It’s dangerous to go alone. If you have any questions, requests, feedback or donations for Shane, I’d love to hear from you.
I can’t believe it’s only been a year since the release of The Lesser Evil (Book 3). Re-reading this old blog post was like a trip in a time machine to a past so distant that it might as well exist only in concept.
The last twelve months have been huge. Amazing, difficult, hectic. And productive. Extremely productive.
Here’s a rundown.
My son Liam was born, much as planned. He’s a beautiful, happy, bouncing baby boy who has a deep love of life… and an even deeper love of mischief. The gorgeous and brilliant Annie is now past her third birthday, and has started preschool. She loves telling stories and asking questions (I hope she never loses either habit). Katie is busy at home with the two of them, and is about to start studying part-time next semester. I’m still working full-time.
We have big dreams, little money. We’ve toyed with moving to the country, renovating our current house, selling our current house and buying elsewhere in Canberra, many times in the last twelve months. At this stage, though, nothing has happened. And each time things calm down, we realise that we’re happy where we are.
I hit up Oz Comic Con again this year. See here for my wall of text write-up. Marketing The Lesser Evil is a job that never ends, and one that I can never devote enough time to. Thankfully, in the last year, several people have been kind enough to take some of the burden upon themselves by writing reviews. This one is my favourite, and I approached the author of the review to proof my then-WIP Peaceful Tomorrows.
At this time last year, I’d completed about 300 pages of what was then known as Death’s Feast, the sequel to The Lesser Evil. That book – all 568 pages of it – is now called Peaceful Tomorrows, and is complete and awaiting publication. To have bowled over the remaining 270 pages in about 5 months is something I’ll always be quite proud of, especially given that those months included such all-consuming events as the birth of my son, and given that neither my work nor my family suffered without me for any of that time.
I mentioned a year ago that I was planning a full-length follow-on from Parlour Tricks. The name changed (thankfully), and I wrote Triumviratus entirely longhand on the commute to and from work each day. I’ve never written a full novel longhand before – it was a profoundly exhiliarating experience, and I found it a very rewarding use of what is usually sort-of-dead-time. Whenever I read back over it, I am thrilled by it, and can’t wait to get to polishing. Even though it is a full-length novel (about 100,000 words at this stage, by my guess), I still can’t help but think it would make a really interesting comic series. Something to think about for sure.
I think if it happens, I’d really like to collaborate on it. Have someone else handle the artwork. I’ve really enjoyed previous collaborations (however brief) that I’ve been involved in, and would love to see someone else’s spin on my words. I am, at this stage, relucant to produce it in my preferred style; I’m not convinced that’s the best option.
In the second half of 2012, I was approached by Tim Irving, whom I know socially. He had just successfully crowdfunded an album and was looking for a short comic to accompany the CD in the booklet. It took all of about ten minutes for that project to balloon out of control, and before I knew it, I’d spent three months producing a three-issue miniseries for him entitled James Flamestar and the Stargazers. Stay tuned for news of this miniseries – it is currently undergoing the approval process at Comixology, and will hopefully be available to purchase shortly!
I was commissioned to produce a short script for the opening story in Killeroo: Gangwar, the upcoming anthology edited by Darren Close. Can’t wait to see how this one turned out. It was a brief project, but a fun one to be involved with!
My current creative focus is an interquel (oh man, how I hate that word) that takes place between The Lesser Evil and Peaceful Tomorrows. The Game is a complete from-scratch redrafting of the first full-length graphic novel I ever put together, and I am very happy with how it is coming together this time around. I am producing a minimum of one page per day, and hope to have the project completed by year’s end.
This one hurts. I abandoned this half-complete story more than a year ago. I’d love to get back to it, but there’s just no time at the moment. It’s always on my mind, though.
Whenever someone asks me how much writing I get done, my answer is an automatic, near-rote “Not enough.” But when I look back over the past year and realise that I’ve scripted and produced over 400 pages of comic art (in three separate universes), and drafted an entire novel, I realise I might need to rethink that answer. To have put together that much writing, all while working full-time and juggling the needs of a growing family… I think it might be enough. For now.
I don’t know what the coming year holds, but on my Twitter feed, I’ve dubbed 2013 the #YearOfWriting. Stay tuned to see how it turns out!
Shortly after receiving my first royalties for The Lesser Evil, I took a few moments to calculate an hourly rate based on the estimated number of hours I’d put into the graphic novel, and the novel that it began its life as. It turned out that I’d earned between one and two cents per hour (before expenses). Minimum wage in Australia is currently fifteen hundred times higher. I think it’s pretty fair to say that, despite the fact that money is very nice in any amount, I’m not in this caper with a realistic hope of getting rich.
So why do I feel such a compulsion to keep writing, to keep getting published, to press forward? And why is that feeling so much stronger now than ever before, after I’ve been published?
I’ve attempted to collect my thoughts below, scattered and fragmented though they might be. The thoughts from which the following is derived felt true to me; the unreasonably flowery words that follow, not as much. It’s been almost four years since I last tried to piece together my reasons. (Check out earlier efforts here and here.)
Ask any writer why they write; very few will say they got into it for a quick buck. Without having asked them, I think it’s fair to say that Stephen King and JK Rowling, both still writing, have already made their fortunes, have been thoroughly validated as creative artists… and yet they continue to create.
I have a theory: that although writers accept the validation, the fame, the money, they are but consolation prizes. Sidequests, in a sense. That writers are reaching into a realm that defies understanding, and that their life’s work is to decode that realm, to bring some sort of order to it. To understand it.
I suspect in some ways that creativity itself is a parsing exercise, an understandable filter of symbols and conventions that allow a writer to channel this volatile, impossible, unknowable abyss.
If what I’ve read in the past is served correctly by memory, Freud held up writers and psychotherapists as two vocations with unparalleled insight into the human condition. Freudians tend to believe that writers and psychotherapists arrive at the same ends, despite taking very different routes to get there. That writers are able to naturally intuit what would normally take extensive medical study to understand. (Of course, the profundity of a writer’s work varies between works and might not, in fact, even in the best of cases, be entirely a deliberate construct. But that’s another story.)
There is some sort of Great Hunt going on. Crudely put, it’s a search for understanding, for meaning, but it is more than that. Infinitely more. In some ways it feels that the entirety of the human condition is but a miniscule facet of it, and yet lies at its very core and permeates everything. The search is entirely internal, and yet explores a universe of possibilities that could not possibly be contained within an individual soul. The concept itself is so impossible to grasp, so desperately intangible, that it cannot even be tied down by words; in fact, the effort alone could well shatter its fragile state. This nameless, formless, impossible goal is, I think, at the heart of any creative work that the artist claims is its own reward. The process, the chase, the Hunt…
There’s something bigger than us, and although it’s not the source of our inspiration, it is the cause of it.
I don’t know it, but I’m sure of it. I can feel it somehow. Inside me, or out there, I’m not sure. But it’s real.
I can’t explain in any rational terms why I should feel compelled to write more than ever. My life goals are starting to topple like skittles; I’m on the path. I could walk it leisurely, but each step impels me to run, to push that little bit harder. Maybe I’m closer to something; maybe I feel like I am. Maybe, as part of the collective of writers, continually putting words and pictures out into the public domain, we are getting closer.
I hope whatever answer we find isn’t lost in the chaff.
At Adelaide’s Oz Comic-Con in 2012, I found validation for my art. This year, I found a community. Here’s how it happened.
Friday: From Canberra to Adelaide
It’s the day before Oz Comic-Con, and I’m worried. I’m worried that the boxes of books I couriered to Adelaide wouldn’t arrive. I’m worried that my bags will be too heavy to be allowed on the plane without paying some exorbitant excess baggage fee. I’m worried that the weekend itself will be an unmitigated disaster. I’m worried that my family will have a nightmare weekend without me there to control the damage. I’m worried that I’m wasting all our limited money on this selfish venture for no good reason. I’m regretting shaving my head – yes, it’s for cancer research and all that, a great cause; and yes, it’s giving me some bizarre kind of confidence I don’t normally feel, like I have a backlog of good karma to draw upon – but I feel a bit self-conscious, like I look a little silly… right when I need to be at my professional best.
All that, and more. So pretty much the usual.
But everything seems to go smoothly. I’m at the airport in plenty of time, and my bag only ends up weighing about 10kg. I get on the plane, and even the food they serve is decent (a zucchini quiche/slice thing with bacon in it). Things are going well.
I’m seated right next to the propeller of this tiny plane, though. Seriously, if I look out the window, it’s all I can see. Can’t quite shake the feeling that if one of those blades snaps off, I’m getting it right across the lap. The unconcerned, bored expression of the bloke I saw doing a wander around the outside of the plane before take-off stays in my mind.
Because I am to be seated next to Sean Williams at the con tomorrow, I have brought along a copy of Metal Fatigue, and I start reading it on the plane. Very cool book; the plot twists are foreshadowed/telegraphed enough that they don’t really surprise me, but his writing style is very engaging and I enjoy the reading.
At Adelaide airport, I know exactly what to do. I head over to the Skylink desk and purchase tickets for the shuttle into the city. The lady directs me out to the same place I waited for the shuttle last year and, feeling all sorts of confident, I head there to wait the thirty-two minutes until the next shuttle is due to arrive.
Fifty-five minutes pass, and no shuttle. I call the number on my ticket, and the nice lady on the line politely informs me that I’ve been waiting in the wrong spot. No refunds, no considerations for the wrong information I was told at the desk, I’ll just have to wait another three-quarters of an hour for the next shuttle.
Confidence shaken, I wait, watching the minutes of the afternoon ticking past unproductively. Aware that it’ll be three o clock before I even check into my hotel, and that from there, I need to drop my bags, organise my stock, and get the whole lot over to the Showgrounds (via bus) to set up my stall, and make it back to my hotel in time to shower, purchase some groceries for the weekend, and be at Dumpling King by 7 to meet some internet friends… the whole afternoon had just morphed from a leisurely one to a high-stress rush.
This was more like it.
At least it gives me a chance to finish Metal Fatigue. As I turn the last page, the shuttle pulls up.
Friday: Adelaide by day
Adelaide has changed a bit. That’s the first thing I notice as I rock up to my hotel. The Queen Victoria Square, which I wandered around last year, and which was the cause of all my Adelaide admiration, is now all fenced off and inaccessible. The internet cafe that was next to my hotel last year appears to have fallen victim to the proliferation of tablets and smartphones with internet access in perpetuity, and has been replaced by a dank room full of poker machines, with blinds permanently drawn to prevent occupants from knowing what time of day it is.
(Perhaps it’s a reminder that I can’t expect this to be the same trip of wide-eyed wonder that I had last year. Whatever the message, I don’t quite pick up on it yet.)
But the Hotel Metropolitan is the same as ever. The staff are friendly and accommodating and give me the very pleasant feeling of having a home away from home, like the place can be a stable base for me to operate out of. Not all hotels have this feeling, not even those with considerably more stars. The room I’m in isn’t as nice as last time (last year, I had a balcony room with plenty of space, a double bed, a TV and a fridge… and this time, I’m in a room smaller than a bedroom at home, with just a single bed and chair), but the only thing I’m really going to miss is the fridge, which means that I’m going to have to plan my grocery purchases more carefully.
I head to the shoe repair place down the road to buy a Metro ticket, but have no idea what I’m doing and flounder at pretty much every question the girl at the counter asks me. In the end, I even manage to flub the “where are you from?” question, but somehow end up with a Metro ticket and receipts I can claim on tax later this year.
My boxes of books have indeed arrived at the hotel (thank you Toll couriers), and I quickly chuck my clothes out of my suitcase and load up with books, posters and brochures. I can’t take it all in one trip, but I get most of it into my suitcase and carry-on bag, and begin the burdened lurch to the nearby bus stop to head into the Showground.
When I reach my table, there’s no one around yet, so I start setting up. My spot isn’t quite as ideal as last year, when I had a table facing out into a T-intersection, but I’ll deal with it. It’s now about 3:45, and I begin to set my stuff up as quickly as possible, attaching promotional material to the velcro backing, and planning prices and multiple-purchase deals.
I’m in between Sean Williams’ table, and Emerson Ward’s table. Sean Williams is the New York Times best-selling author of many sci-fi and fantasy novels, and he’s won the Aurealis Award (and several others) multiple times. Needless to say, I’m equal parts excited and nervous about meeting him and spending the weekend adjacent to him. Emerson Ward is an artist with no small amount of talent, who has recently successfully crowd-funded an incredible looking art book with a dragon theme. I met him at the last con, but this time I’ll have more of a chance to get to know him. He rocks up not long after me, and we talk a little.
Watching the clock, I think I can probably make all my deadlines. Then, almost as soon as I think this, along comes some news: Sean Williams will no longer be coming to Oz Comic-Con: one of his kids has come down with chicken pox, and Sean has never had it before. Rather than risk being a contagious liability for the convention, he has opted to stay home for the weekend.
By this stage, having read Metal Fatigue from start to finish earlier that day, I am actually kind of geared up to meet him, so it comes as disappointing news.
Then Emerson and I are asked to shift over, to fill up the empty table. So I move all my stuff over really quickly (with Emerson’s generous help), and split out of there. Get back to my hotel at five past six, have a lightning quick lap of Coles to grab some supplies for the weekend, take an even quicker shower, and make it to the Dumpling King by 6:57.
Saturday: Oz Comic-Con: Day The First
Early start. Heavy bag. Late bus.
I think all the buses in Adelaide are programmed to come just late enough that people have gotten past the annoyed-that-the-bus-is-late stage and into the panicked-that-the-bus-will-never-come stage, so that the response of the passenger is one of relief rather than anger. They must have done a lot of R&D to hit that sweet spot so consistently.
I dump the rest of my stock, sort out my float, and realise that I’m an hour early with nothing to do except panic. So I do that for a while, but it’s not really that much fun, so I stop and go all zen for a bit. That works quite well, but it makes time go by kind of slowly.
The venue is HUGE, twice as big as last year, no question. Big enough that my little Artist Alley booth feels a little lost on the side wall.
The day begins and people begin charging in. There are events and celebs to see, so not many people want to stop for the first hour or two. But I employ the tactics I used last time: if someone looks at my table or makes eye contact, I smile and ask them how their day is going, and if they respond, I offer them the book to take a look at. Tried and true tactic. Most people who stop to answer come over to the table of their own volition this time, without me even having to offer a book. I must be getting better at this.
Man, there are so many cosplayers here. Some of them are really impressive! Very rare to see a female cosplayer who isn’t dressed pretty exploitatively though. I guess they’re happy doing it, but honestly, I can’t help but feel that it kind of speaks volumes about the gender one-sidedness of the mainstream comics industry.
I am also approached by a proud father and a young teenage girl with a portfolio, and they ask me to take a look at it. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’m a digital artist who couldn’t draw a person to reasonable proportion if my life depended on it, so I looked through the portfolio (which looked really quite impressive to me), and say that it’s great. I really genuinely hope she got more valuable feedback from other folks.
The day goes on and a few familiar faces, exhibitors from last year, pop around to say hi. A few customers from last year also pop around to complete their collection of The Lesser Evil – one really nice guy even bounds up to my table and says “I’ve been waiting nine months for Book Three!” I gave him a special deal because enthusiasm.
People also seem keen to hear about the sequel coming next month, and I was keen to tell them. Hopefully, there’s a little hype out there that will stick around.
I’m by myself at the table, so regulate food and fluid intake strictly. One mouthful of water every fifteen minutes, or after a long conversation. Never enough to overload my kidneys or bladder – they have a long wait ahead of them. The only food I eat all day, despite having bought and packed way more, is a pear and a chocolate muffin.
A lot of folks early on pay for books using $50 notes, which begins to eat into my limited float pretty heavily. I’m usually able to use guilt to upsell the entire trilogy of books to them, though, so it isn’t all bad.
Friends of a friend, and fellow Artist Alleyers pop around to say hello: Matthew Hoddy and Caitlin Major, the talented lunatics behind the comic Space Pyrates, who have also recently had a successful Pozible campaign to bring their work into print. They are very nice people, and through them, I learn of plans for some of the comics folks to meet up at a bar down the road at day’s end. Last year, I headed back to my hotel after each day. But this year, I had no TV in my room, so I say okay.
By day’s end, I’ve sold exactly fifty books. Not a bad day by any means, but I still have 97 books left to sell. Breaking even on this endeavour is going to be a tough ask. But it is possible. Everyone else is reporting slightly disappointing sales, so I figure that I’ve done as well as I could have. A lot of con-goers are saying that Sunday is the day they plan to shop, so I anticipate more customers tomorrow.
Wander down to the Goody (pub down the road) and meet a bunch of awesome folks. Paul Briske, creator of Buzz Mandible, is a total dopppleganger of a guy I went to high school with – even the voice – but is much better company (it is kind of a Truman-Show-esque moment meeting him for the first time, I gotta say). Pete Yong is a very talented artist with more experience in 3D than I’ve got, and I am able to discuss my comic techniques in more depth than usual with him. Amy Maynard is a PhD candidate at University of Adelaide, studying the sustainability of the Australian comics industry; I’m keen to participate in whatever interviews she wants to conduct, and am eager to read what she comes up with in the end. She seems very interested to learn that I’ve had academic comics published in the past. The Space Pyrates folks also were there, along with a bunch of other folks who I didn’t get a chance to talk with.
I call it a night after about two hours, and wait in the freezing cold for about twenty minutes for a bus that never comes. In the end, a different bus arrives (reaction: relief – well done, Adelaide), and I make it back to my hotel.
Sunday: Oz Comic-Con: Day The Second
First time on an Adelaide tram. It runs on time and gets me to the Showground by 8. I am running out of credit on my Metro card. Contrary to what I was told would happen, it’s charging me $3.26 per trip, and I have to recharge the card at the automatic booth at the tram station.
Totally random encounter with an old high-school acquaintance who is now living in Wollongong and is volunteering for this convention. Didn’t get much of a chance to catch up, but got intro’d to her very friendly husband. After the con that night, I’ll go looking for them to give them a leftover copy of my books, but it’s like looking for two needles in a labyrinthine haystack, and I am unsuccessful.
Day Two is a very slow day. I have zero sales until after 11am (two hours into the day. Starting to realise that I’m not even going to come close to breaking even.
A few people who bought Book One yesterday come back and buy the remainder of the trilogy. Those people are awesome people, the very best. Actually, I stand corrected: the folks who were the first people ever to buy Book Three (having pre-ordered it at the last Oz Comic-Con) stop by to say hi – they are the best people.
People are responding to my cheery nature though. I smile at everyone who looks in my direction and ask them how their weekend’s going. A lot of people stop just to have a chat, and I’m behaving not at all like myself: I talk to them, engage with them, even if they’ve got no interest in my books.
I realise about halfway through the day that even though my sales aren’t great and I’m staring inevitable financial deficit square in the face, that even though my shoulders and feet are killing me, that I’m kind of malnourished and really tired, that I’m actually happy. Happier than I was last year, when my book was selling better. Just talking to people, making a genuine connection instead of just using my friendliness as a tool to sell books.
A couple of times, bored people (usually disinterested girlfriends or wives) approach me because my table is devoid of visitors and we’d have a chat for a while. We’d talk about what it meant to follow dreams, to have jobs that you didn’t really feel connected to, all sorts of ‘big’ life stuff. I feel really happy for most of the afternoon, and realise that I have redefined what it means to succeed at an event like this.
It’s not the kind of success I can afford to cultivate at every event I attend, but it feels really good this time. At day’s end, I’ve only sold about 40 more books, but that’s okay.
People are telling me how much it costs to get a photo with William Shatner. $80 for a photo, $50 for an autograph. Same for Richard Dean Anderson. Not saying they aren’t worth it (though I personally would hesitate to pay that much), but that’s a lot of money to drop and sadly acts as a deterrent for a lot of fans. When I hear this, I start giving away free prints and joking with people that I’ll take any excuse to sign my name, because I love doing it! I believe that everyone who comes should be able to take something home with them, not just those with wads of cash to blow. It feels like the right move, and a lot of people are grateful, even if they have no actual interest in my books.
At the end of the day, I pack up my stall, and decide to make a gift of books to the folks I’ve gotten to know this weekend: Emerson, Paul, Matt, Caitlin, Pete. Although I wasn’t angling for it, they are happy to offload some of their excess stock on me in trade, which is awesome of them, gotta say.
We head out to the Goody again, with a couple of new folks I haven’t yet met, but quickly change plans and head to Chinatown for dinner. We get a range of dishes, including a mega-chili Sezchuan dish that the waitress teases us about (“I don’t think you’ll be able to handle this. We don’t give refunds, even if you need an ambulance!”) and have a blast of an evening. We talk bad movies, weird job experiences, and have a simultaneous three-two-one-EAT suicide-pact-esque taste of the hyper-spicy Sezchuan dish (which is awesome, but had too many small bones to be actually edible, sadly). Most of the evening, I just sit back and listen, contribuing little but laughter, having a great time.
(Incidentally, I learn that a cash fare on the tram is costing the others $2.90, and wonder why I’m paying $3.26 with my Metro card [which I also had to fork out $5 just to get])
The night ends at 11pm. At this stage, everyone is planning to be at Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne, which will be awesome. I look forward to it.
I get back to my hotel room and start to read some of the comics I’ve traded for. And then – only then – do I begin to appreciate the true level of insanity of these people. I feel a bit like a straight-laced nerd, but have a vague relief that they seemed happy for me to be tagging along anyway.
Had a lot of fun, met a lot of awesome people, and – if I haven’t grossly misread the entire situation – have made a bunch of new friends.
Bring on Melbourne Oz Comic-Con already!
My flight home leaves after about 90 minutes of delays. Snack is another winning zucchini slice with bacon. Awesome. On the plane, I have what you might call a ‘Twilight Zone’ moment. The guy sitting in the seat I was in on the way over to Adelaide is wearing headphones and has a shaved head. From behind, he looks pretty much exactly like how I think the back of my own head would look. And then the pilot starts talking about what the weather will be like in Adelaide when we land, and I’m convinced that I’ve been caught in some sort of bizarre time loop, and I’m about to repeat the entire weekend.
I make it home.
Being an independent creator is hard work. Getting a project finished is hard work. Getting a contract to publish/distribute it is an uphill battle. Getting noticed is an endless and typically fruitless endeavour.
But there’s a lot to like about it too. Being an indie creator at the start of your career is a baptism of fire, an unbelievable pressure cooker of tribulation and inspiration in which time behaves extremely unpredictably, the notion of rest is a theoretical concept at best, and all your nerves are blazing rapturously at the entire process. It’s sink or swim time, and by all the gods you ever believed in, are you going to swim.
This post is going to chronicle my early experiences as a creative professional. My hope is that it will guide the expectations of prospective hopefuls, resonate with those who have gone through this stage of their careers (or who are going through it now), and strike a chord with me in many years to come when I look back at the ‘early years.’
The Creative Process
The book you write tomorrow is not the book you could have written today.
When you have a job that takes you away from your creative work, you feel this keenly. You try to make every moment count. You give up sleep to work on your masterpiece. You work through sickness, through typhoons and disasters, you fight through depression and disappointment, through adversity and compromise, and when you finish your work, you appreciate it all the more for all that you’ve had to endure. Your angst fuels the passion that filters into the finished product, and when you look back over it, it all comes rushing back.
But by then, you’re already hip deep in another project and barely even notice.
The downside: The odds are against you even finishing a project are steep. Getting it to a publishable standard, even steeper. Countless obstacles of life lie in your path. Creative work now means sacrificing other aspects of your life, including family and leisure time.
The upside: It’s no secret that creativity thrives on adversity. These could be your most prolific times, and your best work could be the one you’re working on now. Never in your career will improving your skills be such a high priority for you. While your creative identity is your own, you have the freedom to experiment with your voice, freedom that you might never have again. Long story short: if your commitment is unquestionable, there’s no problem here.
Marketing and Engagement
You’ve been published by a small label. Or you did it yourself. Either way, you probably won’t be seeing your name on bus benches or billboards any time soon. You’ll be doing grass roots marketing, with a heavy reliance on social media and the incestuous tendency of other independent creative artists to support each other.
Every now and again, you’ll get an opportunity. Maybe an interview or an article, a table at a convention or conference, some chance to get your name out there a little. You’d better not fuck it up, that’s for sure, because you might never get another chance. Sometimes it feels like you can’t afford to upset even a single person, professionally or personally, because you need all the potential customers you can get.
And if you’re lucky – really lucky – you’ll have a strong network of friends and family who will carry some of that marketing burden for you, who will spread your work widely and enthusiastically.
You don’t have a big budget to sucker in the gullible, so you’re going to be relying on the genuine excitement of word-of-mouth. God help you.
But there’s something genuinely special about this whole thing. The challenge is intoxicating (though the returns often negligible and always intangible), and there is nothing quite like your first fan reaction from someone you don’t know.
The downside: No matter what you do, your audience will probably always be small.
The upshot: Being in charge of your marketing is a new creative challenge you should relish, and is a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. Engaging directly with your audience (for example, at conventions or via email) is a thrill and feels like a privilege. A small audience is no less passionate for being small.
While I still value artistic integrity over ‘selling out,’ anyone who knows me knows that I want to make money from my writing. Serious money, if I can. Enough to quit my job at least, and preferably a bit more besides.
Financial independence is not something that comes easily to the indie artist, if at all. Indeed, commercial success is hard enough for most folks who have broken into the mainstream, let alone those stuck on the periphery of notice.
The downside: Have to work extra jobs to support life, limiting creative time. For all the time you put in, you’re not making much money at all. Resources to create more work are extremely limited.
The upshot: Still have that determined single-minded drive, and the work still feels romantic and unsullied by the taint of money and commercial success.
The life of an indie creator is not a sustainable one. The thrill and exhaustion, surviving on adrenaline instead of food, tight deadlines and countless adversities, financial hardship and frustrating obscurity… none of it can last forever. At some point, the indie creator will be pulled into the life of the full-time professional creator, or they will jump off the edge into the oblivion of part-time hobbyist.
Not knowing which way you will go is terrifying. Both options seem equally impossible. But the terror is inspiring, and the true indie artist will harness the power of uncertainty to fuel their work and – if all goes well – propel them to greater and greater things.
And if you never miss an opportunity (by the way, you should check out my published work), there is no limit to the personal and professional rewards that could be awaiting you. Certainly, you’ll never be prouder of your achievements than right now.
I am an indie artist. And, for now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Well, it happened this week: I put the finishing touches onto the first draft for my 558 page graphic novel Death’s Feast. It has taken somewhere in the vicinity of thirteen months to do all the artwork for it, and has sucked up almost all of my free time for that period.
Most writers expect to be proud when they finish work on a piece. But for me, pride is only a small part of it. What I feel most is empty, directionless, and off-balance, like one of the pillars that was holding me up has started to crumble.
I become irritable and bored easily, and feel a little lost in everyday life. My family know to avoid me until I pick up a new project.
I guess I don’t like having ‘spare’ time. Time should be productive or GTFO.
1) Getting out of the house
Chances are if you’ve been hammer and tong at your latest magnum opus, you haven’t ventured outside too often to see what season it is. Maybe you could take the chance to find out. I went outside today… I didn’t really care for it because it was cold.
2) Spending time with the family
Unless you do all your writing while the world is sleeping or on the commute to/from work, you might be choosing to write in favour of spending time with the old family. Not having a writing project dominating your conscious mind might give you a chance to reconnect with the people who make everything else worthwhile.
3) Playing video games
If all else fails, video games are the ultimate time sink. In fact, they can completely take over your writing time. But while you’re not writing, having a decent time sink can be a godsend. For my part, I am rediscovering the joys and trials of Dark Souls. I will finish that game one of these days!
4) Catch up on sleep
I write at night, having volunteered to give up sleep in order to keep my writing going. Although I know this routine will be hard to get back into, I have relaxed it a bit to catch up on sleep again, and God does it feel good!
5) Productive self-distraction
There are plenty of things you can do to distract yourself without actually wasting your time. For instance, I am going to spend a little while concentrating on re-promoting some of my previously published work and getting back on top of my various social media networks, which I have been neglecting the last couple of months.
But, assuming for the moment that you don’t want to participate in my marketing campaign, there are things you can do, like writing blogs, volunteering for charity, chores around the house…
Ah, hell with it, I’ll just go straight to number
6) Start another writing project
I am in the (fortunate?) position of having multiple writing projects on the go at all times. When I finish one, the rest all begin to clamour for my attention. It usually takes me a few days before I feel motivated to listen to them, but it won’t be long before I once again take up my pen in the endless and unwinnable fight against creative atrophy.
If you don’t have another story idea ready to go, think about some of the ideas you’ve ignored along the way. Or maybe take a look at some of the stuff you’ve cut out of early drafts of the work you just finished. There might be a germ of an idea or a theme you want to explore.
It has been a long time since I lasted posted anything of substance in this blog (though don’t worry, The Tube will return one day, I promise!), so I thought I would write a little update on my life, focusing on the events of the last month or so. April 2012 has indeed been unbelievably busy and productive. Here’s what’s been happening.
The release date for The Lesser Evil Book Three is imminent. I apologise to my few loyal readers for what seems like an inordinate wait (but in reality has only been a couple of months since the last release), and I’ll add this: if you think it’s hard waiting for a release date as a consumer, you should try it as an author! You bounce off the walls so much, you think you might have had a more successful career as a pinball. Still, the wait is almost over, and soon the trilogy will be complete!
To blow off some anxiety while waiting, I cobbled together this book trailer for The Lesser Evil. I enjoyed the process enough that I intend to take another, more professional, go at it once things settle down a little bit. In the meantime:
April kicked off with the second day of Adelaide Oz Comic-Con. I’ve already posted in great detail about my experiences in Adelaide here; suffice to say in this post that it was an incredible and profoundly inspirational event. I came home with no books left, a fistful of business cards, and a renewed creative fire.
I had originally intended to ‘spend’ that fire on a half-envisaged project called Kiss of the Dragon, a full-length expansion to Parlour Tricks, a piece I got published in the Beginnings Anthology, using the annual April event Script Frenzy as an additional motivator. Sadly for this project, pen never touched paper in April; rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about it, but perhaps it’s not quite ready to be written yet. I can be patient – got plenty else going on!
Speaking of, I have signed The Lesser Evil up for its first book tour! This tour starts tomorrow and lasts for about two weeks, and has involved quite a bit of preparation on my part. Mostly I will be providing guest posts for other blogs, interspersed with author interviews and book features. It has been a lot of fun preparing all these posts, and it has reminded me how much fun it can be to write about the writing process.
But where most of my creative energy has been directed this month is at the sequel to The Lesser Evil, currently entitled Death’s Feast. Since the 7th of April, I have completed over 80 pages of artwork for this project, a feat that I am tremendously proud of, especially given my full-time work schedule, and parental/spousal responsibilities at home, none of which have suffered for this productivity. At this stage, I have completed 301 pages of a scripted 565 pages, so I’m confident it will be ready to go pretty soon.
I’m quite proud of the evolution of my art style since the early pages of The Lesser Evil. I think each volume that gets released is easier to read than its predecessor, and is more attractive as well. Check out this sample page of art from Death’s Feast:
Closer to home, our baby boy continues to grow inside of Katie. With only about eight weeks left until the due date, we are getting increasingly excited (read: one of us is nesting, and the other is freaking out over credit card bills – no prizes for guessing which is which). Annie, too, is incredibly excited and loves to talk to him through Katie’s belly button. She cuddles and kisses him routinely, and loves to practice cuddles with her baby dolls. She is so ready to be a big sister… hope the crying doesn’t put her off!
I have no idea how the impending birth will impact my creative output. I have booked nearly three months off from work starting when the baby arrives. Last time, I was anticipating more baby-related work than actually happened – I didn’t anticipate just how much they sleep! It’s impossible to say whether there will be significant downtime this time around though, with a two-year-old tearing around at top speed and even topper volume.
So I might as well get as much done as I can in the meantime!
I am sitting at a very smelly LAN cafe typing this on a computer that runs Windows XP and has a mouse with a tracking ball. Plus side, it’s right next door to my hotel and the sticky keyboard keys encourage me to check all my spelling.
I have just finished a two-day stint in the Artist Alley at Oz Comic-Con. I am exhausted, and I’ve had almost nothing to eat for two days, and not a single moment off, but I have come pretty much straight in here to write down my experiences, for fear that time will dull them.
This weekend was a string of firsts for me:
* First time in Adelaide
* First time participating in a comic convention.
* First time at a convention, period.
* First time I’ve seen a complete stranger pick up one of my books and look at it
Because I was by myself at the table, I didn’t get to leave to wander around the convention, but you could see at a glance how overwhelmingly successful the event was. I think the end tally was somewhere in the vicinity of 19,000 visitors over the weekend, more than twice the anticipated number!
I had never seen anything like it before. The costumes were insane and prolific and the rest of the Goyder pavilion was just wall-to-wall geekery. The kind of thing that made me simultaneously sad and somewhat relieved to be confined to my Artist Alley table.
I got to meet a few of my contemporaries over the weekend. I was seated next to a con veteran on one side who was trying to offload some old stock. He was friendly and good-natured, but seemed a little jaded by the whole con experience… at least when compared to my doe-eyed naivete. On the other side was apparently another con virgin, but I’m not exactly sure what he was selling (I am guilty of poor listening), but I think he was attempting to gauge interest in a technology-driven comic. He was away from his table for almost the entire weekend and had only a handful of business cards and a banner to let people know he was there.
The convention staff and volunteers were all extra-friendly folks who were more than happy to help out where needed. For example, I couldn’t leave the table to pursue the autographs I wanted (Ben Browder and Bill Farmer), but all I had to do was notify the relevant volunteers, and they got the autographs on my behalf! I didn’t need any help setting up my stall in Artist’s Alley, but I could see them helping out others at very short notice. And all weekend, I could see them rushing around like mad, working extra hard to deal with the unanticipated flow of customers.
In terms of my own stall, I read the excellent Artist Alley Survival Guide about thirty million times in the last couple of months, and the most excellent advice contained in it was this:
* Don’t sit at your table; stand. You’re more approachable.
* Don’t be mute. Talk to people, ask them how their day’s going.
* As soon as you have their attention, give them something they can hold/flick through while you talk with them.
This advice made me a marketing machine (though once or twice, the “have a look” ploy was misheard as “have a book” and I had to move fast to avoid stock walking away!)
At least half of my sales came from talking to people who obviously had no intention of stopping. My rule of thumb was thus. One second eye contact, or two seconds looking at the table, and I’d say “Hi.” If they looked at me, I’d continue “How is your weekend?” If they smiled/spoke, I’d hold out a copy of The Lesser Evil: “Want to take a look?”
Unbelievably powerful. I feel almost guilty! But no one looked upset or ripped-off; I think they were genuinely pleased to have picked up a decent quality graphic novel for $8… something I guess doesn’t happen too often around these parts.
It was quite an exhilarating day. I found myself watching people intensely as they picked up The Lesser Evil curiously, turned it over, flicked through it, raised their eyebrows, murmured wonderful things like “Wow, that looks good” and then decided to take a chance. When I noticed myself staring, I tried to cut it down a little, but I have to admit, it was pretty cool watching complete strangers come over to check out my work.
One fellow took a brochure early in the day, read through it at some point while standing in line elsewhere, came back to my stall and told me that he was thoroughly intrigued by what I’d written in the brochure. He walked away with two books under his arm!
Another man bought a book from me, read part of it while in line elsewhere and came back specifically to tell me that he had greatly enjoyed what he had read so far. Brushing praise aside and shooting for the moon, I shamelessly sold him a copy of The Lesser Evil Volume 2.
One interesting thing is that people tended to assume that my book must be self-published (a natural assumption given that I was there by myself in the booth, pimping a single book). One lady apologised as soon as she’d asked the question; she was so embarrassed, but of course, I laughed it off. It was kind of fun telling people that I’d gotten published the traditional way, and in a sense, the repetition made the truth and the accomplishment that much more real to me.
After the first day, I’d sold nearly half of all my books, but almost none of my prints. I spent most of the night tossing and turning over different possibilities and decided in the end that it would be a good idea to start offering the prints as free incentives to purchase (i.e. buy a book, get a print).
The pub I was staying in had a loud band on until about 11 (of course, it was Saturday night, so I don’t really blame them), so I took a walk around the general vicinity. Jesus, Adelaide is beautiful. I want to live here now. For serious.
Day Two: I had a splitting headache from a very poor night’s sleep, but still felt happy, optimistic.
The free print idea went over like Gangbusters (which I have been led to believe is a good thing). In the end I managed to pass off more advertising masquerading as prints, and every single book I had left in stock. It would be near impossible to describe the sheer scope of the triumph I felt when I realised that I was going home with an empty suitcase (I had feared the opposite). It was an incredible feeling, and indescribable.
I was pulled away from my table for ten minutes for a whirlwind reunion/meet with a number of Adelaide Browncoats, and a photo with Jewel Staite. Can’t wait to see the photo, and it was great to catch up with everyone, if only for a moment! Yet another example of the intoxicating positive atmosphere I found myself in.
A girl at the next table was doing ‘draw you as a zombie’ sketches for passersby, and was so busy that she frequently had to turn people away. At the end of the con, she asked if I’d be at the next Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne in June/July. Of course, I can’t make it as Katie is due to give birth to little Liam around that time…
… but at some point during that conversation, it dawned on me just how charmed a life I am leading. I’m twenty-six, but I already have a wife and one-point-five children, a house, a mortgage, and a solid foothold into my lifelong dream via a published book that I can promote, sell and bask in. I have financial security sufficient to make a trip like this one to Adelaide feasible, but not so much as to eliminate the thrill of risk from the venture. Everything about my life just felt so right at that moment, and I hope that I will remember it forever.
I really am very lucky.
On the way to Adelaide, I had a panic attack (a real panic attack – I’ve never had one before. It was damn scary). All I could foresee was doom and gloom for this trip, for my writing career in general, and with the appropriate consequences for my overall happiness in general. I wanted Katie to help me, I wanted to be home, I wished I’d never even written the book to begin with…
But now I’m glad I went. Even though my theshold for success was low (don’t fail miserably), I think this was an important rite of passage for me. A professional challenge that put me well outside my comfort zone, stripped me of all familiar buffers (Canberra and Katie, mainly) and threw me out into the lion’s den, to sink or swim (mixed metaphor). It was a big risk, financially and professionally, and placed additional burdens on my family that I regret, but overall I am very proud of myself for going to Oz Comic-Con and I am even prouder that I managed to succeed at selling 110 copies of my book to a large number of complete strangers.
I even took pre-orders for the unreleased Volume 3!
Incredibly touched and inspired by the events of this weekend, I’m feeling a new confidence in myself, and in my writing.
People are reading my work.
People actually want to read it.
People want to spend money on it (and even at a convention where they have already spent their year’s worth of fun money!).
[Sorry to everyone I know who’s already bought a copy, but if I’m being honest, I have never been able to shake the feeling that you bought my book out of obligation (I truly love you for your devotion, by the way).]
Even though financially, I don’t think I even reached the break-even stage (though it was a close call), I consider Oz Comic-Con Adelaide to be a resounding success for me (possibly even as much for me as it was for itself!)
So: Oz Comic-Con 2013, watch out! And bring your wallets: I’ll be back.
TL;DR: I am happy, and feel like as far as my writing career is concerned, the sky is the limit! I’m not stopping. Ever.
PS: There might be photos. I didn’t have a camera, but several folks photographed me and promised to send me copies via email!
A recent article regarding spoilers in comic books has reawakened my interest in the role of plot in a story. This article cited research which produced the surprising finding that people enjoyed suspenseful stories more if the crucial plot twists were spoiled for them in advance.
This counterintuitive relevation has made me consider the way I produce my stories, and has helped me to articulate my long-held beliefs into a coherent form. I have come to realise that the true mission statement of The Lesser Evil and its sequels is fundamentally tied to the idea that plot events are secondary, even incidental, to the enjoyment of a story.
Just last night, I began putting together a grant application for The Road to Hell. In it, I drew attention to the popular perception of comics as surface-y. As juvenile sensationalism, incapable of subtlety or subtextual complexity. (As researched in Academaesthetics)
In essence, this perception exists because comics are seen as events-focused. As plot-driven, rather than character-driven. (And God forbid anyone should think comics are capable of being allegorical!)
With The Lesser Evil and The Road to Hell, I have attempted to put together a story that, on its surface, seems instantly familiar. Indeed, the events of the story will surprise no one, and seem utterly inevitable. But that’s the point: if the story can be easily absorbed, with little attention required on the part of its audience, then extra attention can be devoted to processing the subtext, the subtleties and the various complexities under the surface.
Though perhaps it is a faux pas to say that plot doesn’t matter. Of course it does. The plot is not just the vehicle that gets the characters to their destination, but also the bitumen and road signs that guide their way (in this metaphor, style and imagery would be the weather and scenery). Without the vehicle, the journey would quite clearly stall. But at the end of the day, the fact that the vehicle reached its destination is only important because of its cargo: the characters and subtext, and the fact that they reached their respective endpoints.
To continue with this somewhat clumsy car metaphor, what makes a journey enjoyable is rarely the make and model of the vehicle, but the interactions in the car, the scenery outside, and the anticipation of destination.
What I am trying to draw attention to here is that truly great stories can survive catastrophic spoilers, if the other elements of the story are able to elicit sufficient delight in the audience. For my part, strongly written characters that influence plot events to the point where the end point seems utterly inevitable are what compel me to reread my favourite stories ad infinitum. If those events can also be said to be a metaphor for the inner turmoil of the protagonist, so much the better!
The point is, and the mission statement of my work is, that a unique plot doesn’t matter. Some of history’s best plots are equally engaging on the fiftieth viewing as they were on the first. Under the surface of the story is where the true magic happens.
The Lesser Evil’s plot is highly derivative. Of course it is; it would be ridiculous of me to pretend otherwise. But its subtext is, to my knowledge, unique. Its messages are tightly tied into the plot events and its characters are allegory as much as they are people.
And by presenting a standard, paint-by-numbers story, perhaps in your quest to engage with the work, you will read a little deeper, and perhaps enjoy the whole book more as a consequence.
The Lesser Evil is available for sale.
Every morning when I wake up, and every evening before I go to bed, I check my emails for any updates, and try to imagine the work that other people are doing to The Lesser Evil… cover designs, copy edits, marketing, reviews, whatever… Ever since I signed my publishing agreement for The Lesser Evil with Zeta Comics, I’ve been bouncing off the walls a bit. Excited, sure; happy, sure; impatient, well, yes that too. But mostly, there’s this anxiety I can’t really describe, a sort of nervous energy that comes from the knowledge that it’s pretty much all in someone else’s hands now.
There is a veritable cornucopia of books and websites out there that offer advice on how to write and/or draw, how to land a publishing contract, and how to read a publishing contract (for this latter, I strongly recommend the excellent Stroppy Author’s Guide to Reading a Publishing Contract)… but nothing (that I could find) about what you should do when you’re waiting for your book to get published.
Time to correct this oversight. Now.
1. Keep Writing
What limited advice is out there with regards to this period of limbo is unanimous: continuing to write is imperative. I’m not sure why this is, but I assume the advice is unanimous for a reason, so I’m just going to do the smart thing and accept it!
Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. In my case, whenever I complete a project, I take a few days/couple of weeks off to relax, to decompress, and to collect my thoughts. If I try to get back on the horse too soon, I find it frustrating and unproductive.
It’s been a month since the contract for The Lesser Evil was signed. Only yesterday did I really begin to work on my writing again. It will keep me sane for a while, so this is good… but what did I do in the meantime?
2. Harrass the publisher
This is the most tempting, but strikes me as ultimately The Worst Idea In The History Of This Or Any Other Universe. As much as I want(ed) to maintain daily (or twice daily) contact with my editor, I needed to come to terms with the notion that this is a long and involved process (though anyone who is not me would recognise that at least in this case, it’s all happening rather quickly) for which daily progress reports would be inappropriate or frustratingly sparse. It is also a process to which I am not supposed to be especially privy, unless my input is required.
(For the record, I will state that Zeta Comics are doing an excellent job keeping me in the loop, and I can only imagine my anxiety levels had I signed with a less accessible company!)
So not only is the notion of constantly contacting your publisher extremely counterproductive, it would also be insanely unprofessional and unbelievably annoying for the publisher. Follow this path, and wave sayonara to your dreams of a sequel!
3. Play video games
Or any other hobby that is a relaxing timesink. For me, it’s video games. My pile of shame has been growing and growing in recent months, and the month of July seemed the perfect time to whittle it down a bit (especially as plenty of others were doing it at the same time).
It was a great way to eat some of my spare time, and divert my attention from my nervous energy. Uncharted 2, Darksiders and LA Noire filled my July with much entertaining and bloody distraction.
Not a long-term solution by any means, but definitely worth investing a little-more-than-normal time in this way.
4. Reconnect With Family
Sometimes, when I’m hanging out with Katie and Annie, all I can think about is my writing (this is not a common occurrence, but it happens often enough to be irritating to everybody).
But if the urge to write has temporarily vacated the premises, then it should be easier to focus on the people you love, and who love you, and revel in their presence like you probably should have been doing all along.
5. Write a blog about the whole thing
Ummm… yeah. Still anxious.