Category Archives: tutorials

Square One: How to focus your story

I got another question from a blog reader that may resonate with all of you out there. We all have amazing stories to tell, and often the story is huge, epic, world-shattering and life-changing. But how do we focus this and make it both marketable and powerful? You can do both. In fact, you have to. Less is more in many cases. So let’s look at the question and my answer, and hopefully this will help you reach your dream of telling stories that matter.

Q: I have 110 page script typed and finished, which is only the prelude to an even bigger comic. The bigger comic is the main attraction with over 3 seasons mapped out and 510 pages ready to go for season 1. Only submitted to one company but looking for advice and an opinion.

A: First off, we should talk about your project. Most of us have a huge story in our heads that we are eager to tell, but you have to chop it down to something bite size and marketable at first. Think of Star Wars. Lucas had a huge story in his head, but in 1977 he was a relative unknown pitching in a genre that was not popular, and he had to cut out everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. You have to do the same thing at first. What that means for you is you need to make sure your 110 page script is cut into 22 – 24 page chunks, and that the first 22 pages are a self contained story, and a good one, that makes people want to read more. Don’t worry about season 1. Make sure that issue 1 is just plain awesome. That’s where you have to hook people.

Good that you are pitching to publishers, but you must be realistic about what the market wants. Be aware that no one wants an epic. Publishers want a 3-5 issue story arc that they can sell as single issues and then re-package as a graphic novel. It has been proven that if people love the single issues, they’ll go back and buy the graphic novel because 1) it proves they are true fans and 2) the graphic novel is less likely to get damaged when re-read. So when you pitch, don’t pitch the epicness of the story. Pitch the sellability of a mini-series. The project I am publishing this year, The Rum Running Queen, is 3 issues, 96 pages. We will sell the single issues first, then release a graphic novel. The singles help create a fan base, and the graphic novel generates profit. It’s that simple.

I’ve seen a few publishers who are accepting projects – Rats and Crows Publishing has been active, and Monkey Brain Comics may have something. Firestorm Comics and Crazy Monkey Ink both recently put out requests for pitches. Scout Comics might be another way. (Avoid Dark Horse and Image – they are only taking established creators at this time.) In general however, comic book publishers don’t want scripts. There are almost no companies looking for scripts without art. You need art to pitch a project. So don’t rely on other comic book companies – they are all small presses started by people like you who just published their own book and picked up a couple other books. Get your work out there – I have a project that I wrote and desperately want to publish. It is called Ashes of Faith and it is an adventure about a Kurdish female soldier fighting for redemption. It focuses on religious tolerance, and most of the publishers out there sell super hero stuff, noir, horror, or sci-fi. I can’t find a home for Ashes of Faith. That’s ok though – your comic has to fit the company you pitch to. My suggestion –  self-publish and sell and network at comic book conventions, go on Comixology and a few other online comic sites. If you think you can meet the minimum order, you can go to Diamond, (only if you have a well know name doing the art and/or cover).

After finishing Sevara (and seeing really bad sales) here is my advice-
Make sure the story is perfect. PERFECT. Have dozens of people read the script, good people, not friends, who will give constructive feedback. (I have yet to find a good editor, I’ve paid them and they still suck.) The Chopping Block at Comixtribe is a great way to get your ass handed to you, but honestly the feedback is not constructive. So I can’t point you in the right direction but never let anyone who knows you read your story. Your friends and relatives will all praise it. Let a stranger give you an honest critique.
Go big or go small. Either make a very small cheap black and white comic and get it out there, or hire well known people to do the interiors and covers. Like people who have worked for DC or Marvel, or have a massive following on Patreon. Don’t go medium. For The Rum Running Queen, I am looking at getting a very well known artist to do the cover. It is a bit expensive, but in the long run it will make the work stand out. There are some wildly talented artists out there who will meet your price range, you just have to ask.

So like I’ve advised a few other people who wrote to me about their projects, cut the length down to something that is marketable. Focus on the quality of the first issue, not the epicness of the multi-season story arc. Make sure the basic message and story resonate with readers, and make sure you have some well know artists to bring your story to life.

For a 110 page story, re-read the whole thing and find those 22 pages that encapsulate the whole tone and message of your comic. You only get one chance, one issue, to hook your readers. So which 22 pages are the most significant? Pull those out and make a kick-ass issue.

Selling your comic book

I never intend to write a how-to book. I don’ t think of myself as someone who’s an expert at anything. But it turns out, I’m fairly darn good at a wide number of things, and that resulted in my current comic book series Sevara. I was able to teach myself how to pitch my script to companies, put together an art team, and raise money. So here I am, writing a how-to book. I’m writing it because I think that you should be selling your comic book idea if you’ve got some nagging concept banging around in there. You just need an instruction manual, and that’s what I’ve written.

So where do you start selling your comic book idea?

In the world of comics, your options are to write a single-issue comic book, a mini-series, an ongoing series, or a graphic novel. Publishers, distributors and comic book stores all want something different, which puts you as a writer in a difficult position. Imagine that you’ve just told someone about your idea. As soon as you finish your amazing pitch to a comic book company, their going to ask you, ‘is this a single issue, ongoing series, or one shot graphic novel?’ In the words of the great Admiral Ackbar, ‘it’s a trap’.

This is what happened to me a few years back. I didn’t understand the world of comics as well as I thought, and began writing a script for my comic book. I think I scripted ten issues. I then put those on the back burner and perfected one single issue, a zero issue, that I hoped to sell as a stand-alone story. When I approached comic book companies, it was a failure, and here’s why.

Making a single issue of a comic book is like making a TV show pilot with no series attached to it. No company will want to market a single issue, period. There’s no profit in it. And a single issue isn’t long enough to tell your whole story anyway. If you do produce it, readers will finish reading it in 20 minutes and search for the next issue. And because it takes months to produce a single issue of a comic book, you can’t make one issue, and then wait for the art team to start working on the next issue. Comic book distributors have timelines too. For both print and digital distribution, there’s a submission and approval process that takes months. So your #2 issue could come out a year after your #1 if you didn’t plan properly. That’s not good. By that time, the momentum of your #1 issue and all the press it generated is totally gone, and your readers have moved on.

This is all coming from personal experience. I’ll blog more about my journey as I produced Sevara. If you want to buy the book, go ahead and pre-order it now, it’s only $0.99 cents.