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!