[The following editorial appears in Hidden Years #14, New Blood #18, Wavedancers #4, and Blood of Ten Chiefs #7. --MK]
Time to dip into the Warp Graphics mailbag and haul out a letter that I think is of such general interest that I want to address it here.
I am writing to ask if you would be willing to help me. I have read several books on how to get published, preferably self-published, but I don't understand how selling the comix to stores and making money, at least to cover printing fees, works. What I have read deals with books and not comic books. I have also read many books on copyrights, trademarks and such but they are a bit hard to understand with all of the legal jargon coursing through them. I did think of going to a lawyer about the latter subjects but (a) I don't have much money, (b) I don't know enough to know if they were screwing me over, and (c) I'm not even sure if I can talk my friend into taking the time to draw the comix I've written and so there would be nothing to put a trademark on. I have also toyed with the thought of asking comic book writers whom I enjoy reading, to look over my stories and tell me about a few aspects that need work. Unfortunately I am afraid of the fact that my work is not copyrighted. Hopefully that does not sound really conceited - I know they wouldn't want my stories but... you know. Also I realize you are very busy, but any help you could offer me would be much appreciated.
Wow. Well, at least our writer is straightforward, if blissfully unaware of the magnitude of his requests. Let's see if I can sort out all the reactions that this letter (and others like it; we get them on a regular basis) brings to the fore. Also, I hope everyone understands that this is the Very Short Course; an in-depth reply to this would take a slim volume, at least, and days of preparation.
Dear seeker of knowledge,
I'm glad your first impulse was to crack some of the many books written on publishing, copyright, and so on. There's nothing like getting down and dirty into the trenches to learn how to do something, and the only thing down and dirtier than plowing through the available reference, is actually going to publishers and printers and retailers and asking them how they do what they do. While there are superficial differences among, say, books and comics and newspapers, most of the principles behind how they're all produced and sold are the same. I'd recommend that you start by going to your local newspaper and speaking to the general manager, or whoever fills that job description. Anyone who's in that position ought to have at least a passing acquaintance with all of the aspects of publishing that you're interested in, and if you're polite and pay attention and (most important) do a little homework before you go in there, you ought to get an earful of helpful answers.
(And yes, everyone you ask is going to be very busy, so the better your attitude going in, the better your chances of getting help. But if someone says "Sorry, I can't because..." then be gracious, thank them anyway, and go on to the next person. You do have more than one lined up, don't you?)
I stress doing some homework because it sounds from your letter that you're right at the beginning of your own quest for answers - and maybe fame and fortune as well. (Don't let anyone tell you otherwise; everyone is looking for some kind of feedback to his/her work. Money and praise are the two most obvious forms.) My impression is that perhaps you've written some stories that you'd like to see done up as comics, but that's it. Now you're looking to find out if it's worth the additional time and trouble to pursue the process (involving your friend in the drawing of the books, figuring out the hows and wheres and so on). You're also at that early stage where you're not sure where to turn, because you don't know who to trust.
Homework. The first lesson to be learned - and it's so important that you understand it with your mind and don't take it to your heart - is that at this incredibly embryonic point in your potential career, no one is going to be interested enough in your creation to want to steal it, or otherwise rip you off. That sounds harsh on the surface, I know, but it's true and if you look at it the right way, it can provide you with the security to continue your investigations. And that feeling is worth a lot.
Example: Let's look at lawyers. I know that lawyers are generally regarded as being somewhere on the evolutionary ladder between pond scum and lampreys, but we here at Warp thank the stars for the lawyers we've known. They've been helpful, friendly, understanding - and without them, we wouldn't have been able to take the strides we have, or win the legal battles we've won against those who would have abused us and Elfquest. Most lawyers, I believe, are willing either to take a little time to explain the fundamentals of such things as copyright, for free, to someone just starting out; or they will refer you to someone who can. No real lawyer will "screw you over;" it's not worth it.
Another example: Let's look at writers (or publishers, or editors) you might want to show your work to. Again, if the person you choose has any kind of good reputation in this business (and it's a small business, so word gets around), he/she just isn't going to be interested in lifting your ideas. In the first place, ideas are the easiest thing to come by; they're literally all around you. In the second, since they are so easily gotten, it's not the ideas per se that are interesting, but how they're executed - actually written and drawn. And in the third, a good reputation is worth more than all the story ideas in the world; no one who has a good rep is going to jeopardize it by treating you badly.
The bottom line is, if you want the help of others, you'll have to take the (not so huge) leap of faith and trust others enough to show them what you've got.
And then the bottom bottom line is, learn. It's OK to ask, but no one can learn for you. Pick some solid, non-vague questions, find out who - right where you live - can answer them for you, and take the first step. That's exactly how we did it. And just look at what happened!
Richard A Pini