Friday, April 18, 2014

How I Make Money as a Freelance Artist

I've long thought about writing this post, and after a good many years and as thoughts of wrapping up the blog as a whole have entered my mind more and more lately, I've finally decided to do so. Also, my scanner isn't working properly at the moment, and I have one of those far too rare as of late days off from everything, so I might as well.

"How do you make money as an artist?", in a broad sense, was a question covered many times in previous posts on this blog. But what about me, personally? Do I actually make any money or am I just blowing steam? Read on as I share a more intimate look at the ways by which I bring home the bacon as a freelancer...

Fine Art Sales
In 2013, I started to make a move back into fine art, which started out on a slow burn, but turned out to be a good maneuver over all. I'm trained in the commercial arts and have enjoyed fantastic success within the field, but the title I put on my taxes each year has always been the same: Artist. It says nothing of my formal training or the titles I've attained high on the corporate ladder. It's general, purposefully broad, and is therefore as close as I can get to calling myself what I truly am. And what I've found in removing myself from credentials and degrees is room for nothing but my most fantastic and fascinating work.

How I did it: I found my way in fine art by contacting galleries with portfolios of my work. I got more exposure by showing at libraries, colleges, hospitals and other public places. I boosted this by producing one or two pieces for local art auctions and charity art auctions. Where before I would have to call gallery curators to have my work shown, they now call me.

What I needed: 10 pieces of finished fine art work and a portfolio to show them in. I have a 9x12 portfolio - the same type you can get here, containing photographs of my work. To get the ball rolling, I designed postcards and got them printed relatively cheap at Vistaprint, which I sent with introduction letters to local galleries. This got some interest, but visiting the galleries in person with my portfolio in hand got much more. People still like to meet people, even in this age of the internet and minimal interaction.

How I price: The pieces sell between $300 - $1,000 on average, mostly depending on size/materials used. Again, while my name carries some weight as an illustrator and comic artist, I'm a relative unknown in the fine art field, so I can't demand tens of thousands of dollars for my work at this point. If you want to do pricing yourself, there are plenty of formulas on websites out there, but I find the approach listed on this website to be more realistic.

Private Lessons
This is probably my favorite way to make money right now, and I'm lucky that we live in the age that we do where the internet makes teleconferencing with students so easy. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy have the success I have when it comes to private lessons had I been doing it 10 years earlier. That said, this type of "consulting" isn't for everyone. Many artists are private and don't enjoy giving lessons. Others are purists who just like to work on their own things, which is also fine. Still, if you've ever considered teaching art, there's no better time than now to get in the game.

How I did it: My regular students are almost always people I know - who I've met at conventions, art shows, or social functions. All it takes is someone interested in learning how to draw, paint or sculpt, and you have a potential student. I have also taken to giving free seminars at colleges and libraries, offering a free art lesson or discussion of a similar topic (how to know if art school is right for you has been a popular one, of late) to anyone who shows up. Afterwards, I am almost always approached about private lessons or counseling.

What I needed: A love of the subject matter to be covered and a student willing to learn it. I always bring a questionnaire to the first session to gauge my student's interests and abilities. Questions like "what do you like to draw?" and the more obscure, "do you find it easier to navigate a drawing of something with lines and sharp angles than something with a lot of curves?" are great for figuring out a student's strengths and weaknesses. A vehicle to get to the site helps, too - or Skype and an internet connection for teleconferences.

How I price: Depending on the student and what is to be covered, my prices generally fall between $30 and $60 per hour. I price my illustration classes higher as my knowledge of drawing is more in-depth than what I could impart for a basic sculpting technique class, for example. I give discounts to students who want to book a month's worth of weekly sessions in advance, of course.

I don't know of a single artist who hasn't done commissions in one form or another. Some days I will be doing a series of illustrations for a book that an aspiring author hopes to sell to a publisher, and some days I will be doing a simple sketch of a single character for someone's birthday. It's wide open!

How I did it: As I alluded to in the above paragraph, my commissioned work sources are many and varied, so the ways by which people get ahold of me for such work is as well. I might be at a comic convention, offering sketches for $30 one day and I might be contacted on LinkedIn to spruce up the design of a 20 page proposal the next. This is one area where you will eventually find saying "no" is more important than saying "yes". The imperative thing here is to choose what you're interested in being commissioned for wisely, and pick outlets catering to those specific areas only. I don't like doing the graphic design work on annual reports, for example, so I try to avoid handing out my business cards to design firms these days. On the other hand, I love making custom leather pieces, so I'm sure to hit up cowboy meetups, pow wows and renaissance faires. Also, since I work in so many mediums, I'm sure to carry many different types of business cards.

What I needed: Here again, the situation varies depending on what you're going for. Many people would be surprised to know that I have multiple deviantArt accounts (or, let's be honest, maybe they wouldn't), and each showcases artwork different from the others and therefore caters to different clientele. Some people know me as Dawn Best the illustrator, while another group entirely knows me as Dawn Best the mask and doll maker.

How I price: Having worked on some popular comic and magazine titles that have also enjoyed significant commercial success means that I am always being asked for illustrations which in turn means I can set my prices higher than some others in my field. A typical illustration commission from me will run you about $100. However, this is the price for a Dawn Best piece - you're paying for my style, my name, and the recognition that comes with it. I have several other pseudonyms out there and other "specialty" online galleries to show some very different artwork, with no recognizable name attached and style(s) not recognizable as my own. I have done this type of "clip art" stuff for significantly lower prices and the benefit lies in the speed at which I can complete these projects, and therefore the amount of them I tend to get in any given week. Sites like Fiverr and others are great for such things.

Etsy and Artisan Craft Sales
Along with my fine art endeavors, I wanted to showcase some of my smaller leathercraft and art doll pieces and offer them for sale in 2013. This too was a smart move, as both types of pieces have been increasingly popular at shows (again, think ren faires and other outlets for artisans) as well as among a growing number of online collectors. Art dolls are especially growing in popularity and I'm lucky to have gained an interest in creating them quite some time ago so I could hone the skills necessary to make high quality pieces.

How I did it: I started making art dolls in 2011 after my love of sculpting and sewing led me to several other brilliant artists creating these wonderful critters. After making and selling a few of them online, I started making bigger dolls and expanded my reach to setting up shop at artisan shows and festivals - for the online crowd this mean resurrecting my Etsy shop! The dolls seemed to attract a lot of attention but due to their higher prices didn't always sell extremely well. Adjusting to this, I started to create smaller dolls and miniature dolls, each hand crafted and unique as the bigger ones, but significantly more affordable. Things started taking off for dolls of all sizes by that point.

What I needed: Having a separate deviantArt account really paid off for this one, as I was able to get exposure via the many art doll groups established there. From that point it was just a link to my Etsy shop that brought people to purchase them. Building a name in a different medium, as previously stated, takes patience, so that was one necessary component I can't stress enough. As with fine art, you can't just jump right into making thousands of dollars each week with no sales behind your name.

How I price: The mini dolls sell for $35, medium dolls are around $150 and the larger troll dolls I have are $300 and up. As with the fine art I do, much of pricing is based on material costs and not the name behind the piece. The dolls take up to 2 weeks to complete, and I am careful to take my time into account as I set their prices as well. Here, pricing similar pieces on Etsy was imperative - not just to stay offer competitive pricing, but also to keep the price of art dolls as a whole, reasonable. Fellow artists who have long created beautiful dolls are undermined when newcomers to the fold show up with prices that are far too low, and this becomes a major concern for all involved in the craft. As was previously said, staying competitive is important, but if we all lowballed one another, nobody would make a dime.

Patreon Funding
Patreon is a relatively new way to make money online, and since having a great success with Kickstarter, I decided to try my hand at this similar but different endeavor earlier this year. My Patreon account is really a joint account between myself and a few other specialty artists all acting under one handle (sneaky, eh?) but sharing the load works well for me, and the profits (we bring in a couple hundred per month, split 3 ways) are pretty outstanding.

How I did it: Along with the two others artists involved in the funding, I've posed under the pseudonym for a good 3 years now and enjoyed some popularity in the "specialty" webcomics field. I'll leave it at that, but the premise is simple - we develop a web series drawn in a singular style which we are all comfortable mimicking, release content every few months or so, and sell tickets to the site for those interested. With Patreon, we were able to free ourselves from the website ticketing system entirely, offering new artwork each month exclusively for Patreon supporters. And it's all in what people want to contribute! So you want to see the newest comic and the archives of old stuff? Support us for $10 a month and you're in. Want to give us more than $10? We'll give you a special commission and you still get to see the new comics. Want us to draw more than one comic a month? If everyone pulls together and we get $1000 a month, it'll happen... and the promoting just goes on like that, based solely on what people are interested in giving! So much better than ticketing once and forgetting about other ways to offer customers even cooler stuff.

What I needed: Patreon, mostly. We'd long wanted to offer more than just a website with some artwork for a couple of bucks a month, and Patreon allows us to set goals and specific rewards for people who are donating more than the average supporter. It's really a win-win. A knowledge of how to properly utilize a tool such as this and a little basic knowledge of good marketing practices goes a long way, here. Incentivizing with Patreon means anyone should be able to make a couple bucks if they know what they're doing and have a product the public is interested in.

How I price: We agreed to the $10 ticketing long ago when the first site opened, and it seemed to be working so nothing changed. Again, knowledge of your product and what people are willing to pay is essential. Since backers can pull out of Patreon any time, it's not unreasonable to offer what would otherwise be a $25 commission to a $30 Patreon backer while simultaneously giving them access to that month's content as well.

Amazon and DriveThruComics Sales
It may surprise most of you to know that the comics I create are less a means for me to make money as they are a credential building asset and advertising platform. What I mean by that is, yes, I do make money selling comics each month, but more to the point, these outlets serve me as a means for people to find me online and seek me out for things that make a little more money (consulting, teaching, and private commissions to name a few). Still, it's nice to get a royalty check in the mail each month, and if you do it long enough, they eventually become quite substantial as your name gets passed around.

How I did it: You might also be surprised to know that the majority of my royalty sales do not come from my comics, books, or other things to which I claim 100% of the creative rights - nor did I put in the majority of the work for these. On Amazon right now, as an example, I have about two dozen books. Five of these I have written myself, and the rest are all public domain works. Things like fairy tales, classic literature, and even more contemporary works for which the copyright limitations have simply run out are all up for grabs on the public domain, currently. Anyone can republish these, for free or profit if they like. So how do I make money on them when, essentially, they can be gotten by anyone without paying a dime? I format them so they are more appealing, add illustrations, and lump them together in collections. Yes, people will pay for stuff that looks good and is more convenient to access than searching for, piece by piece, themselves.

What I needed: Microsoft Word, an Amazon Account, and a little patience to go around gathering the stories up, collecting them, and formatting them to be readable on a Kindle. Amazon offers a lot of tools to help with this, so with a bare minimum of knowledge on good formatting practices, it's not exactly hard. Too, I have the Adobe Creative suite for creating other formats - especially PDFs, which are needed for sites such as DriveThruComics.

How I price: You can get one of the books I've written from anywhere from $5 to $20 in Kindle format. Amazon will give me 70% of the profit. They only give 30% on the public domain works, which I sell for a mere 99 cents. Like I said, however, the royalties on these trump those I make on my own books (well, they did until this past month, which was a nice surprise) so the trick is to offer that low price, and many different books as impulse buys.

And one more thing...

None of this was done overnight. For the most part, I held some rather demanding full-time work as I built up these little businesses and it took me a good two years before I was comfortable enough to continue on with part-time work outside of these endeavors, only. Too, each month the numbers are different, and one endeavor may make more than another, so it's important to be ready to compensate and not throw all your eggs into one area of profit. For these reasons, I do not recommend trying any of these without having some form of income already (that's just stupid, I mean, come on..!) and I highly recommend diversifying the ways by which you make money in freelance to only the things that are interesting to you (lest you be put off by lack of your own interest).

Best wishes for all your successes!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Your Audience is Too Smart for Your Advertorial

It happens all the time these days. People in my LinkedIn circle blessed with that sought-after credential of Influencer will post something on my timeline that is more sales pitch than informative article. It's been that way for a while, but I at least remember a time when you could go a full five or six paragraphs without reading "That's why you need my new book..." These days, either through laziness, ignorance or use of a mass-produced-sleazy-sales-article template of some sort, such finesses are pretty much gone.

These scummy internet infomercials are often called "advertorials". They're not quite an editorial, and they're not quite an advertisement, but they are quite sinister. And these days, people are getting fed up.

"Nice price tag at the end, there!"
"Hey, why not buy my book for $299 on why this post isn't a real article?"
"Influencer must mean salesman because that's all I'm seeing on LinkedIn these days."

The above are all comments posted to a recent advertorial I'd clicked on, naively hoping to get a real post about a real issue I was dealing with which offered a real solution. While once, the salesman-turned-blogger could easily pitch anything he wanted to an eager crowd with just a few keystrokes, these days, people just aren't buying it.

That's not to say that blogs and editorials aren't excellent avenues to selling, because they are just that - avenues! Writing articles for an online audience isn't the bus that dumps you off at Moneytown, but instead a road which, should you tread it carefully, has the possibility to lead you well on your way there.

So how do you walk this path to success? Try these things:

  • Influence, don't sell: Most marketers worth anything these days would tell you that the key to a successful sale lies not in how great the product you're selling is, how much it's going for, or even how well-qualified the potential buyer is. No, instead, it's all in who's doing the selling and if they're worth believing in. Including a sales pitch, even one that isn't obvious, in your writing (especially if you haven't been writing for very long or otherwise do not have many articles to your name) is a great way to get off on the wrong foot with your audience. They'll see through it faster than immediately and you run the real risk of them never returning. Instead, write articles with genuine value, and expect nothing in the way of payment for your sage advice and keep the sales pitch to the (not intrusive) banner on your website's sidebar.
  • Keep the price tags out of it: Admit it - The minute you see a dollar sign anywhere in a field of text, a red flag shows up before you even begin reading the article. It's getting so bad that certain price points (Just $99!) are becoming impossible to set on even the most deserving of products due to the over-selling of Dr. Whoever the Internet Guru's Patented Four-Part Course on Something or Another by pretty much everyone who has a website on anything. Just leave the price out of it until we click on the little "Buy Now" button, thanks. And furthermore, refer to bullet point one of this article - why are you including a sales pitch within your article in the first place?!
  • Interact with your readers: If I had to throw it all away on the biggest mistake made by scribers of advertorials on the internet, it'd probably be this. None of them - not a one will do anything beyond make the initial post to their blog (and if you find one, please point them to me because I won't believe you until I see it). People will comment, ask questions, and otherwise make attempts to interact with the author of the post, with all of it falling on deaf ears. This is a huge mistake for bloggers to make, and an even bigger one for salespeople. You want your audience to believe you're a mindless money-driven robot? Go ahead and leave them hanging. You want them to believe you are a person who genuinely does care? One they would quite probably be inclined to buy something from? Talk to them.

There's nothing saying you can't sell something if you have a blog, but remember that there's a right way and a wrong way to do anything. And just because you can't tell the difference, doesn't mean your customers can't either.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Who are Your Customers? - For Artists!

Remember the first time you saw a piece of art that stopped you in your tracks? Something so unbelievably cool that you had to own it, right then and there (or at least, wished you could take it home and put it in your living room)?

The question is often asked: How does one go about finding a core audience as an artist, and especially as a fine artist? Books and the internet seem to be full of ideas for marketing a certain product to people, but less common is a guideline for promoting creative works which may not solve a problem as products usually do, but instead served as an outlet for the artist doing the creating.

Even most marketers today would agree that demographics are boring and things like age, gender, and location do very little to tell you who your true customer is, and that's just fine because you're an artist -- You shouldn't necessarily be thinking in terms of measurable statistics when seeking buyers. Too, and also quite unlike marketing, art is about creation first, moving product second - don't cheat yourself trying to create in a manner that's 'in' with a certain crowd. Try the following:

1. Look at your art, honestly. Whose wall could you see it on? Is it an office or a home setting? Perhaps both? Is it a specific business? It may help to also identify where your work definitely would not be shown. This is one of the bigger steps in understanding your audience, and it pays to not only know who they are, but who they're likely not to be.

2. Does another artist influence your own work? Whose work most closely resembles yours? Who buys from them? Where do they sell? How did they get started in showing their work? It's usually a fun research project to dig into the past of artists who inspire you. You're almost certain to find similarities between you which could serve as inspiration in pursuing your craft.

3. Does it serve a practical purpose? Would it be more at home in a craft, decor or specialty showroom than a fine art gallery? Don't knock it if so - crafts are big business and craftsmen/women are highly sought-out for their skills and the work they do.

Final question - Once you have determined answers for the other three: Where do the people who are most likely to buy your art hang out? Will they be at a trendy gallery, an antique mall or an online shop? This step works best if you get even more creative with your answer! What about a university cafe, bowling alley or even a music festival?

Remember: Identifying your target audience should always be taken as an experiment. If you don't fare well in one place, there's nothing stopping you from trying another. Too, the more creative you get with your final answer, the more chance of payoff you tend to have! Happy selling!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Be Happy, Make Money, and Love Your Art in the New Year!

I guess the first day of the new year is a good one for writing a brutally honest rant about the career path I'd been on for 10 years. One which has changed exponentially in terms of what is expected of its practitioners, but not much in the way of compensation. One which has been all-but annihilated in terms of being a legitimate path for growth over the mantra of faster/cheaper thanks to Fiverr, Elance, and the internet in general. And one which I'm more than happy to leave a vast majority of "opportunities" within it to the throngs of up and coming 20-somethings merely seeking "a job". I am of course, talking about taking up art as a profession.

I know -- What about all those times I've gone on and on (on this very blog I might add) about how great art is as a career, and a legitimate one at that? And, I'll say I wasn't lying about that. You can totally have fun in choosing art as a career, and even make some money doing it!

Wait... what is this blog entry about, again?

Okay, onto the meat of the matter, then: Being an artist, now more than ever, has become frustrating to a lot of my peers, and looking back on the majority of my career, it has been for me too. But there's still hope. Being an artist is more than creating for others, or at least it should be. And I don't care if you're talking about a 9 to 5 design job, or the work you do as a freelancer: it is imperative that you look at yourself as a totally self-employed creator of magnificent, wonderful things, no matter what direction you take or how many hours a week you put into it as a j-o-b.

It's true, there are 9 to 5 jobs still out there which compensate well, surround you with awesome people and allow you to be inspired each day you come into work - I've had that job and it is glorious. Far more common though, and it's for the reasons I listed in the opening paragraph to this entry, you'll find long hours, tight deadlines, abrasive management, and no pay. Freelancing can be worse - with crappy clients more than happy to get "kid brother" to do it for half the cost, no-pays, or ridiculous expectations from sociopathic clients. Whatever the case may be, if you find yourself in either situation it's definitely time to make a change, and the new year is a great time to do it.

My advice to people in either situation is absolutely simple: Realize that a fulfilling career that is not only fun but also profitable is a primary objective and refuse to let "being an artist" get in the way of that. Here's how:

  • If you're in a crappy art job, sit down with it and write out the things you like and dislike about the job. Do you think you'll find a solution with doing the same work for a different company? Would you find the same fulfillment with half the stress if you looked elsewhere? Be honest because the grass isn't always greener on the other side, and even if a new job comes along which seems to be a perfect fit, you can expect to encounter a few headaches along the way. Make sure they aren't deal breakers.
  • You may be certain that it's the outfit you're working for that's the problem. Spruce up your resume and make some calls to companies you think you'd like to work for. You can't buy into the idea that it's "hard to find work out there". Honestly, when was the last time you heard that the economy was just excellent and open to new jobseekers? Know that the old days of responding to Craigslist ads seeking artists are long gone. You're better off researching places in an area where you'd like to live, and calling them up before a position is advertised. You never know who'll bite!
  • Maybe your fulfillment can't be reached with art as a career. Maybe you're tired of creating on a whim - which can be very hard. Most artists fail to believe their skill set could be useful in an entirely different career, because they get too attached to the idea that whatever they're doing, it has to be art related. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we often find our best job-fits outside the realm of what we've led ourselves to believe is the only path. This is an especially useful trick for those of us who feel drained of creativity due to looking at our art as merely "work". Too, switching paths may prove to be more profitable, provide better benefits, or just give you the mental relaxation you need to pursue your creative endeavors for your own enjoyment once more.
  • If money is your problem, the solution could be much the same as the above. In my area, nearly everything pays the same in the professional arena... in fact, half the non-skilled jobs pay as well as the art/design jobs, but that's a story for another day. Artists, especially those of us who work digitally, are often programmers, technical support specialists, and web designers all in one, and these jobs quite often pay more. If any of these paths sound appealing, consider re-branding yourself and adjusting your job search accordingly. One bit of caution, however: Don't pursue anything just because it pays more. It definitely should be something you enjoy doing, first.
  • Want to be your own boss? Consider freelancing, or better yet, combining any of the above tactics with freelance work. Better still - do that and start to build a few passive income streams into your mix. I make no money on webcomics. None. Kickstarter funds have long been allocated or paid out so we can break even on our little bookie-book and its subsequent production/printing/shipping costs, so if I want to be truly profitable with the endeavor, I have to look elsewhere. To that end, I can still generate income via advertisements on the comic's webpage, as well as affiliate links, and "extras" like books which I sell through  print-on-demand sites and cross-promoting other projects/things I have for sale. The best part? I set them up once and forget about them... until I get a check in the mail, that is!

Remember - you may be an artist, but you're free to pursue your art as much or as little as you like, always. For 2014, do what makes you happy, makes you profitable, and keeps you in the driver's seat of your career and life goals, whatever they are! Happy new year!

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!