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Thread: Week 44: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 44: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

    Itís Tuesday, the sun is shining, and Iím having an English breakfast tea. Yes, I am a teetotaler, and there are fewer beverages that are finer on a Tuesday morn. Iíll think about breakfast later. Right now, itís time for some Bolts & Nuts!

    This week, I thought weíd spend some time talking about putting the cart before the horse. When weíre at the beginning of our careers, the only things we can think of are getting to write the X-Men or the Justice League, and telling that story that will redefine the book for the next millennium. Even if you think that you donít want to work for Marvel/DC, there are few of us who didnít get their start in wanting to write for them. For the vast majority of us, thatís where we wanted to end up when we first started, and thatís where we want to end up still.

    Then, after doing some research and realizing that you wonít get to walk the hallowed halls of Marvel/DC without being part of a tour, you decided to create your own heroes and stories, with thoughts of converting them into movies, cartoons, lunchboxes and mugs, controlling it all and making a fabillion dollars. Who doesnít want to have their epic tale of the Winter and Summer solstices falling deeply in love, only to have it unrequited because they could never meet turned into a movie and a line of clothes? Who doesnít want fortune, fame, and groupies?

    Thatís the goal, right? Well, you also have to create the book, and youíre going through every avenue you can think of in order to get information on publishing through a place like Image. You want to know what the ďImage dealĒ is, and if itís right for you. Why waste your time if itís not something you want to go through, right? You want to know all of the ins and outs, and you want to know it RIGHT NOW.

    And this is what I mean by putting the cart before the horse. Image deal to movies and fortune and fame, with no stops of obscurity in between. Obscurity is for everyone else, not for you!

    Right.

    Iím going to ask you a question, simply asked and simply answered: what have you produced? You only have two answers: a list of things youíve produced, or nothing. Those are the only two acceptable answers. I hate to say it, but anything in-between is crap. It doesnít count, because you can be ďworking onĒ something forever. Until itís in a place where someone can read it, itís nothing. It doesnít count. Itís crap.

    And this is where a lot of you are at. Youíre too busy ďgathering informationĒ to actually produce anything. Sad, but true. I was there for a long time myself, so believe me when I tell you that I know.

    Instead of spending time ďgathering information,Ē I suggest you get off your duff and start creating. (Steven! Youíve been telling us for months now to study the craft. Now youíre telling us just to do it? What gives?)

    Studying craft is one thing. That hones your abilities and hopefully makes you a better creator. Iím not saying not to study your craft. You MUST study your craft if you hope to one day get that fame and fortune [and groupies].

    However, most of the ďinformation gatheringĒ that is done is actually you just standing in place, waiting to be discovered. Getting into comics isnít something that someone is going to just hand to you. You have to create, and after youíve created, youíve got to put yourself in a position to get your creations seen. Gathering information isnít going to do that for you. You can gather information for months, and then itíll change on you from one project to another, one month to another. In some respects, gathering information is only good for RIGHT NOW, and not something that can be counted on to be the same three months from now.

    Youíre worried about sales figures, youíre worried about getting into Diamond, youíre worried about getting into Image or self-publishing. Youíre worried about someone stealing your ideas, youíre worried about submitting, youíre worried about splitting the money. Youíre worried about everything BUT actually creating the comic.

    Bass-ackwards, but you donít really realize that. Youíre too worried about being worried to notice. Youíre too busy dreaming of having the next 30 Days of Night on your hands, with the million-dollar payday for the option, and then actually getting it produced into a moderately successful film. Thatís all well and good, but whereís the comic? Whereís the product thatís going to make you into a millionaire?

    In your head, where itís doing you no good.

    So, what to do, what to do? You want to know the secret, donít you. You want to know how to get Pen-Man onto the big screen, so you can be a power-player and have all kinds of companies bowing at your feet, ready to green-light any idea you happen to come up with, simply because you thought of it. You want to have companies riding your coattails to prosperity. You want it all. Youíve dreamed of it for the past three months, and you deserve it, becauseÖitís your density. [Movie reference!]

    You have to create. Not just create: you have to have your best ideas put into a crappy script, bolstered with substandard art, and then you have to submit to a company, only to be rejected with a nice form letter, if you even hear from the company at all. Then, you have to do it again, this time with a little more knowledge under your belt, and youíre actually paying for the artwork. You have to create, go broke, sacrifice, and git Ďer done in order to have a chance of realizing your dream, whatever that may be.

    You have to stop putting the cart before the horse. (HOW?! Tell me how!)

    Calmly. Calmly. Here is what I suggest you do.

    Continue to study your craft, honing it. Tell lots of OTHER stories before you try to tackle your opus. Iíve found that, unless you have an editor, once youíve written something down, itís pretty much locked into that form. You can try to make it into something else, but the form itself is going to stay the same. Getting out of your head and into a different space about the story can be difficult. Thatís why I suggest leaving the opus alone in favor of other stories that will help sharpen your storytelling skills.

    While youíre doing that, SAVE YOUR MONEY. Youíre going to need to hire an entire creative team many times over before you get to your Pen-Man opus. Remember what I said about going broke and sacrifice? Right here is where itís at. Get used to it.

    Submit. Now, thereís a few things I want to tell you about the submissions process.

    Get out of your head about it. Thatís first. A lot of you make submitting your projects a LOT harder than they need to be. You either think too hard about it, not just trying to get things ďperfect,Ē but to trying to plug any and all holes before you actually send the submission in; or you donít listen to the guidelines and just send things in willy-nilly.

    Some thoughts about the over-thinking: donít. Follow the submission guidelines to a T. Theyíre there for a reason. There should be few questions to be asked when sending in a submission. To my mind, questions mean that youíre over-thinking. Letís take an example:

    Image comics says they want to see no less than five pages, plus a mock cover image. You can send in more, but donít send in less. They also want to see a synopsis/pitch, the shorter the better, and they donít want you to spend a mint on frivolous things like colored folders and laminated pages and so on and so forth.

    Simple and straightforward, on the surface. Simple and straightforward underneath, too. However, if you go to the forums and read the FAQ for submitting, youíll see all kinds of questions trying to cover every base. Thereís no reason for it! Send in the five pages they ask for. If you have more, send more. If you have a graphic novel and itís done, send it. If you have more but only want to send in the five, do that. Donít ask questions about it. Asking questions when things are simple on the surface means that youíve thought to hard about it.

    I see lots of the same questions pop up about this over and over again. That means thereís a lot of over-thinking out there. You want to over-think something, make sure that your submission is up to snuff. Make sure that youíre following the directions. Make them do any rejections necessary based on the work done, not because you were sleeping at the wheel and didnít follow directions. Think of it as a test, because it is.

    Letís talk about a really recent example. Over at The Proving Grounds, I have pretty specific rules for what I do and do not want when a script is submitted to me. Itís right there in the welcome and rules, and I spell out whatís going to happen if you donít follow my rules: nothing. Nothing is going to happen. You donít follow the rules, then nothing happens. I donít edit the script, and I donít tell you why. Itís laid out in simple language: if you send me something other than what I ask, that means you donít know how to listen, and Iím not going to bother to correct you.

    The rules are pretty simple, with only a single hoop to jump through. I put the hoop in there purposefully; to make sure youíre listening. I made sure it was a small hoop, manageable by all, and that it was something germane to me.

    Yes, a few of the writers failed to make it. One saw their mistake almost immediately and fixed the submission, and two I pointed in the right direction, without giving it away.

    My point? If you canít follow a simple direction when submitting a script to me for editing, what does that say for your ability to put together a submission package? This is pretty serious, because one does follow the other.

    So youíre either over-thinking, or youíre not following directions. Worse case scenario? Youíre over-thinking while not following directions.

    The only time you actually have to worry about anything is if you get a publishing deal [with the caveat being that youíre not self-publishing]. After you get the publishing deal, then all new sets of worries open up for you. Things you havenít even dreamt of yet.

    But the sad truth is that most of you arenít going to get there. (Doom and gloom much?) Nope. Just saying that, in one way or another, your stories arenít publishable for the most part. Either art or story, if not both. Sorry. (Great. Should I give up now?) Only if you want to be a damned dirty quitter. But if you want to reach the promised land, you have to either have a publishable story [story & art] or you have to self-publish. But, again, the only time you have to worry about fame and fortune and sell-outs at the distributor level [and groupies] is when you create.

    If youíre not creating, youíre sitting on the sidelines, wishing.

    If youíre not following through to the finish and putting yourself out there, then youíre not being serious about it. If you want the fame and fortune (and groupies! See? Paying attention.), you have no choice but to be serious about it.

    If youíre putting the cart before the horse, youíve already failed.

    The dream is nice, and itís something to keep in mind, but you have to put in the work first. If youíre adverse to hard work and lots of it, go into something else. Comics is something you do for the love, first and foremost, with the hopes of breaking even coming in second.

    Homework: go create! Get off your duff, and start creating all kinds of stories. Simple, and hard, ainít it?

    See you next week.



  2. Join Date
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    Forby, another great article, and one that I personally know apllies (at least in part) to me.

    Anyway, I'll post a reply later, I'm still researching what to say and how to say it. But, I've been working on this response for quite some time now, and I think it's really going to change the way people view reply posts for the next millenium!


    :cool:
    Last edited by SebastianPiccione; Tuesday, June 09, 2009 at 10:40 PM.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  3. Sliverbane Guest

    Yes, I used to be very worried about someone stealing my ideas...

    I realized even the published stuff gets 'stolen - copied - regurgitated' at some point.

    Early on I felt I was rushing toward some urgent deadline for publishing something. I took a moment and looked at some of my favorite creators. Many didn't hit on the 'big one' until their mid 30's. At the time I was a 20 year old going nuts over 'I haven't done anything amazing yet!' What's the hurry? Anyhow....

    Time to create.



  4. AdamH Guest

    and two I pointed in the right direction, without giving it away.
    I know one of those poor ignorant bastards...oh wait...that was me.

    Anyways, another great column as usual.

    I'm still waiting to hear from John Lees about my lucrative "pre-editor editor" position I offered him...

    - Adam



  5. StevenForbes Guest

    Thanks, everyone. I appreciate it.

    And yes, I did a lot of this myself. Really, the only thing for it is just to do it. Do it, make the mistakes, and learn from them. Get out of your head about it and just do it.

    And yes, Seb, I'll be waiting for that "proper response...." :mad:



  6. gwilliams Guest

    haha oh man I can totally agree with the whole Image forums discussion thing. I actually sat through and read at least half of the submissions guideline post (kinda silly in hindsight) until my head bled from banging it against my desk.

    I haven't submitted anything to them yet but it's NOT THAT HARD to understand the directions. I don't know why so many people have issues with that.



  7. rhannah Guest

    Yay. Advice I didn't need for a change. I am already creating first. However, I did do research out of interest to understand what sort of options existed for getting published and costs involved, plus I have friends who have published through Image, Alterna and IDW. I know this is a world where what you've done matters more than what you will do. So right now thumb layouts are being drawn by my PAID artist for my first ever comic book. I will keep you all posted. :-)

    To me, making this comic is an investment in order to get into the writing game. You have to start somewhere, and a finished 22 page comic, done professionally is a good way to start. If it turns out that it sucks... so be it. But I'm not sitting on a fence getting old. I'm doing this now. :-)



  8. drgerb Guest

    BACK TO THE FUTURE!!!! Gah, I saw that whole trilogy on sale once for $19.99 and I didn't buy it. That's one movie worth the price rather than just stealing it off the internet.. Hmph...

    'Asking questions when things are simple on the surface means that youíve thought to hard about it.'

    Either that or you're just too stupid. Totally agree with the whole submission bit. I've been keeping up with the Image submissions forum for ages, and so many guys who know basically nothing come in and ask all the same questions over and over. Read 10 pages of the 80ish page thread and you've read them all. Usually when someone 'up there' (editors, creators, writers) come in and give their two cents, it's cause someone was so insistant that THEY were right and Image or whoever was trying to tell them how it is was wrong. Just lame. Follow the guidelines and if you're good enough you'll hear back. If you're worse than you think you are, you won't. Go back to the board and get better. It's a simple theory, really.

    I also agree with the article. Bleh. I've been working on all these future *great* huge ideas for 12-16 issue miniseries to destroy the public notion of what makes a superhero, big 10 issue series about what makes a zombie story, challenging people's beliefs, making people question themselves...

    But the truth is I'm right where you said; nothing. Nothing's done yet. I've just got a handful of ideas.


    I think the best way to start is just to go with it. As you said, don't focus on your 24 issue series about this or that. Start with a 4 page short. When you can safely say you made a few decent 4 page stories in your lifetime, go to 8, to 16, eventually an entire one shot. Then a 4 issue series... Then another one shot... Then when you're all ready go write your world changing story.

    It's just a ladder. Everything is. Comic books, a professional sports career, being a doctor, this or that. Nobody can just jump really high and land on the top step. Not even da Vinci did that; He had years of training. You gotta start out at the bottom and slowly move up.



  9. JohnLees Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenForbes View Post
    Continue to study your craft, honing it. Tell lots of OTHER stories before you try to tackle your opus. I’ve found that, unless you have an editor, once you’ve written something down, it’s pretty much locked into that form. You can try to make it into something else, but the form itself is going to stay the same. Getting out of your head and into a different space about the story can be difficult. That’s why I suggest leaving the opus alone in favor of other stories that will help sharpen your storytelling skills.
    Quote Originally Posted by drgerb View Post
    I also agree with the article. Bleh. I've been working on all these future *great* huge ideas for 12-16 issue miniseries to destroy the public notion of what makes a superhero, big 10 issue series about what makes a zombie story, challenging people's beliefs, making people question themselves...

    But the truth is I'm right where you said; nothing. Nothing's done yet. I've just got a handful of ideas.

    I think the best way to start is just to go with it. As you said, don't focus on your 24 issue series about this or that. Start with a 4 page short. When you can safely say you made a few decent 4 page stories in your lifetime, go to 8, to 16, eventually an entire one shot. Then a 4 issue series... Then another one shot... Then when you're all ready go write your world changing story.

    It's just a ladder. Everything is. Comic books, a professional sports career, being a doctor, this or that. Nobody can just jump really high and land on the top step. Not even da Vinci did that; He had years of training. You gotta start out at the bottom and slowly move up.

    I think this issue brings up an interesting tension, though. Couldn't it be possible that the need to stop procrastinating and CREATE clashes with the idea of holding back on your best idea and doing other stuff to hone your craft?

    I can definitely see the reasoning behind it. If you have this amazing idea in your head, why throw it away on some poorly-executed learning experience that no one will read? But at the same time, I feel I'd have a problem with having a great idea, but sitting on it and pumping out stuff that isn't as good, that I'm less passionate about, just to be writing? I mean, so much of the advice we've been given in Bolts & Nuts (as well as my own feelings on writing) would suggest that you aren't putting your absolute best into a story, then what business do you have submitting it for publication?

    I'd like to think that, as writers, we've all got a lot of learning to do now. Our best idea now is not necessarily the best idea we're ever going to have. But if you hold back on that idea, don't write it down, let it just sit there in your head as The Big Idea while you spin your wheels writing lesser stories all to lay the groundwork for your opus, aren't you stalling your progress as a writer? Aren't you stalling that "go out there and create?" mentality? You're essentially limiting yourself, setting one story you've already got as your big aspiration.

    Surely if you take that "get creating" attitude, and apply it to the Big Idea in your head - turning it into something tangible and workable, and getting it out there - then that provides an incentive to move forward as a writer, keep on coming up with bigger and better ideas, growing rather than stagnating?



  10. AdamH Guest

    It's an interesting point you bring up John.

    I'm either lucky in that respect, horribly short-sighted, or I haven't come up with a "big idea" yet.

    I want to write a great story, my magnum opus, but I have no idea what it's going to be yet. At this point I come up with ideas, I develop stories, but I don't know which one could be "the big one". My way of thinking is not to put too much "pressure" on one idea and work just as hard as you can on every idea.

    I feel I can do this because I have a filtering process for my story ideas. I'll let small story ideas "simmer" in my head for a while. Over time I'll come back and mentally add to them. When I feel like the idea gets big enough (story idea, a few character ideas, one or two plot arcs), I'll actually write it down.

    I personally think if you have a "big idea", like this idea will be "the one", then it's big enough to put down on paper, even if it's just in the form of a rough plot outline. Maybe you work on it and develop it feverishly after you get it out on paper, maybe you get it out on paper, then put it away for a while. In either case, this idea was good enough to get as far as the "putting it down on paper" stage of the creation process.

    - Adam



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