Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Publishing - Martin Steenton

This session was a talk with Martin Steenton, a publicist at Blank Slate Books, via Skype. Martin couldn't make it down to the university, so our lecturer set it up that we could talk to him via Skype. This was probably the most useful talks I attended over the week. I made PAGES of notes, so this may be a long post (sorry). The format for this talk was mainly questions and answers, with the odd bit of advice thrown in, so that's the way I'll post it on here.

Martin studied Media Studies at uni. Though he's not an artists, he always had a huge passion for comics. He and his girlfriend, set up a blog about comics, in particular unpublished French comics. The aim was to build an interest in the comics, and then hopefully be able to publish them. This blog attracted US publishers, which helped him attract UK publishers.

Martin started working at Blank Slate Books as the Translator Editor, which then led to more and more odd jobs, eventually becoming a Utility Man.

How do artist's 'weasel' in to publishers?
  • Have a name that already exists - e.g. published works, etc.
  • Be smallpress - through Twitter, Facebook etc.
  • Pitch to them at conventions and/or on the internet
The main piece of advice Martin gave with this question was, the more visible you make your work, the higher chance you have of your work being seen, and that quality ALWAYS shines through.

What does a publisher do?
It varies from publisher to publisher. Some want to see fully formed ideas/pitches, which they can assess on the spot and buy for a certain amount of money.
Whereas other publishers, like Blank Slate, don't mind seeing unfinished pitches, that have a few pages, a good idea and a formed talent (i.e. skill set), they would then pay you to finish the book. This approach is usually more for smaller companies.
Bigger companies want to see a full body of work, but Martin would advise against this, as he said you could spend years designing the work, but then find that nobody is that interested in buying its rights.

You HAVE to know how to sell your work - know your key selling points of the text and the images.

The Process
You need to research what each publisher wants/what style of work they are after.
You have to tailor your work to the people you want to be published by.
Martin, then went on to say that you have to stick at it; some people work years and years, with no success, but it's because they have gained attention because of this. Martin gave an example of this, using Darryl Cunningham, the author and illustrator of 'Psychiatric Tales', which has gone on to be Blank Slate's most successful book. Daryl knows the strength of his work, and is confident in his narrative. He also got lots of eyes on his work through Blogger etc. 

Established artists will be more than willing to help you - ask them for quotes on your work, which you can give to publishers; publishers love it! After all, there's nothing better for a publisher than an artist with an established following from their peers. If you have any heroes, get in touch with them, and ask for a quote. Conventions are also a good way to interact with professionals.

Do publishers have house styles?
Yes, a lot do. Look at the "semiotic values" of what's on the page. 
Blank Slate has no house style, just as long as it has an appeal. They have a big scope of styles, ranging from cartoon to photo realistic.
Whereas, publishers like Self Made Hero, and DC Comics have a house standard, that's marketable and has a very high quality.

You need to think about what sort of artist you want to be - do you want to make work for the market? Or for yourself to sell?

Money side:
Again, this varies. A small company tends to be small money. The general rule is, an artist comes with their work, then the publisher buys it with an advance, but the rights they buy will depend on many factors. A publisher can buy its copyright, but it's often time limited.
You'll find a lot of the time, if you sell the rights to one of your characters, then you lose YOUR right to it.
Most of the money is invested in what happens between after publishers have brought your rights, to when you're work is actually published; it provides a marketing and publicity platform for you.

Is traditional publishing going the same way as vinyl records?
He can see companies like DC Comics etc, going digital because it's an entertainment form, while independent publishers going/staying in print. But this is just speculation, because no one really knows for sure.

Publicity and Marketing:
Pitch Tips:
  • Have a fully formed pitch - have as many pages as possible (even if you have just a few, use your roughs)
  • Give your artist insight into your work - why did you do that? Why does it work? Strengths? Key marketable points?
  • Quotes from peers - quotes are easier to get from your peers, as reviewers will tend to go more with published artists
  • Send your pitch to them, by e-mail's fine - if you have more than e-mail address for people at the company, send it to BOTH
  • Don't be afraid to talk to publishers - get their attention long enough for you to show them your portfolio yourself - show them a few pages, then leave it with them - if they liked it, they'll look at it, and remember you personally when you contact them again
  • Don't be too arrogant! - if they think you're going to be difficult to work with, they won't go with you, as it will cost them more money and time
  • Try not to be too unfocused when showing your work - it's got to be your most coherent work possible
  • Don't send your work to people that won't be interested
  • Don't ask for honest feedback unless you're ready for it - don't be afraid of honest criticism from peers and editors.
Convention dos and don'ts:
  • Make your table look as nice as possible - make it look like a shop with book stands, table cloths etc
  • Be friendly and polite
  • Don't bring everything you've ever done, bring the work you think is your best
His number one tip for making a living out of comics would be: try making money from illustration as

The International Markets:
The UK:
  • The UK is a fractured market - to get a comic book, you have to go to a comic book shop, not your local book shop
  • Almost entirely all of the market is defined by the US market; we are an extension to the US
  • Over the last 5 years, publishers like Self Made Hero, Nobrow, and Blank Slate are now in book shops.
The US:
  • This market is dominated by mainstream work
  • The UK needs the US market to survive - we need to to grow so we can stand on our own two feet
The French market:
  • Comic books are seen as another respected art form in itself
  • All type of comic books are available in one place.
  • Definitely pitch to French publishers if your work's suitable - try to do a French cover letter.
  • A lot of people get published in France first, and then in the US, UK etc. e.g. Joe Daley author of "Dungeon Quest"
  • France is more accepting to more diverse work
Is there a specific thing publishers are looking for? What makes work more publishable?
A good mix of understanding comic grammar, layout, a good storyteller, draws coherently and knows what's good about their work and expresses it!

You are pitching to people just like you! People who are passionate about comics.

This session was incredibly helpful, and was a great insight into the world of publishing. This isn't something that I have encountered yet, and is quite a scary thing to think about, but Martin's talk really helped to get my knowledge of how publishing houses work etc up to scratch.

No comments:

Post a Comment