’t know who they are, you need to do some serious research.

    Do you have an artist partner? You might want to get one – start collaborating on your work. Fail, try again, fail, try again.

    Get an internship at a company.

    Publish your own book.

    The “industry” is microscopic and there are few opportunities. Good luck making one for yourself.

  3. Lee Kottner says:

    This is great advice for any writer looking to break into publishing, not just people in comics. I’m boggled by the manuscripts I get for editing in which people have not bothered to look at the standard submission format or requirements, as though you could just send stuff off in the form it came out of your head.

    Looking forward to MOCCA and seeing you there. You’re absolutely right about the energy, and it’s so great to see so many really talented women there.

  4. @Lee Kottner – I so look forward to seeing you there! It’ll be good to catch up.

  5. socchan says:

    I’d like to add that, even if up to six of those things magically suspend themselves and become less of an issue, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore the rest of the advice, or that it suddenly doesn’t apply. I was bitten by that fallacy not long ago myself.

  6. GregC says:

    “Publish your own book.”

    Yes. In comics, moreso than any other publishing, do-it-yourself is a acceptable. Show the editor that not only can you make comics but that you can’t NOT make comics. That kind of dedication speaks volumes.

    You’re an artist that can’t write? Find a writer that also wants to use a finished comic as self-promotion. And same for writers that can’t draw.

    At a comic forum I visit the motto is “Do the work”. As Erica says, networking and listening to the editor are other major parts. But if you don’t do the work, and in a timely manner, then the rest is wasted.

    Also check out C.B. Cebulski, a Marvel editor, on Twitter. He posts great advice on pitching. http://twitter.com/CBCebulski – very much a no-nonsense kind of person.

    Thanks, Erica! I’ll be sending people to this post.

  7. @GregC – Thanks for the comment and any future post. Coming from you there’s a certain amount of verisimilitude. :-)

    @socchan No, none of that is ever suspended. Walk the talk or go back to drawing/writing for friends.

  8. BruceMcF says:

    Can this be added to the “Now This Is Only My Opinion” category? Its a post that some people need to be able to stumble across, even if they are not regular Okazu readers.

  9. @Bruce McF – I had actually considered it more Marketing advice and less and Opinion, and have thu tagged it as “Microniche marketing.” But I’ll consider your suggestion.

  10. BruceMcF says:

    Oops, missed that one in the list …

    … if I’d seen that, it would have made short work of the round about way I tracked down the “5 things right/wrong” posts for my What can Newspaper Reporting learn from Yuricon blog. I only found one of the two in NTIOMO, and from there tracked down the other.

  11. Anonymous says:

    A very fine list,Erica. I’d probably categorize it under ‘tough love’, since art/writing fields are competitive it’s important to know all of these things and to be realistic about your goals.

    I would suggest a follow-up list on how to deal with the many hurdles of the career, like editorial mandates and how to meet deadlines. I only really suggest that, because you can’t teach a kid to drive by just telling him to drive.

    And on a less serious note, yes editors are always ‘right’, just like the customer is always right. It doesn’t mean they’re literally right all the time, just grit your teeth and hope they don’t turn your book/comic into another ‘One more day’…

  12. Anonymous says:

    (continuation from ‘a fine list, Erica’)

    I forgot to mention that I’ve seen a lot of novels and comics fall flat on their faces, due to consistency errors and other issues like misuse of facts. In that case, I really hope the editor is always right! A bad editor can really be as bad as a bad writer lol

  13. Haruchin says:

    Good post, Erica – thanks. At last year’s Birmingham Comics Con, Dave Gibbons made what I think is a very insightful comment about the comics business. He said in comics, to be successful you need any two of the following three things: you can be extraordinarily good; you can be extraordinarily reliable; or you can be an extraordinarily nice person. After hanging around with (largely Marvel) comics pros, I couldn’t agree more. You can be an artistic genius, but if you can’t work to deadlines, or aren’t fantastically good to work with (i.e. follow Editors’ notes, are friendly, do your research, go out of your way to get things done), you aren’t going to get anywhere.

  14. mistressatma says:

    As a writer, this is all so very true, stuff I’ve heard countless times that many others need to hear as well. I’m currently refining a book for publishing and will probably self-publish at first until I can get a deal somewhere and show them that YES I CAN. It’s a rough business but if it is truly what you enjoy doing, you won’t mind it as much.

  15. @Bruce McF – Silly – ask me next time I’ll gladly provide links. FTR – business stuff is under “Microniche Marketing,” since it is not only opinion, but based on marketplace reality.

    @Anonymous The editor may be god -effeing awful, but s/he is still right. I once had a editor that was a nightmare, who rewrote an article I had worked many too many hours on. The end result was inaccurate, dumb and offensive. As horrible as it was – he was still “right” because he was paying the bills.

    @mistressatma – Self-publish to be published, not to be discovered. Most of the established publishing companies do not look at self-published writers. They either want proven sellers or brand new talent they can skim off of.

  16. @Bruce McF – Interesting article! I think you may be exactly right. I hadn’t considered it at all, but of course each beat in reporting is a niche. And I LOVE the bit at the end about making it possible for a person to get a manga out of it. Really good social media. Well done.

  17. Lorena says:

    As an editor for an online publication, I have to say that you really hit the nail on the head with each of your suggestions. I would suggest every single thing you mentioned to any kind of writer, not just those interested in comics.

    I’d also add there’s “always room for improvement.” You can ALWAYS become a better and writer; there’s no such thing as perfection in this industry.

  18. Animenerdz says:

    very nice post, thank you very much

  19. I would also encourage anyone who wanted to get into comics to read Brigid Alverson’s post at Robot 6 “Why is this Dog Exploding?” http://bit.ly/gmpm2

    Read, understand, apply.

  20. Anonymous says:

    “Dear Sir or Madam –

    My name is /yourname/. I am writing to you to /why you are writing/.

    Write a short, polite, coherent introduction, followed by a discussion of whatever it is you are writing about.

    Do NOT write a long, rambling introduction of you, your story, your lifework.

    You have 3 lines to impress the person on the other end that you are professional, coherent, sane and have some reasonable talent. 3 lines. That’s it. This is your chance to market your work – so, use those three lines wisely.”

    BTW, this thing is also known as a cover letter, a letter introducing the rest of whatever you’re sending along with it. Look up the advice available for sending a cover letter with a résumé, and use the applicable parts of it (i.e. not the “quote keywords from the job description” parts). Best of luck! :)

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