Four Secrets to Succeed in Publishing

I had a great time at Stumptown Comics Fest this year!  There were tons of cool people, a bunch of great comics and I tricked George Rohac into doing a panel with me.

On the off chance you aren’t familiar with Mr. Rohac, George is the Operations Director at Oni Press & one of the hardest working men in comics.  George has the comics business in his very marrow and he’s ridiculously good at what he does.

We discussed four skills we think are absolutely essential if you want to succeed in the publishing world; they’re also important and helpful if you’re a freelancer.  If you read the blog regularly, you might find them a tad familiar.

1. Read the Contract

A contract is a story.  It tells you what you and the other party are going to do together, what you both hope will happen, and how you’ll take care of things if it doesn’t work out.  If you want your relationship with the other party to be successful, you need to understand that story.

Image from Parker Public Library

Moreover, your publisher will expect that you’ve read through the contract and that you understand it.   It’s embarrassing to ask a question that’s answered, in bold, on the front page of the contract. And it will make your publisher wonder how much they can trust to you pay attention to details.

It seems like very basic advice, but George and I have seen too many situations where relationships could have been saved and frustrations avoided if everyone had just read the contract in the beginning.

We both agreed that you should lawyer up and get the advice of a professional if either of these two situations arise:

> You don’t understand the contract and when you ask questions of the publisher, you aren’t getting answers.  Any reputable publisher wants you to understand the deal you’re entering into and will work with you to make sure you understand what you’re signing.

> The contract is talking about what happens to your rights beyond the deal.  For instance, if you’re signing a contract for a book to be published and the contract talks about what will happen if a movie gets made: talk to a lawyer. Language like “worldwide” and “in perpetuity” are red flags that should warn you to talk to an attorney.

2. Ask Questions!

Questions are the cheapest, easiest way to succeed in business.  Questions get you information and information can help you make better decisions.  You absolutely must get in the habit of asking questions if you want to be successful.

Many people think that asking questions can make you appear amateurish, uninformed  or put you in a weaker position when negotiating. They get intimidated out of asking questions.  Good publishers will welcome your questions and interpret your curiosity as evidence of how seriously you’re taking the relationship.

It’s also important to ask questions of your co-creators.  The law assumes you’ll both own the copyright 50/50 if you produce something together, but is that what you want?  What would you want to do if the story were turned into a movie?  If a character design were licensed for merchandise?

Ask each other questions about what you’d want to do if your greatest hopes were realized and if the project is a disaster.  It’s a hard conversation but it’s a lot easier when you’re in a place where the relationship is strong and neither of you feel pressured to make a decision.

3. Be Accountable and Keep Others Accountable

As I discussed in my last post, accountability is incredibly important to a healthy working relationship.  If you fall behind and don’t address it with your publisher or you let “little things” they do slip by without addressing them, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt.

In publishing there are a lot of other tasks that are dependent on the timeline laid out in the contract.  If you don’t keep each other accountable to what you’ve agreed to, you run the risk of putting the potential success of your project in jeopardy.

If something you’ve agreed to in a contract becomes a problem, talk with your editor as soon as possible.  They’ll work with you to figure out how best to address it and they’ll really appreciate you coming to them before anything happens.

4. Don’t be a dick.

Wheaton’s Law holds true in publishing, too.  Comics is a tiny community.  If you’re a dick to one person, other people will find out.  Not “might”: will.  Make your reputation be about your work, not a shitty attitude.

(c) Paramount Pictures

Don’t be a dick to someone in the accounting department and the most delightful, polite princess to your editor.  Those people work together and they talk; you won’t get away with it.  I used to do the hiring at one of my former jobs and I would always ask the receptionist how the interviewee treated her; if she gave the thumbs down, the person did not get hired.

Don’t tell Twitter and Facebook how much your editor/publisher/the guy in IT sucks if you hit a rough patch in the relationship.  The internet is public; your editor and publisher have eyes and can read what you write.  If you wouldn’t say what you’re writing to their face, don’t post it.  Especially don’t do this if you haven’t talked to the person you’re having problems with first.

You can bitch when things are frustrating, just do it with friends in a way that isn’t public.  The more successful you get, the less privacy you’ll have on the interwebs.  Regardless of whether that’s fair, it’s how things go here in The Future.

By artnchicken via Flickr.com

Thanks to everyone who came to the panel and asked great questions.  See y’all next year!

Categories: Making Sense of Contracts

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Tags: Comics & Art, communication, Contracts, Freelance, practical advice


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