Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Staying Focused as a Freelancer

Well, here it is... week seven (or is it eight?) of my freelancing journey is upon me. I apologize for the hiatus to the blog, but once I give a little back-story on the inspiration to this post, I am sure you'll understand what's been going on in my life!

But first, even more back-story! In July, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. To say this was world-shaking news for me would be an understatement. I remember finding out on a Sunday night, and the next day going through work without telling a soul, randomly closing my office door to have short fits of tears. It rained that night, and I very vividly remember wanting to walk outside and lay in the grass so it could pour on me and perhaps wake me from this sort of waking-sleep I was going through. But mom's prognosis was good, her medical team excellent, and I had a great group of people both at home and at the office to lean on.

Still, things had to change. I had been having great success working design and illustration gigs on my own, and Matt had long wanted to move closer to home, so we made the decision to leave our life in Columbus, Ohio to return to the backwoods of Pennsylvania, at about the same time mom had her first chemo. I had visions in my head about how it would be, then... Up early with the sun, a coffee in one hand and drawing pencil in the other. Finish a page of comic work before lunch, then it was off to do some writing. My days would wrap up by investing time in my residual income streams - perhaps my Amazon book sales, formatting more fairytales into collections for Kindle, or working on that new venture with RPG books and cards.

Well, after tackling two comic shows early in my first weeks of being home, mom broke her leg, Matt's schedule ended up erratic as he moved into a second job, and I had projects piling up. Though she was still quite mobile in her wheelchair, mom couldn't drive with her leg, and she suddenly had twice the doctor's appointments to go to than she had a week ago. My time spent with Matt is something I will always push other things out of the way for, so those moments when he would be home I could not miss. I won't even bother telling you how projects tend to come all at once and then simultaneously dry up into nothing... that's just a law of nature - like gravity!

It's been a learning experience, to say the least, and I'm most certainly still learning. But on to the meat of this blog entry, here are some ways I've found to help push back the distractions and stay focused through it all:

Do one thing at a time. And this is simply the old FOCUS mantra: Follow One Course Until Success. Studies have shown that people who multitask have the equivalent attention span of people who are stoned. I'm not kidding! It's easy to think we can or we should give everything equal attention, but that's really just a way to give equal attention to nothing at all. If you fall behind on one thing and the client comes knocking, be prepared to ask for an extension, or better yet - get an absolute deadline set ahead of time. Unless the client is particularly crazy or heartless, they'll be up front about their time expectations and you can work something out, easily.

Minimize distractions. Life's short, and distractions the likes of which are found on TV, the internet, and elsewhere provide a small satisfaction - entertainment, and the feeling of finding something interesting while browsing the web or cable guide can be as gratifying as eating junk food. But instead of empty calories, you're dealing with empty minutes, sometimes hours, spent searching for said content, and that can annihilate your work day.

I love Twitter, but I don't know where I'd be without Hootsuite. I take 30 minutes every morning to schedule my tweets for the day. Usually I stick to a dozen or so but I've gotten as many as 25 timely updates completed this way, before. Hootsuite is so great, it'll even auto-schedule my posts based on ideal times to tweet the information. All this can sound pretty robotic, but trust me - the only "trick" is keeping them sounding human. If I have a new blog post, then two of them will promote that. If there's a comic update, then I'll say something about this week's point in the story, etc. Whatever your "vice" when it comes to time management, I can pretty much guarantee with 100% certainty that there's a piece of technology to help you manage it!

Don't be everything to everyone all the time. It's hard when you have an active mother who can no longer drive herself around. Groceries need bought, banks need deposits, and appointments need kept. I am at the most, a block away from my parents' house when I'm working, which makes me extremely "available".

Now, I would rather be doing nothing else, but having to put things on hold so I can run errands started as a challenge. It took mom and I some time to work out our daily routine, as it were, but it was worth it once we had a few days to sort our priorities. Still, there were times when I had to tell people that I couldn't do what they needed (and mom wasn't exempt from that). This was hard, but it was surprisingly easy once I realized people were very understanding of my time constraints, which is when I learned another important rule of freelancing...

Say no. The only way to seriously commit to the above thing which needs done, is to say NO to everything which might otherwise take your time. How many times have you said yes to an irrelevant project? Everything can't be a priority, no matter how good you are at tackling everything. I'm not, but I've worked with some people who are great at tackling everything - While I am perpetually in awe of them, their secret is simple: They're not really doing everything, they just know how to say no and weed out what isn't necessary in their already hectic schedules.

Get to the point and get things done which must be done. You could wrap all the other lessons up into a little package and stuff them into this overall rule. You must know what will take care of what you need, and you must prioritize that. So if you're having a week where projects are piling up, you must prioritize working on them, even if it takes you well into the evening hours. If you are in a dry spell and need money, you must prioritize cold calls and/or amping up your promotions. Following the other lessons only amps your ability to do so.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Don't Just Email: 7 Innovative Ways to Follow-Up Without Dreading It

When I wrote my last blog post, I talked briefly about the follow-up process and how it is, in my opinion, the place where all the magic happens in a sale. Some of you weren't crazy about that notion, because I'd wager you feel like a follow-up can come across as a mix between begging and harassment. While I certainly understand that, having been on the receiving end of countless follow-ups of that type myself, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that way.

One of the mantras that we share at Gloryhound is to be constantly in the service of others, and in order to do so, you need timely feedback from your customers, good and bad. Imagine yourself a waiter in a restaurant, the customer is the diner - to make sure they were getting what they wanted, you'd check on them from time to time, yes? Think of a follow-up as your time to check on someone you'd like to be taking care of, and not just as a harassing phone call or email - and that brings me to our point, today: Don't limit yourself to just those outlets, either!

Here are seven ways to make a follow-up not only more interesting for you, but more service-minded for your customer, and really leave a great impression:

  1. Go there in-person - If you want to get a company's business, you should go there in person. As an example, if you're an artist or writer and a studio you'd like to work for isn't too far from you, then take a day trip to check it out. Many offices will welcome the opportunity to give freelancers a tour, if they ask to do so and call ahead in advance.
  2. Find common ground - Stop and think: what are the things that make you want to do work for a target organization? If you love coming up with designs for skateboards and want to work for a skate company, then I'm going to assume you have an interest in the sport itself. Get tickets to a local event and tell your prospects you'd like to invite them out. Chances are, they might already be going, and you can meet up with them. This is a great way to get to know someone and their business, as well as show your enthusiasm for their niche.
  3. Attend an industry event - This is an easy one. If you're a comic book artist, you should be going to comic book shows. Even if you can't present your work at a table or booth, you should go as an attendee. If you've never been to a convention or other event within your industry, you're likely to be very surprised by who you meet, and that can lead to some big-time deals.
  4. Send a sample - My friend Dan Miller, founder of the 48 Days seminars and book series, recently answered an inquiry from a listener, live on his podcast. The gentleman was asking if Dan would be interested in picking up a sequel to one of his books which the guy had already written, in exchange for a percentage of sales. With the work already done, Dan leapt at the opportunity and signed the him on, immediately. This is not uncommon! If there's something you want to do, to produce, to write, then do it! Send it off and see what happens - with the work done, the company gets a great glimpse of what you can do and will recognize your hustle.
  5. Send a gift - This one is trickier than it sounds. It's tacky to send an edible arrangement to a curator, yes, but it's not so weird to send a hand-crafted thank-you of some kind. When I show my leathercraft work to galleries or merchants, I often will send them a small piece, such as a small mask or other stand-alone, with the thank-you note written on the back. I'm charmed to see my little thank-you's hanging near the reception area on subsequent return visits, and people who see them will of course, ask where they came from and who made them, leading to more business, even if I don't get the client right away.
  6. Offer to be of assistance in another way - This is the old "work like an intern" technique that is possibly one of the more effective strategies for getting in with a company you'd really like to do some business with. If a studio isn't hiring artists, they're probably still in the market for a guy to sweep the floors. If they don't need writers, they may yet need someone to help them layout pages in pre-press. A number of jobs that, let's be honest, often pay less and have none of the glory of your dream gig, are available right now, at your dream company. Caveat: despite the low-to-no pay, and lack of glamor, you must take these opportunities to connect and show your work ethic, seriously. Understand that if you do a great job, your efforts will very likely pay off, and the company will be more likely to take a chance on you for the job you want, in the future.
  7. Use social media - And as I said in the previous entry, this does not mean you should be using social media to harass, stalk or otherwise bother your prospects. Social media is great to keep up with people, to find out where a company whose business you want, will be showing their wares, and to bridge that gap between a faceless submitter of artwork to in-the-know talent.

I hope this brief guide does well to open your eyes to the possibilities of engaging your prospects after your first submissions packet has been mailed or you've given your initial pitch. Remember - to be successful, you must be service-minded. Once your customer gains confidence in what you can do for them, the deal will close on its own!

Friday, August 9, 2013

How to Submit Your Art to Comic Book Publishers!

Last week was a big one for yours truly. The times have been tumultuous in my life over the past several months, to say the least – getting Sylvanna officially ready to go, a big move in October, and balancing some tricky and ill-timed family health issues to name a few. It’s all culminated with me resolving to go full-time with freelance once more, and thus putting together some work samples to send out to publishers for the first time in a great number of years.
So! How does one go about getting work in comics, anyway? I like to think this blog could, thus far be a great resource for those looking to put their time into the effort of making great comics, but I’ve not gotten an entry around to show the actual submission process – so let’s cover that, today!
The first task is to gather some work around. In my latest submissions, I was primarily looking to get work as a penciller/inker, so that’s what I sent the most samples of! Here’s what’s in my submission packet, this time around:
·         Three pages of penciled comic book pages featuring a subject I’m very comfortable drawing, and one which I know how to draw very well.

·         Three pages of inked versions of the penciled pages.

·         Four more inked pages  from a different type of story with different characters in a different setting which utilizes a wholly different style, as well.

·         One inked cover image.

·         Four really nice pin-ups - some in color and some black and white. 

A few notes about my samples: They were submitted as (no more than) 800px wide JPEGs, and each was under 500KB. When sending in samples, keep them big enough to show your nice details, but small enough to not choke your editor’s email. The total size of ALL the attachments you send should be under 10MB and preferably under 5MB. If they want to see a larger version of something, you can always send that along, later.
Along with my samples, I also sent a cover letter! It went something like this:

Dear _______ (always use the actual editor’s name when you can!):

My name is Dawn Best and I am currently in the market to take on some freelance work. I thought I would start with some of my favorite comic book publishers (and this is very important – they SHOULD be comic books you would LOVE to work for and could do great things for – don’t just mass-send to everyone unless you’re interested in doing sub-par work for a comic you might not enjoy). I feel _____________ (the publisher’s name and even better, a specific title) might be a great fit for my style and would be interested to see what you think of the attached pieces.
I will be at __________ (convention or meet-up – this paragraph is optional but it is HIGHLY recommended that you go to comic conventions if you want to work in the comics industry!) and I noticed you will be as well. I’ll be sure to stop by and meet some members of your team in person, regardless of whether you can use me at this time or not. Looking forward to it!
All the Best,

Feel free to copy that whole thing and fill in the blanks. Try to remember to change my name, too! Cover letters should be to the point, speak of your intentions and what you can do for a company, and promise to follow-up in some way!
Let’s talk about the follow-up, which is a step that is as important as your initial submission. Remember: you’re a salesman, and in a very general sense, salespeople average a sale for every 9 follow-ups they make. In comics, it can be a bit higher, but depending on how you go about it, you can cut out a lot of that time and that means cutting out a lot of wasted effort.  Either way, if you’re not following up, you’re making an amateur mistake – it’s RARE that someone gets hired on after a single submission packet has been sent.
Since most comic book editors don’t readily post their direct phone numbers (with good reason) what then, are your options for following up? Here are but a few:
Go to a convention: Meet the editors, writers and artists who already work for a company you’ve targeted, in person. If the editors or artists who work on the title you’re specifically looking to get into aren’t present, do NOT snub the people who ARE there. Talk to them, ask them what they like about working for the company and be honest about your intentions to break-in, yourself. These people are a wealth of information and will likely have great pointers about what they’re looking for in a submission packet, and if there are any new and exciting properties they’re considering for the future. Get a business card and keep in touch. In putting a face to your name, they’ll have an easier time remembering you, and if nothing else, you can use the information gleaned from such encounters to make a second, even better-targeted submission packet.
Attend a portfolio review: This step usually requires you go to a convention and track down editors in the same way as the first example, but not always. Sometimes companies hold open portfolio reviews on their forums. I know a few companies who ask for submissions to be placed on their public forum so their audience might first consider the work, as well as the editors. Traditionally, you’d sign-up for a portfolio review with a company at some point during a convention, agree to a time, and sit down with an editor to discuss. Don’t even think about coming to a con and plunking your work down in front of an editor without an appointment unless you want to make the editor angry! When the editor has time, that means they are taking a few moments away from what is a very busy schedule to meet with you and give you some instant feedback. Don’t rush it and don’t blow them off! They want you to succeed. Even if an editor doesn’t think you’re ready yet, they’ll remember your work, your face and the impression you made for next time. Keep pushing yourself and keep improving.
Find the publisher on Twitter and follow, don’t stalk, them: It’s poor-form to get online and follow your favorite publisher the same day you send in your submission packet and immediately Tweet to them: “Hey, just sent you my submissions – Please hire me!” If anything, and you really were interested in working for the company, you should have been following them long before your submission packet went out. Keep up with them for a while, and pay attention to what they’re sharing on social media. Follow them wherever you can – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and others. Retweet them when something interesting comes up. Once in a while, feel free to send out something like this, “Great work on (your favorite book here), I loved it when ______ happened! If you’re ever looking for freelancers, I’m open and would love to work with (your dream-team) in the future.” Make sure you’re polite with your interactions and your pitches are well outnumbered by your praise of their work!
The follow-up process, let’s be honest, is where the magic happens! As I said – it’s rare, even as a seasoned pro, to get work with a single packet sent out, these days. You gotta get serious and you gotta take a close look at what your editor wants to see when you’re set on working for them. Most editors are so busy and get inundated with so many submissions that even an email stating that they received your packet is impossible. If a few months have gone by and you’ve gotten no response, then it’s as good as a rejection letter.
You shouldn’t fear these, “thank you for the interest” notes. If anything, you should take them, hoard them and frame them. Statistically, you’re more likely to succeed, the more times you try and fail. So long as you keep improving, you will eventually make it, but where most artists fail to become what they want – that is, paid professionals at their favorite book, is right here. And the reason is simple. These people fail to take the rejection letter for what it is: a piece of paper telling you that you can do better. That being the case, there are only two ways you can screw up your ultimate goal, here. The first is that you can see the rejection letter as more than a piece of paper and as some big scary dream-crushing monster which bars you from ever considering doing work in comics ever again.  The second is to not do any better than the work you’re cranking out now. This is time for honesty – you can do this, but you must improve your game, first. That means it’s back to the drawing board and, hopefully, back to seeking out advice on what, specifically, you can do to raise the bar!
Remember – if you’re really serious about the work being done by a publisher, then editors there will want you to succeed because they want people who are passionate! A dedicated fan one day can turn into an inspired and inspirational teammate who can take their book to the next level. Don’t miss out on becoming that person! Do your homework, do lots of submissions, expect rejection letters but keep trying! You can do this – all you need is love!

Friday, August 2, 2013

How Not to React to Criticism of Your Writing

Not too long ago, famed author Anne Rice stirred up controversy when she supposedly had fans attack the Facebook pages of people who were critical of her works in reviews. I felt this could serve as a lesson for anyone who dares to put their work out there to the public - no matter how famous you are, someone isn't going to like the work you do, and you'll often find yourself in a position of defending yourself and how you go about it.

For the record, "sic 'em, boys" is not generally the preferred method.

Did Anne really tell her fans to attack? No. Should she have pointed out the review? It's within her right. What's the problem? She had huge amounts of fans and only asked they be civil, later.

This is hardly Anne's fault, but I'd wager, could have been thought-out better. Some fans are crazy enough to camp out on their adored favorite writer's front lawn, after all, or at least threaten to, so why should it be surprising that they'd stalk one of her bashers? On the internet, that goes double due to the relative anonymity of everyone.

Here are a few ways you can handle criticism without stirring up trouble:

  • Understand that everyone gets critique. Everyone. People will hate you when you write or draw something one way, and an entirely different group of people will hate you when you do the opposite. You can't please everyone, and the sooner you stop trying to, the better your writing will become.
  • Realize that taking time to cater to haters does nothing except take time away from your true fans. Your fans deserve 100% of your time - always and with no exceptions. They're who you're writing for, and long after your detractors have moved on to trolling someone else, your fans will still be there expecting wonderful things from you. Don't let them down.
  • Know that trolls exist and learn how to spot them. If someone criticizes your work in a very vague manner ("You suck") and/or you find your arguments going in circles when you engage someone about their dislike of your art ("Shut up, you suck"), then you're not dealing with a legitimate critique and you should forget the insult and move on. Simple as that.
  • Know when critique should be taken seriously. Editors, publishers, reviewers, panel judges and other professionals have limited time to look at the abundance of work they are handed each day. If you don't get a response, which is normal, then assume your work wasn't up to their standards. These people want you to succeed - really, they do! But they would be doing you and your potential for greatness a disservice if they rewarded your work with a publishing contract/feature/a gold star and it was sub-par. Be your own worst critique and strive to do things that challenge you.

It's sometimes hard to see one critique pop up in a sea of praise, and we often focus on the negative more than the positive, but keep these tips in mind. Sooner or later, you will have critics, and it's up to you to keep this most important goal in front of you: Keep improving and keep creating!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Special Announcement: Gloryhound Teaming Up With Comics Crux!

Hey all! Going to take a little aside from the usual journal entry, here, to make a very special announcement!

A new series of tutorials is in the works, as part of a collaboration with our friends at Comics Crux! For a year now, Comics Crux has striven to be the comic book resource of choice for people who read, write, draw, love and live comics! Gloryhound Network, the home of the how-to for breaking into creative work, is thrilled to be partnering with them by offering a boatload of new tutorials which will be featured on their site at!

These tutorials will be comic and webcomic specific, and we're hoping, will be a valuable asset to visitors of both Gloryhound and Comics Crux. It's a win-win situation!

Expect more, soon as the tutorials wrap-up and get ready to be posted. I hope you're as excited for this new partnership as I am -- we're poised to become the number one resource for people interested in pursuing careers as comic book creatives on the internet!

All the Best,


Friday, June 28, 2013

Tips on Experimenting With Writing

Matt sat down to the game I’ve been programming for fun last night. For as little work as I’ve gotten to do on it, there’s been a myriad of cool scripts and other gadgets I’ve been able to edit and plug in, which have made progress on its production easier. So much so, that I’ve started to get into programming the actual scenes of the story, in fact.

"Too much dialogue!" he said, and I agreed with him. I'm not a mind-blowing writer and I still draw far better than I write. But I am well-practiced and more importantly, I love learning. I write too long. Ask anyone who’s read my fanfiction. I had to learn to edit things down and to be okay with doing so, and a lot of my technique for writing today relies on typing every little thing down and tearing half of it out, later. I learned this through experiment -- writing things for fun and employing new practices that I hadn't tested yet.
Recall the series of posts that began here: Creative Writing From Start to Finish. To break it down, my writing technique looks something like this:
  • Get ideas
  • Turn ideas into breakdowns, character profiles and backdrops
  • Turn breakdowns into story beats
  • Turn story beats into a story
  • Inject themes and subtext
  • Edit the whole thing down
It's all well and good to follow this formula, but enjoying the process of writing would be impossible if I didn't switch things up once in a while and try new things. I get lots of enjoyment out of writing, but to turn the process into a formula can make for a very boring time, so I need to try new things and break some of my own rules once in a while.
Here then, are some new things I've been testing with fun-for-me projects like the aforementioned game, and some paid projects as well:
  • Working a plot around a theme without force. And the words 'without force' are the important ones, here. It's generally considered bad form to plot around a theme, because it doesn't feel natural. Indeed, your subtext should serve your plot and not the other way around. What's been working for me, however, is to write out enough of the story to know when a theme is beginning to rear its head, develop it, and not bend the plot out of shape if it's not a perfect fit. Tweaking a theme is far superior to tweaking a story, and can produce some satisfying results.
  • Inserting a plot device (or two) at random. This one is a bit tricky because it immediately registers a big fat "DON'T" from my brain when I try it. I've found that this is due, mostly, to my brain having not figured out what will come of the plot device and its intended purpose, when it shows up at a point that doesn't make any sense. But that's beautiful, too, because if I'm not expecting it then I hope my reader isn't either. I'm also forced to work with it and use ideas I hadn't been counting on using to reconcile it.
  • Writing towards one resolution and going an entirely different direction. I picked this up from Kevin Smith's experience directing Red State. In an interview I saw, he talked about having the story written to a point where the next thing to do in the progression seemed obvious, so it was decided to do something entirely different instead, to keep the audience on its toes. Like the randomly appearing plot device I talked about above, jerking your story around in new and surprising ways can be a frustrating but highly effective way to break out of your comfort zones as an author. Too, notice I didn't say 'opposite direction', here. If you do this, keep in mind that it's sometimes just as easy and therefore just as expected to take a story one way and do the exact opposite. Try to do something really wacky and off the beaten path, instead.

You may try some of these yourself, and indeed, you may try others. If you need help getting ideas, I suggest going back to my How to Write guides again and inspecting points where you can bend the rules a little (or a lot) and giving it a go.
It's important to note that when you experiment with your writing, any weird thing you're going to try has the potential to go very, very wrong. But that's okay -- this is a creative exercise, after all. You may feel more comfortable doing this type of work with your side projects, therefore.
Even if you're not getting paid to mess around with a story, it's important to take it seriously enough that it serves the highest purpose of writing: It makes for a good read.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why Charging More (or Less) Matters

My previous blog entry on knowing your value sent a fair bit of questions my way, and a good amount of discussion in equal measure. I thought therefore, I'd jump on some of that stuff and write a second post to cover a few of those things - most specifically questions centered around the idea of charging more over charging less.

I'll say that some people were a little angry that I didn't discuss the discount process when it comes to art, and the competitive nature of art in general as it pertains to what is sold on the internet, at conventions and elsewhere. It's true - most people you can commission on the internet for art are priced so ridiculously low that the typical layperson who only wants a pretty picture drawn will seek out the cheapest option, rather than what would suit their needs best. There's little room to specialize.

Or so you would think.
Hear me out -- I'm not saying making a quick twenty bucks on Deviantart for a sketch is bad business, because it's not and that goes double if you're just starting out. I'm also not saying you need to be a famous artist to warrant a higher price all the time. Rather, you have to consider yourself part of the equation when you are striking deals over your art. You have to consider what's worth your time, and what you'd genuinely enjoy doing, over the money. Don't follow the money because it'll never be creatively fulfilling and you'll never get work. Follow work you love and money will naturally follow. I guarantee it.

Let's take an example. I go to conventions a lot throughout the year. I'll often sit next to artists charging $60 and up for sketches, and most of them are worth every penny and quite often, take a substantial amount of the day for them to complete.

I however, I charge $40 max. It's not because I'm not as known -- often I have more published credits to my name than people around me charging more. It's a simple matter of supply, demand, and the worth of my time. I know that roughly half of my customers at any given show will come to me with a request for some kind of cartoony animal, which will take me approximately half an hour to draw well. Then there will be another 30% or so who want some kind of pin-up girl, which is something else I'm quite good at turning out with good quality in a short span of time. The remaining 20% will have more difficult requests which might take longer, and true I may tweak my prices for those, but I won't, often.

I charge low because it's rare that I run out of customers before I run out of time at conventions. These customers almost always want a sketch that doesn't take more than 30 minutes to complete. The math is simple: Ten sketches at $40 a pop ($400) versus three at $60 ($180) over the course of a convention is much more preferable.

The other side of the coin (no pun intended), which would be charging higher prices than a competing product, is even easier to argue for. Consider the benefits of a higher priced item, first:
  • Items set at a higher price have a higher perceived value. Again, see the previous blog entry on value for a lesson in this concept. In a nutshell, this means that people will, if the product appears to be of quality, take into consideration its overall worth as a factor when making a purchasing decision, noting in their minds that although it is more expensive than another artist's work, it must be worth more to be sold at such a price.
  • Higher-priced items attract higher-quality clients. And I'm not saying rich people are better people, here. The people willing to spend larger sums of money on things tend to view them in higher regard, take better care of them, and that means, as an artist, they're also seeing you in higher regard.
  • People who are not just looking to score a discount are more likely to call you back to do further work in the future, if you do a quality job for them. Broke people often don't call again, because they're more interested in swinging a deal. Too, if you set up a down-payment on the work you will be doing, as you should, the person requesting the commission is more likely to pay the balance when the job is complete.
  • Higher prices mean you won't be wasting your time on unfulfilling work. The fewer the people you have asking you to draw their Twilight Sparkle recolor for $5, the better, am I right?

As I said -- to command higher prices, you don't need to be famous or already established. All you need to do is make sure the job you do is an excellent one.

I hope this elaboration on the last entry has been of use to you. More posts about value are sure to follow, as this certainly is a hot topic. Remember to value yourself first and above all else, value your time, and value your art.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Getting Work You Love: Working as a Freelancer

Welcome to the last part of our three-part series on finding work you love. During the first week, we covered getting published. Last week, we touched on finding work as a creative, in-house. This week, we’ll discuss freelancing, which is a blanket term for working on your own, either at home, in-house, with a single outfit or with many. In fact, freelancing takes on so many forms, it’d be impossible to cover them all in one blog post, so this is going to be a pretty broad discussion. The good news is, you may find the tips and pointers here could also be applicable in any job situation!

So! Right off the bat, I think it’s important that we start with a few definitions of terms I’ll be using, in case any of this is new to you.

· A freelancer is a person who works on their own, usually engaged in one or several projects which benefit themselves. Freelancers do not employ others. My work as an individual artist currently falls under the category of freelance since I do the work myself as a means to make money for myself.

· An entrepreneur is someone who starts a company, usually with the intention of building it into a business. They may start out as freelancers. Entrepreneurs may also hire freelancers to help get the necessary tasks accomplished for their company, and may even have full-time staff they employ. My work with Gloryhound could be considered an entrepreneurship situation. I hire freelancers from time-to-time for one-shot projects here and there, but also take on much of the work myself.

· A business is a company or other money-making operation which can run and be profitable without the need of its owner. Businesses hire freelancers and employees alike. Gloryhound does not operate as a business, because I am still integral to its success and I frankly have no desire to turn it into such a thing until it becomes able to sustain more than myself on a payroll situation.

· Capital is money. Venture capital is money invested into a business or entrepreneur to get things started with the understanding that a certain percentage of the company will be owned by the investor until it is profitable enough to buy the investor out. If the business goes under and the venture capital is lost, unless an agreement is in place that essentially marks the money as a loan, the investment doesn’t need to be paid back. A loan is given to a business as any loan is – with the understanding that it will be paid back, usually with interest, even if the business fails.

Some of that may sound complicated, and you may be wondering exactly why someone would choose to be a freelancer at all. To most freelancers, the answer is as simple as the implied freedom, itself. To others, it’s the only means by which they can get work at all in a given field, such as consulting. Still to others, it’s the best way to earn a passive or secondary income stream, or a means to get one’s foot in the door for a career change.

Whatever your reasons for becoming a freelancer, you will always go into such work with the understanding that you’re trading stability for freedom. Stability is a relative term, of course. In our time, it’s not unusual for companies to surprise hard workers with layoffs, even during an economic upswing. Freedom, too, is relative. You may find that while you’re free to go to Starbucks at any hour of the day or night, browse the internet on a whim or simply take a week off, you’ll still need the discipline to do the work that’s necessary to eat and pay the utility bills. The long and short of it is that freelancing isn’t for everyone, but that’s okay. More often than not, a combination of steady income from a regular full-time or part-time job can help cushion a full or partial transition into freelance work.

As a creative, your first step in becoming a successful freelancer should be to gather materials together for a portfolio. You’re probably tired of hearing me say it after two other entries advising the same thing, but it really is that important. Persons looking to go 100% freelance and especially those just starting out have the most necessity to keep several portfolios, as they may be keen to do several types of work in order to make the mortgage for the month. Often, as a freelancer goes on with his or her career, they will narrow their efforts down to just a handful of things they’d like to be commissioned to do, narrowing that list down to just one or two as their reputation and list of clientele builds.

Finding work should be a near-constant priority for you, but luckily in the age of the internet, it isn't difficult to access resources which can help you. Sites like Elance and Craigslist offer "gigs" and other one-shot jobs which you can place a bid for. Placing a bid is just as it sounds - you bid to do the work in the alloted time, show them your portfolio, name a price, and wait to hear back. Most freelancers actively seeking work will start their mornings by placing several bids to projects they're interested in, each day, until they are selected. Indeed, it may take several tries and there never are any guarantees, but the more bids you put in, the more likely you'll have a callback.

Selling yourself properly, as always, requires you know and understand your own strengths. You should be cold-calling or sending submissions to places that do work similar to the work you enjoy doing, to be most effective with your gig-search. If you want to be a comic book artist, send comic book samples, not pin-up art, to companies you'd like to work with.

Local businesses often need writers, illustrators or graphic designers for one-off projects such as brochures, newspaper ads, blurbs or other promotional material. You may even find odd-jobs such as painting storefront windows. Keep your portfolio handy - have it online and easy-to-access via smartphone in case you come across a place you may like to do business with throughout your the day.

Turning things around promptly and being professional about handling the work you have coming in is as essential as landing the gig. If a client doesn't give you a clear deadline, then assume it is due, yesterday. Don't slack off just because your job isn't of the punch-in from 9 to 5 variety. Set aside certain hours of your day to get the work done. If you have an outrageous deadline but a golden opportunity with a project, don't be surprised if you have to cancel plans you've previously made to get it done.

Get money up front, always. I usually ask for at least half, depending on the work. Most businesses and entrepreneurs will lay out a cost breakdown, and some who do the same type of work over and over again will clearly display their rates on their websites -- that's a great way to present your expectation of compensation to the client and allow for negotiation.

Always, always, always have a contract in order for your work. There's nothing worse than a client who doesn't pay, excpet for a client who doesn't pay when there's no contract in place, obligating him to pay. Search online for sample contracts that lay out expectations of payment for services rendered, and tweak those to the job you are doing.

Hopefully, most of your clients will be good ones! You should keep a book of references from these, with letters of recommendation from each one if you can get it (and most are happy to write one). Have your happy customers send a short letter talking about the excellent service they received from you and the job you did. Use this to promote or take it with you when talking to business prospects and scoping a new gig.

You will of course, have to deal with taxes at the start of every year, just like everyone else. You'll fill out a 1099-Misc form, which will require itemizing each and every dollar you made and the things you spent money on for your freelance or business endeavor. Entrepreneurs and businesses will, throughout the year, issue W9 forms to the freelancers they employ, to show the IRS that money was given to a person to perform a task, and they in turn will fill out the appropriate tax forms when April rolls around. Taxes can be pretty hard on freelancers, and especially new ones. I advise people that the safest way to assure you've got enough in the bank to pay "the man" is to hold back one-quarter of what is earned for each gig, for tax purposes. Depending on your state and your tax situation, you may wish to hold back more. I have heard some people advise that half is optimal, though from my experience it seems a bit excessive.

When your freelancing endeavors become profitable enough to warrant employing others, consider seeking out freelancers to join your team. Delegating tasks you yourself don't enjoy doing, or those you know that someone else can do better, is a great way to run a small business.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief look into the various jobs available to creatives in the working world and how to break into them. I will be doing more entries like these in the future, and hopefully in greater detail. For now, love what you do, and get out there and work in what you love!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Getting Work You Love: Working In-House

Last time we touched on the things you must do in order to pursue a published gig as a creative. This week, our three-part series continues with explanations on what it takes to make it in-house.
This entry is all about getting an office job as it were – an in-house job is one where you go in, 9 to 5 to do some creative work. I currently have a job like this and as head of the design department, I get to look at all the candidates who hope to get work of this type. Some are exceptional, but many are lacking in some very basic but very key components.
To start, let’s look at some job titles usually carried by in-house creatives. They are:
·         Designer
·         Illustrator
·         Photographer
·         3D Modeler
·         Concept Artist
·         Art or Creative Director
·         And the list goes on…
Now - to reiterate what was said in our last entry - if you want to work in jobs like these, you need a portfolio. I’ll say it again. Artists. Need. Portfolios. I don’t care if you’ve never worked as an artist before in your life – if you have a portfolio, you have 90% of what is necessary to be hired as one. If you don’t, then you basically have nothing. You may laugh or you may cry, but 9 times out of 10, when it comes to immediate rejections, the reason is always the same: the person failed, in their introduction letter or resume, to provide samples of their work, be it a link to an online gallery, a disc, or prints.
As a person considering you for a job centered entirely around your ability to create and to do it well, I simply must see what you’re capable of. Goes without saying that I’d rather see you send a portfolioand no resume than vice versa. And I want to see your best stuff, only. Look again to our first entry for some basic tips on creating a great portfolio.
What goes into your portfolio for an in-house job is, as always, up to you but you would serve yourself best if you had some work that was similar to the type of stuff you’d be doing for the company.  As an example: an employer may be impressed by your show-accurate rendition of Sailor Moon, but if you’re applying for a graphic design job for a healthcare company, you’d be better suited bringing some brochures you’ve laid out and leaving the illustrations at home. Competition for these jobs, especially when advertised in papers or online, can be pretty fierce so don’t think you can get away with bringing your C-game.
If you don’t have anything that would fit, then instead of creating something specifically for that company, you should first take inventory of what your portfolio does show, and question whether or not you’d want a job within that particular industry. Be honest with yourself. If you’ve got a portfolio crammed with illustrations of motorcycles and edgy ads, then a position at Harley-Davidson might be a great fit for you, whereas a job in-house with a vacuum cleaner company, might not. It’s worth your time to seek out a job you love because unlike published and freelance gigs, you can count on spending loads of time within the company’s walls, and that means immersing yourself in their brand. Want to be happy as a creative person? Remember to seek out work you love, and not just work you “can do”. Always and in any economy.
Too, you’d do well to understand the hierarchy of jobs within the design/creative fields. Generally speaking you have: Entry-level or junior designers (jobs for people right out of college or new to the field). Designers and senior designers (both for people with some experience), art and creative directors (the management), Marketing Managers, CMOs, COOs and Presidents (the bosses of the bosses). Feel free to apply to any job, but make sure you have had experience in the field before you expect to break into anything above the basic “designer” level.
You should know basic business etiquette – dress well, not too much perfume, flat shoes, etc. Even if they say the initial interview is casual, dress smart. Again, you’ll be spending a lot of time within the company, and the people in charge want to make sure you’ll fit in with them during those hours.  Oh – and please… Don’t bring your cellphone to the interview, or at least shut it off. Don’t bring your mom, either.
So, what about the resume? Do bring a resume. Simply show that you’ve had a good working history. Try to avoid gaps - If you’ve freelanced, then make sure that’s in there, too! As I said, this isn’t as important as the portfolio, but some firms put a stupid amount of emphasis on college and previous work – and frankly, companies like that are often clueless about hiring a good designer, so don’t feel bad if you don’t get a job there because of these things. Speaking for myself, I mostly use resumes to keep tabs on contact information for candidates I’m interested in, so make sure a working phone number and email address are both present on your resume. Oh – and answer your phone if you get a call or at least call-back in 24 hours!
See you next week, where we'll discuss how to get work as a freelancer!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Getting Work You Love: Getting Published

Welcome to part one of a three-part series on getting work that you love! The first chapter I'll be covering today will be good for writers and artists alike who want to get their work in front of the masses in a publication of some sort, a book or other media of their own creation. Next week, we'll explore working in-house for a company as a staff creative on salary. After that, we'll dive into going freelance, where these two worlds are more or less combined.

If you're an artist or writer, then one of your big goals may be to see your work in front of the eyes of millions. To get published nationally or even internationally is an aspiration of many, and in this day of the Internet, instant feedback and endless avenues for exposure, it's something which can be achieved far more easily than in years past. Of course, competition is still fierce and not everyone has a spot available to test-drive a new talent, so preparation and all-around excellence must be expected of anyone wanting to get into the game.

That first bit about preparation and excellence starts with having a portfolio you can be proud of. To those of you who do not have a portfolio which is either online, in a book, or preferably, both, pay very close attention: You. Must. Have. A. Portfolio. This is true not only of this first exploration into the world of the working creative seeking to be published, but those looking to become in-house and freelance artists as well. Nobody will care that you're an artist or a writer until you have a portfolio together.

So how do you go about making a portfolio? Simple! Follow these two rules:
  • Fill it with your best work.
  • Fill it with works that showcase the type of stuff you'd like to be doing.
And that's it. How many pieces you include, what they are, diversity amongst them and all of that is up to you, so long as whatever is going into the thing, follows those two rules.

Now, if you are looking to get published somewhere, I assume you've done your homework and have pinpointed a few publishers which already do work you'd either like to be a part of creating, or which publish things similar to the idea which you'd like to have published. If not, you simply must do that.

Too, you have to research who's hiring. Some outfits aren't actively seeking new talent, and you very likely won't get anywhere with them by sending blind submissions in. And I'm not saying that if it's a dream of yours to work for a company of this type that you shouldn't send things in, but you certainly shouldn't feel discouraged if, in doing so, you don't hear back from them. Save the "not hiring" crowd for last or skip them until they are hiring.

Most publishers have strict guidelines when it comes to how, when and where they accept submissions. Some comic book companies only accept submissions from artists attending conventions and stepping into their portfolio reviews, while others want small files to be emailed to them, and still others have long, extensive processes which artists and writers need to follow to a "t" if they want in. Of these, I personally prefer the portfolio reviews. Not only do you get to meet people in the industry, face to face, but you get instant feedback on your work -- so even if you don't get hired, you'll very likely walk away knowing what needs fixed in order for you to do so. Especially if you're just starting out in comics, go to these whenever possible.

As for writers, the process is much the same, but I've not heard of a live portfolio review for writers happening anywhere, so you may be relegated to sending your stuff in, only. It's a little tougher for writers to break-in to comics, as well. Many places simply aren't looking for new stories as much as they're looking for artists to help bring existing stories to life. That should not discourage you, especially if you're good. Here again, pinpointing a handful of publishers you really want to work for is key, and follow-up as well as persistence is too. It doesn't hurt to get to know the people you'd potentially be working for either, by seeking them out at conventions and taking genuine interests in the kinds of things they're working on at the moment, and the type of things they're looking for in a writer for that series.

One of the other avenues writers take, and artists too (though I'll say, to a lesser extent) is to find an agent. Especially if you're looking to write a novel, you should seek out the most current volume of literary agent lists, such as "The 20XX Guide to Literary Agents" which is published each year and available on An agent will take a look at your work (your portfolio) and if you're marketable, match you up with a publisher. In exchange for this magical service, they'll then take a fee out of your book sales once it's on the market. It's oftentimes a lengthy process, and agents aren't quick to accept just anyone so several inquiries over several months or even years are often necessary. But again, if you're persistent and the quality of your work continues to improve with each submission, you'll eventually break in.

One final note for writers of novels especially, here -- there are several scam publishers out there. They're easily recognizable by the copious amounts of money they require you to sink into them supposedly publishing your book, before publishing it. Be aware that the majority of real publishers have the money to front the costs for a book they believe will sell, and unless you're self-publishing, the amount of money spent to publish your work should be no more than the cost of postage to send your submission in.

No matter what avenue you've taken to get published, and no matter your skill level, preparedness, or how long you've been working towards your goal, you can pretty much count on one thing, only: Rejection letters. And that's hardly a bad thing!

Most rejection letters will leave a sting the first time you read them. Don't worry, though, as the sting gets duller the more you see them. Too, most won't be particularly helpful in terms of what's required for you to break through the red tape and get your work published. Editors usually have their desks cluttered with submissions on any given day, and a detailed response to each creator about the particulars of their work -- what works and what doesn't -- would be impossible. Those that do point out what needs to be fixed should be cherished, saved, even framed. A thick skin may seem necessary when an editor criticizes your work, but it isn't. Seeing their critiques for what they really are, is.

Here's the biggest secret about editors that practically nobody will share with you: Most of them aren't talent-hating-know-nothing-jerks. Almost all of them want you to succeed, and they want you to do better. If an editor has taken the time out of his or her day to tell you, specifically, what you missed the mark on, it's because you're so very close to being someone they'll hire, fixing these nuances, big or small, will put you over the edge.

And now it's time for a breakdown.

In review, here are the main points to getting published which you should remember. Feel free to copy and paste these, and stick them on your wall, next to your rejection letters, until you're published:
  • Put a portfolio together.
    • Put things in your portfolio which are awesome.
    • Put things in your portfolio which are of the type of work you'd like to be doing.
    • Don't be afraid to cater your portfolio to a specific publisher by tweaking the body of work you showcase, relevant to the work you see yourself doing for a given publisher.
  • Send your samples to everyone who is hiring.
    • Send samples to a few places who aren't hiring, but don't be discouraged if you don't hear back from them.
    • Follow the rules when sending submissions. Even if they're tedious.
  • Take your stuff to a convention portfolio review and get a professional opinion.
  • Seek out several agents and submit your works to them.
  • Expect rejection letters. Even if you're the best artist/writer in the world.
    • Don't take rejection letters personally.
    • If you get critique, take it as a compliment to your potential, not as an insult.
  • Improve
  • Keep sending things in and don't be afraid of rejections
  • Understand that breaking-in is hard work.
  • Take reality checks in stride. Remember - if someone "you're better than" is doing work and you're not, it's very likely they worked harder than you did, faster than you could, or they actually are better at art or writing than you are. Don't get discouraged. Just improve.
If you've got talent, eventually someone will take a chance on you, and you'll get your first published gig. You've gotta want it, and you've gotta be persistent, but if the first is true, then the persistency should come naturally for you. Keep at it!

See you next week, where we'll discuss the ins and outs of working in-house!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Know Your Value

Next week I will start a series of entries pertaining to getting work in a creative field. So many people have great potential to be very profitable in this arena, and I thought a good introduction to becoming a paid professional might be to first discuss individual price. After all, I imagine if you’re an artist (or writer, or other type of creative) you have likely asked yourself this question: “How much is my stuff worth?”

There are obviously no easy answers, here. What you’re worth is based on several factors, including the time you put into your craft, your experience, the cost of supplies needed, who you’ve worked for in the past and the list goes on. It seems the only way you’ll know for sure what to charge is by sticking your neck out there and seeing who buys. That can make for a tough reality check on both ends. If you’re pricing yourself too high and people aren’t buying, then you either need to lower your price or up the quality of your work to match. If you’re too low, then people will be slow to offer you more money when you come asking for it later, or you’re just plain risking burn-out on things which don’t afford you much incentive.

As I said, there’s no singular easy answer to the question of what you may potentially be worth, but you should know that you can decrease the risk of missing your mark in terms of pricing, by taking a good hard look at your value.
So, first, I might as well explain what is meant by the word value: It is not simply the base price that someone is willing to pay for your work. It is not how many things you can do, how many hours you can work and certainly isn’t being everything to everyone. Value is specific to your area of expertise. It’s what makes you marketable. It is your unique selling proposition.
Some of the things which could be seen as valuable are found in the quality of work you provide, but others are less tangible and are based solely on perception. Here are but a few examples:
·         A carpenter spends all of his extra cash on supplies to make designer cabinets. He buys fine woods and custom-made hardware which he imports from Italy. The separate parts of the pieces he creates are, on their own, worth large sums of money and he only carves very simple designs into each piece so as not to distract from the delicate nature of their already-present details. He finds he can charge more for his work than it costs to make it, even though his art has value largely because of the pieces used and not necessarily the craftsmanship which goes into it.
·         An artist works in an exquisite style uniquely her own to craft necklaces. The pieces she uses to make the necklaces aren’t particularly expensive, and in fact the cost to make one is likely to be under $20 a piece. Still, she is able to sell them for hundreds of dollars, all because of the fine work she and she alone is capable of producing. In this example, the unique style and attention to detail are what give our artist the most value and are the reason she can charge more than the $20 it costs her to make the necklaces.
·         A writer has a regular column in the New York Times. He has published several best-selling novels and currently works as a freelancer and ghost-writer, charging top-dollar for commissioned pieces. He has a unique style of writing, but has been paid well for writings of under 100 words which wouldn’t necessarily show this. His name is well-known and he is able to command a higher salary because of it.
Value can give your customers more than what they’d get when paying for average work, and because of it you should expect a reasonably higher price for it. But what about the opposite? Far and away, offering a discount has become the norm when it comes to being competitive in any given market space, but you should be aware that in today’s world and yes, even in a crummy economy, people can and do respond negatively to discounts. It’s human nature to wonder what’s missing or wrong with something offered at a discount, while value, on the other hand, is almost always respected, even if a decision to purchase isn’t made as quickly.
It’s also important to note that value is in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone will think your stuff is worth the money, but that’s okay because you shouldn’t be marketing to those people in the first place. If you’re an artist who paints beautiful portraits of family pets, you would certainly have more success seeking out dog and cat enthusiasts than you would people who build model airplanes. Effective marketing not only helps your customers get the most for their money, but it helps you by assuring your client list is full of people who love what you love to do, and not just anybodies looking to get a piece of art done on the cheap.
If you know your value, then you can better assess your price even in a market which seems to be competitive in terms of discounts, only. Take the time to find out what the basic model is going for and instead of lowering your costs, raise them based on your value.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tips for Getting a Kickstarter Fully Funded

The following blog entry appeared on Dan Miller's site, where I am but one of many hundreds of members. It's a great place for creative people to meet and discuss ways to further their careers and I highly recommend checking it out if you haven't, yet. Anyway -- I was delighted by the response to this post so much that I've gone ahead and made the entry public. You all might also be happy to know that among other things, I'm currently writing a book about this subject. More on that, soon!

In February, I launched a Kickstarter for my newest comic book endeavor, "Sylvanna". I was only seeking $3,000 and with the work I'd already put into the project, I fully expected it to be successful in the end. What I didn't expect, was for the project to be funded in less than 24 hours from its start, and to more than double its original goal by the end. Here, in a nutshell (hey, I have to save some of this for the eBook!) is how I did it:
  • I built up some hype. Before the Kickstarter launched, I told everyone I knew about my intentions. I made a website, I posted on forums, and I engaged everyone on my social media networks, letting the masses know that I was on the verge of crowd-funding my new comic series. I did this for about a month before launch, in fact. Some people make the mistake of launching a crowd-funding project and then reaching out to potential funders. Understand that you lose precious time (and therefore backer money) when you do it this way. Give your audience time to get their finances together and to budget so they can get behind you 100%.
  • I used my "unfair advantage". I'm a known artist. Well, almost! I'm known to a very select and elite group of people who grew up in the early 2000's reading Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comics, which I was a penciller for. This audience, for as young as the people were when they first saw my published work in those books, is very loyal. I have fans who have become friends, and some whom I've never met, who are excited to support whatever project I'm doing and especially if it taps into the same reasons they loved my work on Sonic. Needless to say, these fine folks were more than happy to contribute to my Kickstarter, and all I needed to do was make them aware of it and give them time to contribute (see point one). You may not have this kind of background yourself, but it's worth asking -- what is your specific unfair advantage? Understanding that there truly is no such thing as an unfair advantage (unless you are acting unethically of course!) is sometimes the first step towards taking the best advantage of it.
  • I considered my audience. Knowing that the people whom my project appealed to most were very likely to be young and unable to afford the bigger rewards, was key in not only considering what rewards to offer, but at what level of investment they should be offered at. To that end, I had rewards as low as the $1, $5 and $10 marks, where each was guaranteed a very cool set of prizes for their contribution. This also played into how I advertised, and where. I set up some banner ads before starting my Kickstarter, which were posted on forums and comic sites that people of this age group were known to frequent. It's been said before but bears repeating: Knowing your audience is everything, so make sure you're doing your research so you can market effectively.
  • I set a reasonable funding goal for my project. I didn't need a million dollars to launch a webcomic. Frankly, I have had webcomics launch on zero dollars, before. Most people who came before me in this arena, in fact, were looking for far less than $3,000 for their Kickstarters to take off. I risked being called out for this in the worst way possible if I'd asked for an insane amount of money -- and that was people not backing me because they saw me as funding my wallet and not the project. Be aware that the modern consumer is savvy and will check to see that you're not being unreasonable with the amount of money you claim to need for your given venture. Too, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have rules that prohibit "fund your life" projects. Do your research by checking out similar projects, first, and determine exactly how much you absolutely need before you launch. Don't forget to factor in such things as shipping and hiring costs.
  • I had some great rewards... And when I say great rewards, I mean desirable on all levels. Sometimes people who crowd-fund only throw the bare minimum of rewards, or irrelevant rewards at their backers. Things like buttons and bookmarks don't cost a penny, sure, but do they offer much incentive to back the project by themselves? Of course not! You can beat the crowd by giving out cool stuff that people will actually use, and not the least of these is the finished product itself. You should not be afraid to up your costs by throwing in extra value, either! Offer scarce items, or limited editions. Some of my most popular prizes were in fact, those which cost very little to make, but came autographed and personalized. People love things that are once-in-a-lifetime offers so don't be stingy in promoting those!
  • I made all of my channels aware of the launch date. And when I say all of my channels, I mean all of my channels and all of my team's channels, and all of my friends' channels and all of my family's channels! It's not as much work as you think! If you have a place where people gather to interact with you, you simply must put out the APB on your upcoming project. Post to those forums, send out social media updates, and alert your real-life friends of course! Since I'm an artist, I did a number of "promo pieces" which were viewed in my more popular galleries online, which happened to mention I would soon be launching a Kickstarter to fund a project which the given piece of art centered around. This drew tons of interest! If you're a writer, you may consider doing the same with your blog, or a musician could easily promote through a Youtube video! It's wide open, and you should leave no stone unturned when it comes to letting people know that you're in crowd-funding mode.
So if you're considering a crowd-funding project this year, or sometime in the near future, I hope this helps you! I encourage you to go for it and I shall keep you all posted on the progress of my new eBook in this arena, as well. Best wishes!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Making Comics: Artist Tools

When I was younger, getting comics wasn't something I'd say was a chore, but it was certainly a task. When you're in small-town Pennsylvania, your nearest anything is often a good half-hour drive out of town, so getting a hold of anything as exotic as a new issue of a comic book becomes something of a ritual. These days, if you want a new issue of something, it's often as easy as opening iTunes and waiting for it to download. If not, then you can go online and read a webcomic or find a synopsis within a review if you're particularly lazy and/or broke.

Things certainly have changed when it comes to how we access and consume comic books, but the same can't really be said for how the comics themselves are created. And that goes for digital comics and webcomics, too.

Here then, is a run-down of some popular tools needed to create comics then and now:

The Canvas - Your basic 11x17 cold-press bristol board was the standard comic book sketch pad back in the day, and for many of us old-heads, that's not changed. In the olden days, publishers would sometimes send you complimentary boards if you were working on one of their books, but it's certainly more common to request the artist purchase their own. I like Blue Line Pro boards which you can order online, but Strathmore makes tablets of 24 boards, some pre-lined, specifically for comic books, which you can purchase in stores.

It's worth mentioning that these days, it isn't necessary to have a physical canvas to work on at all, if you have a drawing tablet and know what you're doing with a graphics program such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Indeed, and especially with the increasing trend of publishers requiring artists learn to be pencillers, inkers and colorists all in one, some illustrators prefer to work entirely on the computer.

The Drawing Tools - Pencils and pens were the order of the day back when I started doing comics professionally (and that was a decade ago, already. Yeesh!). Not much has changed here either, when it comes to yours truly, at least. As I've said in countless blog posts before this one -- I am a pencil snob. I like a .05 lead in a mechanical pencil the best, and I prefer to work with Staedtler Mars pencils and graphite. For pens, I like Pigma Microns and the oldschool Rapidograph pens you have to load with ink. Some inkers prefer working with brushes and quill pens, as well.

Naturally, techniques aren't staying exclusively traditional in this arena. Vector programs like Adobe Illustrator are excellent for making sleek lines when inking, digitally. Here again, all you need is a tablet, a computer, and the program itself. And, bonus, with Illustrator's pen tool being so versatile, I can say from personal experience that it's not impossible to do some inking with a plain old mouse and forego the tablet requirement entirely!

The Colors - I knew more than a few colorists, back in the day, who were having great success painting colors onto their comic boards using gouache and watercolors. I knew far more who were using Photoshop to color their comic boards, however. It and programs like it are still standards to this day for this reason.

What's interesting about colors, to me at least, is noticing a trend of artists going back to the old ways of coloring a piece of artwork, and this sort of resurgence into using paints, markers and inks. The reason for this is, I think, better scanners, software and printers capable of picking up and recreating the delicate nuances of such media. Many artists, I'm sure, simply prefer to work by hand as much as possible, and some stories just lend themselves better to this more analog approach.

The Typography - One of the many points of fascination within my portfolio comes from the abundance of old Sonic pages that contain hand-lettered text. These are wonderful little treasures, and I would go so far as to call them relics of an age gone by. You simply don't see hand-drawn type any more as computers have become quite good at making good-looking typography.

It wasn't until I was acquainted with some exceptional letterers that I myself started to pick up a few things about the nuances of typography within comic books and how those things should be handled. It's unfortunate, but with the ease of  creating text in the computer age, we've lost a bit of the art. So while it's a simple task to put words to comic these days, it's by no means easy to do it well. Checking out a few comics printed some years in the past with hand-drawn letters is, I think, essential to achieving great results with text created by computers.

Whatever your personal preferences and tastes, doing artwork and incorporating design that is both nice to look at and fitting of the work should be your goal. Don't be afraid to try new things... or old things, for that matter!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Worst Things Good Parents are Teaching Creative Kids

This past week on Twitter, I lamented the fact that I might soon have to place a banner on the Gloryhound Website that read, in big red letters and 72 point font:

"Don't Go to College!"

I think that would be a pretty huge tragedy. Still, with the costs of education rising to out-of-control proportions and ill-prepared students walking into interviews without the stuff they should have gotten in school to show for all the money they spent, I wonder. And I worry.

Having looked at the issue as someone who's been in the art industry both as an illustrator and a designer for the last decade, I think we need to rearrange some of the common misconceptions out there about taking a job in the creative fields. I believe some of that starts with teaching parents what kinds of conversations are okay to have with their kids who want to get into industries that involve visual art, writing and music.

Here are but a few things that I've heard well-meaning parents tell their kids:

  • You need to go to college for art and the opposite: Art school is a waste of money. These are both very narrow viewpoints on art school in general. Speaking as an art school graduate, I can say if you have a child who is skilled at drawing -- and pay attention to the word skilled, here, because your kid can't just draw every once in a while on the margins of his books at school and be expected to get an enjoyable career out of it, then art school is an excellent resource. Please don't be that parent who sends their child off to art school because they needed to go to school for something.
    And that's another horrible misconception - if you're telling your kids that they have to go to school, then it's on you if they don't end up doing anything with their lives, mom and dad. Sorry. The fact of the matter is, art school is not a waste of money for kids who have real potential to become artists. Be careful, because college recruiters are some of the craftiest salespeople out there and will gladly tell any schmuck he has what it takes to be the next great designer. Don't buy it if the child doesn't love it, because it is expensive.

    And that brings me to my final point on this matter: If you've got a gifted kid and they deserve a good school, make sure they can afford it. As it is with any field, school doesn't guarantee a job. It's the work you put in, after you get the degree, that counts. It's the portfolio you've put together. It's the drive you have to go out job-seeking and doing freelance. It's not glamorous for those first few years and creative jobs are often some of the most competitive. But if there's hustle, a job will be found.
  • You will never make money with your art and/or you will make money after you're dead. It can seem to be a scary thing, especially to parents with kids fresh out of school who are still lingering around the house. It's important not to get into this mentality that says there are no good jobs to be found in creative endeavors. I've been working for 10 years and the whole time, the economy was never good.

    Aside from landing 9 to 5 jobs, artists have a unique and excellent opportunity to become freelancers, which is in my opinion, where all the money is, anyway. It just takes more work than landing a job. I encourage every artist who is new to the game, to take a hard look at their portfolios and then take time to fill them with pieces representing the art they'd love to do. It's especially true with art school students, that a portfolio could become cluttered with any old assignment to show off versatility. But versatility can sometimes be a crutch. Showing that you know how to do one thing and do it better than the competition is at the heart of any business, and when you sell yourself, your portfolio should always be reflective of that one thing you can do exceptionally well. Maybe it's illustrations of pin-up girls, and maybe it's laying out postcards. Whatever  it is, seeking work you love and doing it to the best of your ability is how you make real money as an artist.
  • You should do that project for Aunt Sally for free. Yes and no. I find it interesting that many of the people who proclaim artists aren't marketable are the same ones who request artists work for free.

    Look, there are a million websites out there which already cover this problem far better than I could. Here's the bottom line: If you're an artist, and even if you know someone, and yes, even if they're family, you should probably be charging money for your services. In the end, it's always up to them, but it's good practice for the kid to start setting expectations to be paid for their hard work. And more than likely, Aunt Sally will be only happy to pay.
  • If you do art as a job, you will hate it as a hobby. Simply not true. If anything, you should be encouraging your child to look at what they're already doing as a hobby, and as a parent, help to guide them into a path that will use the thing they find themselves doing for hours on end, as a means to earn a living.

    I hear you saying, "But Dawn, where will my kid find work as a concert pianist?" and I truthfully don't know. But I do know that concert pianists make a bunch of money and some might even be doing it right in your home town. Seek people out who can get the child started in that direction, and let them know what to expect and how to go about it as a career. An apprenticeship is ideal, if you can get one.
Perhaps if we start here, there will never be a need for me to put that banner up on my website. And that's good, because I sure hope there never will be.

Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Get Work as an Artist

I’m tired of seeing resumes on my desk. If you’re an artist and you’re trying to get work, why are you sending me a resume? More to the point, why did the fancy school on your resume not teach you to submit a portfolio?

Don't get me wrong - I’m a proponent of art school, and I’m also a person who went to an art school. But still, I’m worried for the kids going to art school and what they’re learning about selling themselves or perhaps more aptly, what they're not learning.

To the point, if you’re an artist and want work, at minimum, this is what I need from you in order of most important to least:
  • A portfolio - Preferably one that's online, which showcases 10 - 15 pieces of your best stuff. Catered to the job you're going for, of course. In other words, don't send me a bunch of stationery if I'm hiring you to be a web designer. I want to see your web design work first and foremost. Feel free to sprinkle in a little of what you can do with print too, if you feel it's great.
  • A way to contact you. I honestly can not tell you how many times people forget this, or they give an unreliable phone number or email address. Make sure we can get in touch and that, if you're serious about the job, you are either there to answer your phone or able to call me back within 24 hours. It's called being professional.
  • A cover letter which tells me why you’re a fit for the job and something that’ll intrigue me about you as a person. Assure me, briefly, that you have the skill set I'm looking for and so long as your portfolio looks great, I'll happily bring you in for an interview.
The resume is almost optional. If you’ve had work before, and certainly if you’re going for a managerial position, I will definitely want to look over your credentials. But if I’m hiring you as a staff artist? I want to see what you can do, and we can then talk about the ways you go about doing it.

“But what about all the programs you need to know, like Photoshop and InDesign and don’t you want to know if I am using a Mac or a PC and, and, and…” No! Shush! Bad!

I do not care if you know Photoshop or not, if what I’m hiring you to do does not specifically cite Photoshop as a necessity. Macs and PCs are becoming more similar by the day, so I no longer worry about dragging a Mac native into a PC office – there are ways to make a great artist comfortable in any computer environment and from my experience, it’s worth the investment if you’re phenomenal.

The fact is this: There are ten thousand ways to make beautiful art or amazing designs and all I want you to be doing is working at your best. If I am looking for a designer and I want him or her to create a business card template which can be sent to a printer, then I assume he or she will know how to follow a spec sheet and create something lovely that is also of the correct format and file type that the printer requires – nothing more, and nothing less. How it’s done is none of my business, so long as it’s done.

Too, the time before a job interview is a great time to showcase your creativity. I love people who think outside the box when they submit things. I once got a portfolio that looked like a menu. Another person sent me a DVD with portfolio and a short, well-done movie about himself in place of a resume. Brilliant!

In the end, if you’re an artist and you think you can just follow the crowd when it comes to applying for work, you are going to get left in the dust. Reach deep down into your creative pockets and bring forth something that is truly you, and I guarantee you’ll not only find a job that fits you well, but one that’ll be worthy of your skills.