#SYPcon | Following up to last week’s introduction to the world of publishing and comics, we’ve got three Day in the Life posts from different areas of the field. First, Edward Ross, takes us through the journey of going from a self-published cartoonist to being published by others.
That moment where my publisher said ‘yes’ to publishing my comic Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film was one of the most unreal moments of my life. So unreal in fact, that it took me another six months to really trust that it had actually happened, and wasn’t all going to suddenly fall apart like a beloved jumper eaten away by moths.
Comics, as it is throughout the arts, is a highly competitive field, and as with most publishing there are many more people out there dying for a shot at having their comic published than there are opportunities for this to happen. As such I consider myself enormously, deliriously lucky that I’ve been published. It was all I wanted, and up until it happened I had never really considered ‘what next?’
Well, in that journey from being a self-published cartoonist to becoming a published one, I’ve stumbled, sometimes painfully, upon a few important truths.
Self-Publishing is a valid option.
I started out in comics the way most of us do in the industry – self-publishing my work. While I always enjoyed it, I always thought of self-publishing as the lesser destination for comics, and that being published was to be aspired to above all else. I no longer see that as the case. Publishing definitely brings its benefits, especially for someone like me who isn’t fantastic at self-promotion. You’ve got a publisher who has put up money to get your work out there, and you’re backed by a team of people with your book’s best interests at stake who have the experience and connections to make the most of what you’ve created.
Without my publisher, Filmish would absolutely never have become more than it already was – a small, well liked zine available across the country in a few lovely cinemas and comic shops. But I see now how others can tread the path of self-publishing really successfully – by producing regular and top quality work, building a fanbase, and connecting with people who can help to spread the word of what they do. It’s a lot of work, a skill to master, and still a long shot, but the rewards can be as great as going down the publishing route. And on the plus side, you retain more control, and in theory could make more money, than in the pretty broken publishing industry.
The transition from self-published to published comic artist obviously didn’t happen overnight. I only launched my personal campaign to become published after about two years of self-publishing, and it would take another two years before any publisher took interest in what I was doing. Along the way there will always be rejections, and it’s crucial that you take these in your stride and pitch on to the next publisher. Although it’s not random who gets published and who doesn’t, it’s still mostly a matter of luck, inasmuch as you’ve got to be lucky enough to contact the right publisher at the right time, with the right piece of work to appeal to them.
Don’t take silence as a rejection – if you don’t hear back from a publisher get in touch again. Emails are fine, but if you want to show a publisher you’re serious, give them a call and enquire that way. Don’t push your luck and make sure to accept any rejections graciously. Oh, and don’t tell them I said to phone them.
Okay, so I know a lot of people who have signed contracts without really taking into consideration what they say. Don’t do this! You are a unique and valuable human being with what I hope is a unique and valuable piece of intellectual property that these publishers are interested in. Don’t sign that all away. Don’t accept terrible terms. Don’t just do it for the exposure. Do get a lawyer, or an agent, or at the very least The Society of Authors, to vet your contract. I joined the SoA and they were invaluable in showing me what I was signing up for, and giving me an idea of where I might be able to get more out of my contract.
You will work hard…
You’re signed! Hurrah! Now begins the months of toil and aching back. It was immediately apparent to me as soon as I started work on the Filmish book that this was going to be the best thing I’d ever made, goddamnit. And that drive was so critical in getting the best work out of me. When you’re working just for yourself, it’s easy to let yourself off with sloppy work. But once you know it’s going to go out across the country (across the world!), and be picked up from book shops and charity shops and tax-dodging websites, and read by thousands of people, well that’s the kind of motivation you need to see things through to the very best of your ability.
…for very little money.
I’d heard time and again that there was no money in publishing, but when being published is your only goal, that kind of stuff is easily shrugged off. It’s gotta be better than what I’m making from self-publishing, right? And even if it isn’t, being published is more important than money, right? Well, those are both kind of true, but once the warm glow of being signed to create a graphic novel wears off, and the advance money runs out, there are financial realities to consider. All I can say to this really, is be aware of what you’re signing up for, and be wary of the false promise that becoming published radiates. All is not golden (but it can be really great!)
Once you’re finished you’ll feel lost.
A friend advised me that once I’d finished the book, I needed to prepare myself for the comedown. And damn she was right. It wasn’t immediate, but in the weeks and months after I’d finished work on the book, I began to feel more and more lost, increasingly anxious, and really quite depressed. You’ve poured everything into something for two years and then it’s done, and it may or may not be any good, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The book coming out didn’t help all that much either, and the anxiety grew when faced with public events and constant congratulations from friends and family. I had gotten the wish I first cast all of four years ago, and now part of me wanted it all to be undone. It probably doesn’t happen to everyone, but like my friend said to me, prepare yourself.
Everything changes. Everything stays the same.
The book comes out, people start reading it, you go to the launch, you do a talk, the reviews come in. This is what you were working towards and now it’s here. It’s unreal, it’s exhausting; it can be fun, and it can be miserable. What I noticed most was how everything had changed and yet everything had stayed the same. What changes? People are impressed when you tell them what you’ve achieved. You get invited to do cool things and opportunities certainly open up. You do genuinely feel like you’ve done something special that not many people do.
But things are also quite fundamentally the same. The fabled land of Being Published I had dreamed of exists, but it’s not what I thought it would be. It’s really nice here, but it’s not a destination, not a place to put up your feet. It’s just another step along the road. You finally break in and you realise that while publishing has its benefits, it’s not the solution to all your problems, and you’re still going to have to work hard if you’re going to get to continue doing what you love, which is making comics and showing them to people who want to read them.