Side Hustle

It's now clear to me that I will probably never have a full-time career writing comics, so I thought I'd share some information I gleaned along the way. My mind has been scarred from 25 years in Corporate America, so I kept meticulous records of every interaction I had, attempting to stay organized with so many irons in the fire during the ill-fated 5 years or so that I naively thought I could make some sort of career transition. I had a couple wins, but don't feel like I succeeded.

My intention really isn't to flame anyone specific or any company in particular, only to expose how ludicrous the process is once you get a glimpse at how the sausage is made. Not only does the disillusionment risk putting you off the product, but you begin to appreciate the minor miracle that is any book getting published, ever. It's an astounding feat given the publishing gauntlet that must be run, where there's so many players and variables and opportunities for things to derail.

If some wayward soul out there learns something useful and can benefit from my experience, or temper their lofty expectations about "breaking in" or whatever, then great. In short, if you can't handle rejection, or are impatient, or value a reliable income, or, I don't know, just expect people to communicate with any level of human decency, then I guess don't try writing comics for a living? I don't think I'm cut out for it. I enjoy the act of writing immensely, but the surrounding business practices are terrible.

In retrospect, I grew up with self-employed parents and experienced boom and bust years firsthand. We had years with no health insurance and weeks the only food available was oranges off a backyard tree. We also had years my parents could afford to send me to a nationally ranked university and bought their second Porsche. While it did engender a romantic sense of freedom and entrepreneurial spirit, I swore I'd never live with that financial instability, part of the reason I sought a salaried career in Corporate America.

And here I was trying to make it as a comic book writer!

It's a constant state of stringing together multiple overlapping freelance gigs, the hustle that never stops. There's no such thing as "breaking in." I hate that term. You have to "break in" with every single project. Forever. Like, I spent 3 years on a 112-page graphic novel with a major publisher, signed at San Diego Comic Con, and all I got was a handful of Twitter followers in an anti-climactic whisper that dissipated into the ether. The profits barely covered my bar tab at SDCC that year. So yeah, I've clearly "broken in." Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

It's a perpetual cycle of pitching into a void, punctuated only by intermittent rejection. The fleeting glimmers of hope involve writing, rewriting, and more rewriting, with heaps of work that's never actually seen on the page or afforded any compensation. It's trying to get multiple projects launched simultaneously while they constantly risk stalling out for reasons largely out of your control. It all feels a bit like you're perpetually Charlie Brown hoping Lucy doesn't pull the football away this time. It takes a special fortitude to surrender to this chaos magic, and I admire those who do it as their sole source of income. I have newfound respect for them all. I've learned I'm probably not one of them.

Fortune may favor the bold, but it also favors those with a six-figure day job.

One of the unspoken truths I learned about the industry is that few who claim to work in comics "full time" actually generate what I'd call full time revenue. It only gets whispered about in hushed tones at BarCon, but an alarming number are operating from a position of financial advantage prior to ever engaging with comics. The creators ostensibly "making it" in comics received a substantial inheritance, are subsidized by trust funds, were gifted a house by parents, wisely diversified their writing beyond comics, their partner has a lucrative day job, they themselves have an underlit day job, or some other factor has removed a significant portion of financial pressure.

This observation isn't meant to diminish the quality of work these creators can produce, only to underscore the fact that there are very few who can truly claim to support themselves with comics as their sole source of income. You may work in comics exclusively, but that's not the same thing as it being the sole source of a household income. If I make $10,000/yr. in comics and my partner makes $120,000/yr. at a day job, we're doing fine at 130k total household income, but I probably wouldn't go around bragging about how glorious it is that full time comics are my only income and perpetuate the misconception that they've afforded me my current lifestyle.

In this broken industry, if what you write is published, it's icing - never cake.

I'll qualify this mega-post by saying that I ran my own review site for 10 years, freelanced at 3 other sites for half that time, wrote introductions and bonus content, edited books, staffed signings and events, worked the con circuit, and even had a 3 year DC/Vertigo contract adapting some of my web material to print. I met a lot of people over the course of 10 years! I say all that not to honk my own horn, just to point out that I wasn't 100% new to the industry and that probably gave me a tiny advantage over someone pitching totally cold, and I *still* had an excruciatingly difficult time.

I operated with a 42:6 pitch vs. acceptance ratio. I have no idea if that's "normal," or what more successful writers experience, but as a face value metric, a 14% success rate seems objectively bad. The other factor is that a pitch being "accepted" doesn't really mean anything. I signed contracts and got paid for 6 of the 42 things I pitched, but only 3 were ever published. 50% never saw the light of day, which would chop that 14% down to 7% depending on the definition of "success" being accepted and paid, or actually published. It's proof that you can be a "working" writer generating scraps of revenue, yet remain totally anonymous to the consumer by never having product available.

It's hard to build a body of work, personal brand, or loyal following when your work is invisible.

For example, I was approached about writing a licensed property as part of a large multimedia push. I pitched a 5-issue arc, following another writer on the first arc. It was accepted, I signed a contract, and submitted the first script. I was then informed the book was cancelled due to the first arc's low sales and the contract wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. I spent the next few weeks chasing down my unpaid invoice. It was some of my best work and nobody will ever see it. The studio then announced a movie based on the property. *Shrug*

Pitching is a painfully long process that rarely offers closure. The average editor response time was 3 months, ranging from 1 month to 8 months. It's now 6 years later and I still haven't heard back from 9 editors I pitched to, even when they solicited me, and I stopped following up after multiple attempts. Those would skew the average up, but I don't know how to factor in the data. Microsoft Excel doesn't accept "infinity" into a formula.

I'm just talking about a response of any kind, like a returned email or call. The time it took to get a definitive acceptance or rejection, like a signed contract or a hard pass, averaged closer to 5 months, with a wider range of 1 month to 10 months. Yeah, it was not uncommon to wait nearly a year to get a firm "no," and that's after chasing editors that didn't respond 76% of the time.

To add a sliver of hope, I also tracked metrics for average time from pitch submission to publishing date for those that made it all the way through the gauntlet. The average pitch to publish time was 29 months, with a low of 19 months and a high of 49 months. Yes, one project took a sobering 4 years from the time it was pitched to the time it was actually published. Good luck planning mortgage payments around a 49-month lead time.

It's important to mention the Rights/Royalties/Reversion trifecta and echo that what they say is true. Read the contract! There is no standard for anything, so negotiate everything. For page rate, I always aimed for $75 minimum, with a sweet spot around $100, because I knew pro friends who got $125 to $150 per page, so I tried to realistically plot my own worth. In my limited time at this, my personal range saw wild swings though, coming in anywhere from $15 to $165 per page depending on the project. Whenever I challenged blatant inequity regarding a purported "standard rate," it was always met with some version of "oh well uhh umm that's a special deal just for that person."

On most creator-owned deals, there may be no page rate or up-front money at all, and you'll be working for free initially, with the tease of back-end royalties that may never actually materialize if the print run doesn't earn out. You have to ask what the break-even number is before the book becomes profitable, because if the back-end profit is zero after recouping expenses, you may be entitled to 100% of the profit, but 100% of zero is still zero.

On work-for-hire projects, it's most likely you would be offered a flat page rate vs. back-end royalties, but it could be a combination of the two. When it comes to back-end royalties, be crystal clear on what percentage you're getting in relation to the publisher, and how your percentage may need to be split between the creators, realizing there are different models for single issues and collected editions. Know the difference.

You should also be clear on who owns the work and when that has any applicability. There are companies who claim they offer creator-owned deals, but won't include any reversion triggers in the contract. This effectively locks you into a "forever contract" wherein you grant use of your property to the company to print it, but the rights are never given back to you. Or, if they are, you may only own rights to the printed comic itself and have no rights to the property for adaptation to other media.

There's no standard. Read the contract. Negotiate everything.

I've included specifics below to highlight these issues, but here's a simplified example about royalties and how quickly profit evaporates. Let's say a single issue of a monthly comic makes you $1,000 net profit after earning out of its print run. Sounds good so far! Now, you've signed a creator-owned deal that's a 60/40 split, a realistic scenario. The creative team gets 60% of that profit ($600) and the company gets 40% to cover editorial, production, printing, marketing, and a small profit margin. You've got to chop your 60% up between 4 creators though (writer, artist, colorist, letterer), so splitting that $600 evenly, you just landed yourself $150 for what is ostensibly a month's worth of work. This means you've been working for the slave wage of $0.94/hr., and that's before tax. At the independent contractor income tax rate, you can lop about 40% off that $150 after they 1099 you, so at the end of the tax year you've netted yourself $90 and still don't have any medical benefits or paid time off.

Ready to quit your day job yet? Wheee!

It was far too much headache for far too little compensation, an exercise in diminishing returns all mired in uncertainty. I literally made more in one week at my day job than in the 4 years I spent countless hours on a mini-series. It's undeniably great to see your name in lights and experience the thrill of creating art that will outlive you, putting something tangible into the world containing slivers of your soul YES I AM GENERAL MAXIMUS WHAT WE DO IN LIFE ECHOES IN ETERNITY!!! but I've done the math and I'd have to produce 6 ongoing books every. single. month. FOREVER. selling in the neighborhood of 14,000 to 20,000 copies to survive. I don't think even Bendis or BKV has pulled off that kind of output for a sustained period. It's nowhere near a viable model.

I'll caveat and say that I came up professionally in Silicon Valley in the booming days of the Internet, working more than a decade at one of the largest and most profitable companies on the planet. The general rule was that you respond to email within 24 hours, even if it's just a placeholder to acknowledge someone and set expectations for an actual response. This professional norm does not exist in This Thing Called Comics. I usually gave it a couple weeks and followed up, trying to find the balance between being persistent, but not annoying. I don't think it mattered; they just wouldn't respond.

In the business world, if it took me 8 months to respond to any person, in any job I've ever had, at any company I've ever worked for, regarding any topic whatsoever, I would have been fired. Period. There's no tolerance for that lack of responsiveness. I'm scared for these people to venture out into the real world because they might be shocked by the professional expectations that exist. I saw one creator call out this dynamic in comics, the utter absence of common courtesy, the inhuman communication, the inability to conform to such a basic social tenet as responding to an email, and aptly coin the term "post-professional society," which I instantly rotated into my vocabulary.

It wasn't uncommon to see these same editors posting nonsense on Twitter. Look, I'm not here to tell people how to manage their day. As a manager of people for 25 years, I'm a firm believer that it isn't about hours, but outcomes. Meaning, if your work is getting done, then by all means knock off early, take a two-hour liquid lunch, or zone out on social media. But, when you have stale emails from 6 months ago sitting unanswered in your in-box, I start to lose sympathy for the "I'm really busy" defense when I see you posting cat pictures on Insta. I get that an editor's main focus is to keep the trains running on time, but part of the job is to find trains to run in the first place.

At one point, I was losing steam and started treating it like a big social experiment. I'd just change the title and submit the same pitch to different companies. On two occasions, the identical pitch was approved by one editor, yet I was given useless feedback like "I don't get it" from another. I understand that different houses have different aesthetics, but there's such a huge gulf between WE LOVE IT GREEN LIGHT FROM MAJOR PUBLISHER WE R HORNY 4 UR WORDS and "I don't get it." Maybe it's a lesson in persistence, or timing, or truly different editorial tastes, but Jesus. It all felt so arbitrary.

While we're on the subject: "I don't get it." This is the actual 4-word response I got from an editor, after 8 months of correspondence and me writing full scripts, on spec, at his request. That's it? "I don't get it." I'd rather you just say we have too many in this genre, you're not an established name, anything that would be useful or make sense. Soft characterization? Expository dialogue? Don't like the art? Just say it. Part of your job as an editor is to help me present my work in the best way possible, so tell me how, and cultivate talent. The difference between "I don't get it" and "The hook isn't strong enough" is a negligible time commitment from you, and helps me tremendously.

In addition to developing a thick skin and acclimating to rejection, I also learned to just value my own time. You don't control much in this gaping maw of flim-flam, but you do get to set your personal threshold for the amount of bullshit you're willing to endure. It's okay to say "no." You have that power. I think some companies prey on that, knowing that garden variety fanboys are so desperate to get in, so thirsty for a taste, that they'll jump through any hoop you put in front of them, they'll fucking do anything, and they'll do it for free, dignity be damned, and these assholes chalk it up to being part of the process, "the first test."

But, you don't have to telegraph desperation.

I tried to keep these blurbs objective and factual, but I admit that snark crept in out of sheer frustration. While I don't give a shit about "breaking in" or who I might upset, I washed all the identifiers because I really don't feel like getting into a whole incendiary thing online. It honestly wasn't meant to be Scorched Earth or Naming Names or I Will Burn This Village In Order To Save It, but if anyone wants specific details to help them along, we can talk offline.

Company A
I submitted 3 pitches in January 2015. It moved lightning-fast and by February 2015 they accepted 1 after a title change and a couple revisions to hone the basic premise. It was a creator-owned project and we retained full ownership. I can't stress how rare this is, but we were paid $35,000 up front. Really, this is unheard of! Like, it never happened to me ever again. They were throwing around crazy money. After the three-way creator split, my share was ~$14,000 ($165/page). It was published in mid-2016, so the time from pitching to publishing was 20 months. There were back-end royalties in the contract, but the earn-out threshold was insanely aggressive, so no back-end was ever achieved.

Company B
Company B approached us in November 2016 about a collected edition of the project at Company A. It was accepted in February 2017 after multiple forms and rounds of internal review. We retained ownership. There was no up-front money and, in exchange, it was re-colored, re-lettered, and got a new cover. The contract established back-end royalties at a 60/40 split with Company B. The 60% was split evenly among the 3 creators, so my share was 20%. I received a single $642 royalty check. It was published in July 2018, so the time from pitching to publishing was 19 months.

Company C
I pitched 3 projects in March 2016. I followed up 5 times over the next 5 months, steadily emailing once a month from March 2016 to August 2016. No response. Finally, the editor indicated they would have a formal response by the end of August 2016. After hearing nothing, I followed up 2 times in September 2016. I received a response a month later in October 2016 rejecting all 3 submissions with no other feedback, so the time from pitch to rejection was 7 months.

Company D
This one's a doozy. I pitched 3 projects in January 2016 and by February 2016 the editor was interested in 1, but said the publishing slate was full, and encouraged me to check back in summer to see if they could fit it in. Promising! In June 2016, I dutifully follow up. The editor is no longer interested. I pitch a 4th concept, a crime series. The editor requests a full series outline. I submit it. The editor requests script samples. I know I'm working for free now, but what the hell, it'll force me to write the scripts, so I hammer out a couple and submit them. No response for 2 months. I follow up 2 times in August 2016 and get a note that's it's "very well written," but the editor passes with no explanation. The editor then requests a sci-fi pitch, so I submit a 5th project in August 2016. The editor requests a full series outline in September 2016, which I immediately submit. The editor offers only a single-line email stating "I don't get it." I stop following up. This process takes 8 months. The sci-fi project is later picked up by Company E.

Company E
I pitch 3 projects in February 2016 and they hone right in on the "I don't get it" pitch. I submit an outline for a 5-issue mini-series. I follow up 4 times in the next 4 months from March 2016 to June 2016. No response. In July 2016, I meet with the editor at SDCC. They have some requests. In September 2016, we submit a new title, 3 pages of art, character designs, and the script for issue #1. I follow up 3 times from September 2016 to November 2016. No response. In December 2016, they ask to reduce it to 4 issues, so we revise, submit forms, negotiate terms, and sign contracts. The release date is set for April 2018, about 16 months out. I submit all 4 scripts in July 2017. I invoice, the payment is prompt. In October 2017, the release date is pushed back to July 2018. We're bumped for higher profile talent. In January 2018, the release date is pushed back to August 2018. We're bumped for higher profile talent. In February 2018, the artist has a conflict so the release date is pushed out over a year to July 2019. The artist starts in August 2018, but by July 2019 (11 months later), has completed 2 of the 4 issues. We reset the release date for March 2020, another year out. The total time from pitch to approval is 10 months. The time from pitch to publishing is 49 months. We have full ownership.

There's a tiny sum of advance money and after the 4-way creator split, my rate is $15/page. For singles, we got 100% of back-end profits (my cut is 30%) and the earn-out threshold for #1 is 6,000 copies. We end up selling 9,664 copies. The total sales are around $15,000, but after the publisher deducts all the production costs, backs out the advance, and calcs my 30%, I receive one royalty payment for $205. Another way to parse this is that on the 3,664 copies which were "profitable," I made $.06 per book. SIX. WHOLE. CENTS. I lose $82 in tax on $205, so my actual net take-home from $15,000 in sales is $123.

For the collected edition, we split back-end royalties 60/40 with Company E, so my share of the 60% (which is still 30%) comes out to 18%. We end up selling 1,807 units of the trade during the first quarter of release. Total sales are around $15,000, but after half of that gets nuked with production costs, I get a royalty check for $1,703. This is $.94 per trade, less than a buck profit, on a book that retails for $19.99. I lose $681 in tax, so my actual take-home from $15,000 in sales is $1,022.

If you're curious about other turds in the sausage grinder, when the first issue was solicited I personally called or emailed the top 250 retailers in North America with a personal ask to goose their orders. I got 3 responses. The direct market is ridiculous.

As FOC neared, marketing people at Company E created what looked like a robust press plan with a dozen coordinated articles, interviews, and podcasts. Not a single one was ever done. The only signings or interviews that happened were initiated by me or the artist.

As the release date neared, the artist and I set up signing tours with retailers in our respective areas. I was told about some mysterious "retailer program" that supported signings with swag. I sent 4 requests to 2 of the marketing contacts asking about resources. Nobody ever responded.

I had a retailer committed to a Variant Cover of 1,000 copies, with a hot artist attached. Now, I'm skeptical about the intersection of Variant Covers and the Speculator Market, but when you need to sell 6,000 copies to be profitable, a guaranteed single retailer order of 1,000 is a major play. I was told Company E didn't do Variant Covers. I dropped a major UMM ACTUALLY in disbelief. They DID and still DO. When I pointed out the false claim, I was gaslighted with a bunch of excuses that never explained the "policy."

Not this publisher's fault, but it happened around this time so I'll include it for kicks. With enough published work to meet the criteria, I applied for a pro badge to WonderCon. I applied in November 2019, well before the deadline of January 2020. No response. The web instructions said to email a specific address with your app materials (again) if you didn't receive a response by February 2020. I did exactly that. No response. Ever. I've never seen a more dipshit industry, literally nothing works right.

The string of calamities with this book was capped off by the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the US hard in March 2020. We managed to get issue 1 out just two days before the California lockdown hit and the direct market collapsed around me as I was signing copies. Issues 2-4 and the trade were placed on indefinite hiatus.

Fast forward 2 months to May 2020 and we're informed without any discussion whatsoever that issues 2-4 were cancelled. The whole series would go straight to trade in October 2020. It was nice to have it published in any form, but this meant we'd lose the profits from issues 2-4, which were 100% ours contractually.

It's sad commentary that just two months without product can induce layoffs and cancellations. I don't care if you're a publisher, distributor, or retailer. It's b-school 101, if you can't survive a year without profits then you aren't sufficiently capitalized. This industry is extremely fragile.

It was also a cute move that they applied the production costs for issues 2-4 against the issue 1 royalties. Nothing like incurring publishing debt for something that was never actually published. Ethics aside, it reduced our already small profits by 85%. No warning, just a unilateral decision and a nasty surprise in the royalty statement.

We were still entitled to 60% of the trade profits, but October release meant we'd likely have minimal interest without singles running up to it because nobody would even remember the first and only issue from 7 months prior, before a global pandemic warped everyone's brain. Lost In The Chaos. The Lost Year.

It was hard not to feel like this 4-year debacle was a gigantic fucking waste of time. Honestly, I'd already considered my writing career over in mid-2018 for reasons you'll see with Company R, but this was the nail in the coffin.

Company F

In November 2015, I pitched a work-for-hire project that explored the historical lineage of an A-list character. I put a ton of research into it, plausibly integrating the family into real-world history. We slowly traded emails until February 2016 when the editor cited a very specific reason they couldn't use the treatment. It was odd since they'd had critical success with a similar approach on a different character years prior, so there was precedent. I let it go, but was dismayed to see another writer come along with a different take on the character's family history - not accusing the writer or the company of a swipe by any means - but this other story broke the exact same "rule" cited as barring my project. IF I WAS A MANGA CHARACTER I'D HAVE BIG EXASPERATED EYES AND SEVERAL FLOATING QUESTION MARKS AROUND MY HEAD.

Company G
I pitched 3 projects in April 2016 and by May 2016 there's interest in 2. They essentially say "pick your favorite" and request a series outline, which I submit immediately. I follow up in June 2016 and the editor says it's great, but they weren't taking on new projects. The process took just 2 months. While I want to stress that the editor was super responsive, super pleasant to talk to, and super professional in every interaction, "we're not taking on new projects" never made much sense other than just being an ego-salvaging euphemism for "we're passing." I mean, if you're truly not taking on new projects, then why waste everyone's time and entertain pitches in the first place?

Company H
I made contact in August 2016 and was directed to a long and convoluted set of web submission forms, which I completed the same day (read: a full day's work with no compensation). I followed up a few weeks later and never received a response. The entire interaction was so cold and lifeless that I never bothered to follow up again. That was 56 months ago and I still haven't received any response to my formal submission. CLASSY. I've since heard that Company H is notorious for offering no advance money and then using print runs so low that any back-end earn-out potential is systematically impossible. You read that right. There's no up-front page rate, and there's no royalties, BY DESIGN, so you work entirely for free, infamously "for the exposure." #FartNoise

Company I
This was probably the most annoying experience aside from Company D. I pitch 3 projects in April 2016. I follow up 5 times in the next 5 months from May 2016 to September 2016. No response. In October 2016, I finally got a response that was basically "We're all busy, but I promise someone will respond soon." Fair enough. I wait a month and follow up in November 2016. I suddenly got a Big Manifesto in return giving me status updates on the entire senior staff that ranged from "We're All Busy" to "It's Not My Job" to "This Person Is Out Sick" to "That Person Is On Travel," but "We Promise Someone Will Respond!" It was whiny and angry and unprofessional and just a litany of goofy excuses. This process went on for 7 months, but after that deranged reply, I stopped following up. This took place 5 years ago and needless to say, NOBODY EVER RESPONDED. It was just so off-putting and remains laughably emblematic of my time pitching and the level of professionalism encountered. It never felt like I was dealing with professional editors or business people, just jumped-up fanboys.

Company J
This is a project that never saw the light of day. In May 2016, I was approached about developing a treatment for a licensed property with a big studio attached. We're talking household names. It involved modernization of old literary characters and required tons of research. I was buying used novels and shit, spending days reading the source material. I developed the treatment, outlined 3 story arcs, and it was accepted in June 2016. It was a huge opportunity and I was ecstatic! I negotiated a $75 page rate up to $100. I signed a contract. I was asked for a list of interior artists. They locked in my first choice! There was a classic industry name on covers, like an Art God. It was insane! I submit the first script. I invoice. Payment is prompt. I start the second script. There were plans to announce at NYCC, even fly me out from California! THEN IT WENT DARK. The editor went MIA. The artist stopped. NYCC came and went in October 2016. I follow up twice in November 2016. No response. The crickets were chirping. I let it go.

It's now a *full year* later, May 2017, and the editor contacts me out of the blue. IT'S WHITE HOT. They're scrambling. The studio wants a video game treatment, which I've never done(!), and I only have 24 hours(!!), but I can name my price(!!!). I pull an all-nighter and submit the next day. "It's exactly what we're looking for!" I invoice. I get paid. THEN IT WENT DARK. Zero Activity.

I'm stressing with italicized text that more than another *full year* goes by with absolute radio silence. It's September 2018. The editor contacts me out of the blue, it rhymes with deja vu. WE'RE BACK BABY. Now they want to pitch a TV pilot and need a screenplay. They're in panic mode. "You know the characters best! Are you interested?!" No, not really. Y'all just cryin' wolf. I politely pass and recommend two other writers.

You probably thought it was over, but it's not because I'm using italics again, and after *7 more months* the editor contacts me out of fucking nowhere. It's April 2019. They have a lettering proof of the first issue I wrote 3 YEARS AGO and want me to finish all the scripts in the first arc. I'm over it, but luckily LIKE DOC MANHATTAN SAYING HE DID IT 35 MINUTES AGO I'd already written the full first arc back when I turned in the first issue 3 years prior. I dust off the remaining scripts and submit everything in May 2019.

I also invoice, but for some inexplicable reason it takes 4 months to get paid after literally 16 emails about bank routing and tax ID numbers and so-and-so from accounting being The Only Guy In The Whole Company Who Is Apparently Authorized To Cut A Check But Sorry He's On Vacation They've Had All My Info On File For 3 Years And This Has Never Been A Problem Before Well Hey There Goof Just Following Up Again Gee Sorry I Thought That Was Already Resolved Gawrsh Mick I Guess Accounting Is Having A Hard Time Writing A Check Ah-Hyuck! Hyuck! BUT FOR FUCK'S SAKE IT'S A FAIRLY SIGNIFICANT 4-FIGURE SUM SO JUST GIMME THE FUCKING MONEY "MORRIE'S WIGS DON'T COME OFF! EVEN IN HURRICANE WINDS!" GOD I HATE THIS DUMB INDUSTRY YEAH SEX IS GREAT BUT HAVE YOU EVER BEEN PAID ON TIME AS A FREELANCER SEND TWEET. *Gasps For Air* This all started about 5 years ago. The comic was never announced. The video game never came out. The TV show never happened. *Shrug*

Company K
I pitched a thing in September 2016. They "love" the artist and immediately ask for a series outline, which I submit within days, along with a set of character designs. I follow up in October 2016. No response. In November 2016, we get positive feedback, but were told the schedule was full, please check back in April 2017 for inclusion in the next wave of titles. I follow up in April 2017. No response. I follow up in May 2017. We're informed the second wave is full, but they request 2 more pitches. I immediately submit those. No response for the next 2 months. I meet with them at SDCC in July 2017. The EIC I've been corresponding with for nearly a year gives no feedback on the 2 additional pitches he requested, sharts out some vague mumble-mouth word collage, and gives me the coldest of cold shoulders in person. I was so disgusted. After this process dragging on for 10 months, I discontinue follow up. I've received zero comm in the 45 months since, but I entertain myself by passing by their booth every year at SDCC to see this chad do a double-take of recognition and then quickly avert his gaze. CAN YOU ACT LIKE A MAN PLEASE. It's so weak and unprofessional to just ghost someone. I mean, is being direct such a lost art, is it really too much to ask for a definitive "no," to not leave people hanging until the end of time?

Company L

I was solicited, so I pitched 1 thing in September 2016. No response. I wait a month and follow up in October 2016. No response. I wait a month and follow up in November 2016. No response. I'm losing steam. I stop following up. I've never received a response.

Company M
I met the EIC at a signing I worked in January 2017 and was solicited to pitch. I've heard from credible sources that Company M has low page rates (~$30), that the reversion triggers in their contracts are problematic, and have straight up been told "they're crooks." It's why I never approached them in the first place. *Sigh* But, it's flattering to be asked! The EIC seems nice! I take a gamble. In February 2017, I send 1 pitch to the EIC. He responds a week later and directs me to cold submission guidelines on the web. I thought I was networking, but got diverted to a bunch of bureaucratic sludge. There are multiple documents required, like they literally want me to write a white paper on marketing strategy and build financial models (hello, I'm a writer, I didn't come for the math - that's your job), for a book that metrics tell me there's only a 7% chance they'll publish anyway, with no up-front money, and a dodgy contract, AND they want 5 fully rendered pages of art. This means the artist would have to work for free, for a week, just to upload this cold submission. This is dumb to me because the artist is CURRENTLY DOING A BOOK FOR THE SAME COMPANY. They know his work. They clearly like his work. They're publishing his work. I'm so burnt at this point. The bullshit meter is tingling. Fuck it, I was solicited. I sent a professional email devoid of all this attitude, mention that the artist is currently doing book X for them, so I have submitted pitch Y with artist Z attached, and it would be swell if he could just give the pitch a 5-minute look and see if it piques his interest, then I'd be happy to complete the forms, so we don't waste everyone's time. Crickets. That was 51 months ago.

Company N
I was personally introduced to the EIC by an artist who had previously done work for them. In October 2016, I contact the EIC and ask if it's ok to send in a pitch or two with said artist already attached. I've never received a response.

Company O
I was personally introduced to the EIC by an artist who was currently doing work for them. In December 2017, I contact the EIC and ask if it's ok to send in a pitch or two with said artist already attached. I've never received a response. Is there an echo in here? Hello?

Company P
The intel I've gathered on Company P isn't flattering. Remember the 3 R's? Rights/Royalties/Reversion. They automatically take 50% of the royalties AND the rights. This means you instantly lose half the profit, assuming there is any. It also means you only "own" 50% of your "creator-owned" project. Do words mean things? I don't know. You also contractually forfeit all media rights, so you only "own" 50% of the comic. Company P can do whatever they want with the property you supposedly "own" in terms of adaptation to other media, and you're frozen out of both the decision-making process and the financials without the rights ever reverting back. THIS SHIT IS BUCK WILD. It's basically one of those "forever contracts" I mentioned. It's staggering what a disadvantage this puts creators at, but I still see people signing deals with them all the time! I'm clearly a glutton for punishment, so I pitch something in November 2015. I get feedback in December 2015 that they like it, but they're not commissioning any new work unless you're an established name. THEN WHY DID U ACCEPT THE PITCH IN THE FIRST PLACE DID U THINK I WAS A MORE FAMOUS WRITER IN DISGUISE.

Company Q
I don't mind saying this was a Big Two project I pitched in January 2018, an idea I'd been sitting on forever that nobody has explored after 50 years of continuity. It basically took a B-list character who's had a few mediocre series since the 70's, weaves in an A-list character, and events transpire that position the B-lister as one of the most important figures in the shared universe. I finally got my dream artist and colorist both lined up, and a door finally opened with the right editor, who perked right up after seeing the series outline and sweeping scope. It was actually happening, the stars had miraculously aligned! In March 2018, I got an informal verbal approval and right as I thought we'd move to signing contracts and chalk it up as GREEN, we suddenly got a fickle email basically saying "yeah thanks for playing, but we're going in a different direction." I asked about reworking the pitch or taking a shot at other work-for-hire characters not currently in play. I never got a response. *Whoosh* The door just closed.

Company R
This is the earlier story about being hired to write issues 6-10 of a popular licensed property and the book getting cancelled after issue 5. I was approached in March 2018, signed a contract, submitted the arc outline, turned in the first script, had everything approved and rolling, and by May 2018 it was over. It was like being launched off an aircraft carrier, only to realize the second you've cleared the deck that you've got a flame out and have to immediately ditch in the drink. TALK TO ME GOOSE. These two months wrecked my emotions. Instead of it becoming my third big published project and feeling like I was getting any traction (three points make a trend!), I interpreted it as a herald of the end, a sign that this comic book thing just wasn't going to work out. It sucked every ounce of oxygen and momentum right out of the room. While I did finally get paid, the page rate was low ($40), which was around half of what writer X made on the first arc. I challenged the number and was told it was the "standard rate." I questioned how it could be "standard" if writer X was paid twice as much. I was told it was the "standard rate" for "new" writers. I asked to clarify what "new" meant, explaining that although I was relatively unknown (a real shit-eating exercise), I had published work at 3 other companies. Their definition of "new" was "new to them," as in never worked for Company R before. I pointed out that writer X never worked for Company R before either. AND SO ON AND SO FORTH WITH THE CIRCULAR MOVING-TARGET LOGIC. There was no standard. There were no business rules. They were just playing low-ball. They'd offer the cheapest rate they could get away with because most entry-level writers won't challenge the "standard rate" doctrine or aren't in a position to compare notes with other creators. The editor was super nice despite my frustration, so at the end I asked about pitching creator-owned work, was given a polite no, and in return was offered work on 3 other C-list licensed books with that bargain basement page rate, titles which are so low-rent that I turned them all down. It felt good to say no. Don't Telegraph Desperation. (If you want to play a guessing game, the licensed books they offered me were: *******T*, and **E, and ***** ******S).

Company S
I met with Company S at SDCC in July 2018 and they were eager to hear a pitch. I submitted it 1 week later, and 2 weeks later it was rejected. While they're complimentary of my writing, they cited logical reasons why it might not be a good fit. Their response was prompt, they offered substantive feedback, and they were very professional in all dealings, both in person and over email. If you're going to get rejected, this is the way to do it. See, it's not that hard! All you other editors should take notes!

Company T
In May 2016, I pitched 1 idea despite warnings not to. "The lowest page rates in the industry," according to one creator. I was cautioned to expect $20/page, if anything at all. In some cases, there was no advance money and the print runs were so low that any back-end earn-out was impossible, so you basically never got paid anything. Do work for Company T "only if you're trying to get your name out there and get published work of any kind," one creator advised. Yup, it's the e-word again. EXPOSURE. This was nearly 5 years ago. I've never gotten a response.

Company U
I lobbed 1 pitch at them in November 2019. Spoiler Alert. No Response. If you're going to call for open submissions, perhaps be prepared to respond? If you have no intention of responding to formal submissions, maybe add some verbiage on your web-site to set expectations? CALL ME CRAZY FOR WANTING A BASIC PROCESS IN PLACE BUT ARE YOU TRYING TO RUN A REAL BUSINESS HERE OR A FUCKING WEEKEND GARAGE SALE.

Company V
In January 2020, I pitched 2 things to an editor I'd been in touch with a few years. At this point, you can probably guess the most predictable outcome. I never got a response. Like, we were *just* trading emails, back and forth, back and forth, nice and easy, and the *second* I hit send on the pitches they requested, it's like some weird editorial autonomic response kicks in, the communication just DROPS, and I'm being ghosted. WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING. I never followed up, because I honestly don't give a shit.

Company W
I picked up a couple books from this new company in November 2020 that had good production values and a dark aesthetic - something I not only respond to personally, but thought would suit the specific feel of a pitch I had. After checking the submission guidelines, I spent a couple hours tweaking the pitch document, filling out the forms, mentioned all the published work I had, the published work of the A-list artist attached to the project, and uploaded all the materials to their site. After forgetting all about it, I got a cryptic email 5 months later saying the pitch had gotten "a lot of interest" and they requested "more." More? So I sent "more." More information. More character designs. More scripts. [KYLO REN MEME]: "MORE! MORE!! MORE!!!" I never heard from them again.

Company X
I'd previously scouted out the submission guidelines at Company X and their site indicated submissions were closed. Coincidentally, I met one of the big shots from this small publisher at an industry function in early 2021 and got to talking. By this time, I was no longer actively pitching, having mentally "quit" already, but he asked me to pitch. It's an addictive feeling. I emailed the pitch for the one idea I most wanted to get done, laced it with character designs from a hot artist who was on the rise, and big shot responded, indicating I had to go through online submission. I checked the site again like a dog chasing its own tail, thinking maybe the guidelines had changed, only to find that Company X was... still... not... accepting... submissions? COOL COOL COOL. Glad to see you're all on the same page.

Company Y
I was introduced to the EIC by an artist friend in April 2019 because Company Y was starting a new line and wanted pitches. I immediately filled out their submission forms with the artist attached, included character designs for extra juice, uploaded to the site, and followed up directly with the EIC. Miraculously, he responded the same day, but with interest best described as passionate ambivalence. He seemed bored by the genre, and insulted one of the themes, but said if we were willing to change a specific element, they could probably approve it. I wasn't holding my breath. Nevertheless, I changed what was requested and resubmitted within two weeks. No response. I followed up a month later in May 2019. No response. I never heard from them again. I was amused to see a press release soon after, indicating that the EIC approved a project written by his girlfriend. Hey, I'm sure it's not a conflict of interest to hire someone you're fucking. In the business world, if I hired a family member or my partner, I'd be terminated for violating any number of policies, including the Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics. [THE ARISTOCRATS VOICE]: "THE COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!"

That’s it. I know I have not been brief, dear reader. Maybe it was cathartic. Maybe this is what every writer experiences. Maybe I wasn't that good. I've tried every explanation I can think of, but they're all just excuses that don't justify these horrendous practices.

Walking away in disgust isn't the same thing as apathy.

In summary, I’d say my time pitching and writing comics was 1/3 enjoyable, 1/3 anticlimactic, and 1/3 unsustainable, all awash in a murky sea of industrial ineptitude. As always, thanks for reading.


Post a Comment

<< Home