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!

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