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Monday, December 24, 2007

Collective Force

My previous post offered a proposal to writers that provides an opportunity to get their work published without having to suffer through getting attention from the top comics companies. I, for one, have submitted stuff to Marvel and DC, but I never heard from them. So I went about things on my own, and it's had its fine share of rewards. With the pillars of the comics industry shaken over the past few years with the entrance of manga and the surge of the reputation of the graphic novel, writers can take this as a heavenly sign that there is life beyond the system. A very tough life, but survivable when prepared.

Jog my memory for a bit, please. Years ago, a few comics writers came up with an imprint that seemed to be the writer-counterpart of Image's power roster of artists. That imprint didn't survive for very long. I'm not sure what happened, but my major uneducated guess is that they were still subjects to the demands of an audience with specific needs for "coolness." It's not that comics fans didn't want well-written and well-conceptualized stories. But, let's face it, coolness is a requisite barometer in the industry--cool action scene, cool dialog, cool costume, cool power, cool story, cool everything.

But if these writers had broken away from the system to produce stories that addressed audiences whose definition of a good story isn't restricted by a thermometer reading, they may have had a better success rate.

The commercial environment for the graphic novel has never been more open to possibilities, and writers can dive right into it while there aren't a lot of players. If you're a writer who wants to do, say, Harlequin-type romances in a comics format, you'll be better off writing a full length novel instead of banging the doors of Marvel or DC. The good news, however, is that there may be other writers who are like you.

Form a small group with your fellow writers and pursue your vision as a collective, with a primary objective being getting stuff published no matter what. Produce anthologies revolving around specific themes, and treat your finished product as a book. Packaged as a book, marketed as a book. In fact, you can even intersperse your comics stories with short prose, using a 70-30 page ratio in favor of comics. The best examples I can think of are the hard-bound horror anthologies published by Dark Horse.

If your group makes a horror anthology, sell it to horror fans. Try to get a good word in from the Horror Writers Association. Ditto for romance anthologies--I'd like to think that the Romance Writers of America would be open to looking through it, and there may be romance fans who'd like a few stories complemented by imagery.

The advantages of creating a collective are:

1) Sharing of resources. Some members may know more people. Some members may have a little more money. Some members may have more industry knowledge. Some members may have more solid writing experience. The sum is indeed stronger than the individual parts.
2) Sharing of workload. Because the collective is a team, tasks can be delegated.
3) Sharing of feedback. Because you're all writers, you can critique each other's works and help each other grow.
4) All-for-one promotion. During interviews, members can promote the collective's name, and even the works of other members. The members' websites are linked to each other, and the collective's website links to all members. If the members are from different states, promotional efforts can be simultaneously executed over a larger geographic area. If members are from the same state, promo efforts can be fast-tracked, with each member assigned to specific counties.
5) Impression of legitimacy. A solid group gives the impression that the members are serious about fulfilling their goals.
6) Future profitable activities. Conduct regular workshops. Produce how-to books. Not as individuals, though, but as a collective of talent. Everyone pitches in, and everyone gets a share of the profits.

The most difficult thing to manage in a collective of this sort is ego. The next is creative differences. Money and distribution of workload can also get in the the way. So the collective has to make sure it gets those issues out of the way before even going full throttle. Try one project first, and see how the members work together. When the project is done, do a post-production meeting to identify problems and possible future problems. In the end, it is the passion for the goal that should trump all difficulties.

Oh, and one more thing. When you come up with a name for your group, avoid--AVOID--those that seem to sound "cool." You're all grown-ups working outside the system, so while you have to go interesting, stimulating, or witty, you also have to go professional.

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