So you fancy yourself as a professional comic book writer, eh?
Spoiler alert: It ain’t bloody easy. But it can be done. Want proof? People are doing it. Right now. At this very moment, writers all around the world are contributing to the creation of comics.
So how do you get involved? Simple. Start writing. The moment you do? Congrats! You’re a writer. Not necessarily a professional (AKA paid) writer just yet, but a writer nonetheless. And that’s a BIG first step.
"Yeah, yeah, I've heard all that stuff before. But what about breaking in to the comic book industry as a PRO writer? How exactly does that happen...?"
First up, some brutal truth: Competition is fierce, and publishers can only accommodate so much talent. For every book in production there are probably hundreds, nay, thousands of people who want to be working on it. It’s your job to demonstrate why YOU should be the one getting paid to showcase your slick storytelling skills.
Crap. I’m getting ahead of myself already. Let’s get back to basics.
Let’s talk about Becoming a Professional Writer.
Every creator in published comics has their own breaking-in story. Some are similar and straightforward, while others are more…unusual. Unique. Downright bloody bizarre. (Mine sure is.) Regardless of how you see yourself announcing arrival to the industry, there are certain GUIDELINES that should be followed. Or at least, acknowledged. Most require little more than a modicum of common sense. But don’t be duped by their simplicity…oh no. Just because you technically know the rules doesn’t mean you get to break them. At least, not yet.
These are some of the Primary Guidelines. I’ll go into more detail about each of ‘em later (and introduce some more, too). But for starters, allow this lot to simmer…
RULE #1: WRITE
Pretty obvious, eh? Or so you’d think! See, when I say write, I mean really write. Write every day. Every. Single. Day. If you’re not willing to do that, give up immediately. Abandon ship. Go be something else. Painter, belly dancer, whatever.
If you’re really serious about Becoming a Professional Writer, be prepared to make sacrifices. Flake on social plans. Sleep less. Write more. Dedication to your craft is integral; it’s what filters out the wannabes and phonies. Writing all the time generates MOMENTUM. And once you’ve got that on your side you DO NOT want to lose it. Momentum will power you towards a giant stride in any writer's development: Being able to…
RULE #2: …FINISH WHAT YOU WRITE
Remember: An idea is not a story. An idea is merely the launchpad towards a story's crafting. An idea may capture a reader’s attention, but an engaging story is required to keep hold of it.
An idea is what you begin with. A story is what you end with.
OK, so you came up with the Best Idea Ever. You started to flesh it out. Developed a few characters, introduced some conflict…and then it all went horribly pear-shaped. Closer, more meticulous examination of your comic book classic-to-be exposed a troubling truth: It's actually rather shit.
It doesn’t matter. Finish writing it anyway. “But what about those other ideas I’ve got? They’ll make for WAY better stories than this load of bollocks. See, if I abandon this story midway through I can—”
Nope. Finish what you started. There are many things to learn on your quest towards Becoming a Professional Writer. Story structure is one of them. And the only way you’ll come to understand and embrace that?
By writing complete stories.
Don’t worry if they suck to begin with. You’ll get better. Much better. So long as you stick to your goal of Becoming a Professional Writer, believe in yourself, and never, ever, EVER give up, you’ll be just fine. Actually, let me place further emphasis on that:
RULE #3: BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND DON'T FEAR FAILURE
Guess what? You’re awesome. Deal with it.
That pesky “failure” thing? Embrace it. Make it your bitch. See, failure is a critical tool—without it, we’d never know what we’re doing wrong (or right, for that matter). It’s part of a learning curve that every writer must trek across.
Clear, honest feedback is your friend. Banish that ego. Toss the fragile sense of pride. Of course you want to hear nothing but glowing praise for the story you’ve spent months and months writing. But that’s not how it works.
Let people read your work. Listen to their feedback. Digest it. Think about how it can be used to make your writing better. More professional. Then go write some more.
Feedback and constructive criticism aren’t just for rookie writers, either. The creative process should be an ever-evolving entity; the moment you stop and deem yourself “complete” as a writer should be closely followed by your career derailing and plummeting into a deep, detestable, ego-encrusted abyss. Always strive to improve. Never neglect an opportunity to learn something new.
This is why good editors make writers seem better, but great editors go one step further by actually making them better.
RULE #4: ATTEND CONS
And be a delightful bastard/enchanting lady while doing so. Talk to people. Make new friends. Establish working relationships. Network. Don't get tanked at the bar and behave like a nob. Comics is a relatively small industry; gossip spreads like wildfire. Alcohol-fueled proclamations of untold greatness are not well received. People remember this stuff. Not least if the belligerent broadcaster comes swaddled in a pair of soiled, stinky trousers...
(I actually witnessed this. Like, for real. And to my knowledge, Mr. Poopy Pants has not been seen nor heard from since.)
And remember: Nobody owes you anything. Chatting to an editor, publisher, whoever doesn’t mean you’re suddenly entitled to a sweet new writing gig. Establishing communication—though important—is just another step towards Becoming a Professional Writer.
Be cool. Interesting. Professional. You want people to take you seriously. Perhaps someone will offer to read your work. Maybe they won’t. Regardless, be the guy/gal people want to be talking to, not about.
That's the end of my ranting for now. Plenty there for you to process. (Not least those apocalyptic trousers.) But there's more where this came from, and at least some of it is worth waiting for. Hey, I speak from experience! Some of it good, other stuff…well, experience nonetheless.
And of course, my advice is merely, well, advice. A suggested series of guidelines. Make of 'em what you will; after all, there’s no magical formula for becoming a successful hotshot writer. Everybody does it in their own unique, wonderful way. But I guarantee at least one big consistency:
Real writers do one helluva lot of writing.
Ben McCool is a NYC-based writer who has worked for a variety of publishers, including Marvel, DC Comics, Image Comics, Cryptozoic Entertainment and IDW.