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You Need Two Teams to Publish a Successful Comic

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

I’m in the process of writing a book about the business and legal aspects of making independent comics (See Your Career in Comics). As the book develops, I plan to share parts of it here for your reaction and feedback.

About a month ago, I began the process by asking why you want to make comics in the first place (See What Are You Trying to Do?). Now I’d like to look at who you need to have on your team to have a successful publishing program.

One Book, Two Teams

Independent comic creators often put a lot of time and effort into building the team for their books. They reach out to friends in their circles who make comics. They visit artist’s alley in conventions, pour over Deviant Art pages, explore the overseas options, and ask for referrals on social media. Sometimes, it takes years for them to find the right artists for their project.

But too many creators start their book with only half a team.

If comics are a form of commercial art, then the development of the art requires both business and creative support. Focusing on only one side limits the potential of the project.

The Creative Team

            This side of the equation is basic to the creation of any comic. As with plays, films, and television shows, one or more individuals come together to turn a vision into a reality. Some roles overlap, but the common structure of a comic book creative team includes:

  1. The writer who creates the overall plot of the book and the script in both the caption boxes and the character dialogue.

  2. The artist creates the fundamental images on each page. They may also create the basic character designs, settings, logos and the cover for the overall book

  3. The inker enhances the images created by the artist, altering the tone and weight of the story by emphasizing some visual aspects over others.

  4. The letterer inserts all the words in the book including dialogue, captions and “sound effects” in a way that guides the reader’s eye in a natural progression from one image to another.

  5. The flatter prepares the inked images for the colorist to enhance the color rendering process.

  6. The colorist adds moods, energy, and texture to the images to give them more impact to the eye

  7. The editor oversees the entire process to ensure that the best possible finished product is created on time and under budget.

The Business Team

The creative side of comics is intense and time-consuming, but it is only part of the process. Professional comic creators publish books with one of the goals being the creation of profit. Without someone (and more often several people) running the business side of things, even the best comics will not sell. The elements of the business team vary from book to book, but every book needs to answer these questions as part of the process:

  1. Accounting: Who is collecting the money? Who is paying the bills?

  2. Advertising: Who is in charge of informing the public about the book?

  3. Distribution: Who is handling the relationships with Diamond and the direct market shops for the print book? Who is in charge of managing the online distribution on the website, Comixology, and the emerging distribution channels?

  4. Legal: Who is protecting the intellectual property of the book? Who is handling the internal and external contract negotiations?

  5. Management: Who is in charge of the overall creative and financial success of the book?

  6. Marketing: Who is in charge of creating the website, maintaining the social media presence, running the crowdfunding campaign, and handling the interactions with the comic book press,

  7. Printing: Who is in charge of managing the printing process? (If the book is being printed)

  8. Sales: Who is in charge of using the book to generate money?

Juggling Jobs

Every independent comic does not have fifteen people working on it. Some established publishing companies don’t have fifteen people working on the books. Creating independent comics is a startup experience. It means members of the creative team often take roles in the business team. It can mean members of the business team can fulfill multiple roles within that team. It also means that some jobs will not be done, or they won’t be done with the same time and attention as if someone only worked on that piece of the project. Some creators decide to give up some of their rights and sign up with creator-driven publishers like Image or AfterShock to take advantage of their pre-existing business teams.

As a comic creator, you have the power to decide which aspects of the process will and won’t get done. This power works better when you make conscious decisions at the outset of the project. It does you no good to spend two years making a book to sell and then realizing no one is prepared to sell it or collect the money.

The Cost of Teamwork

No matter how you decide to divide the tasks of publishing your comic, everyone who works on the book is going to have to be compensated at some point. Very few people are willing to work for free, even on something they love, so part of independent publishing is finding a way to pay everyone involved.

There are several different compensation methods available depending on the level of participation of each person, your resources, and the short and long-term interests of everyone involved. Increased involvement often includes increased compensation. Different compensation can be mixed and matched to give each person both a short and long-term stake in the project. Just don’t give away more than you have.

Compensation methods include:

  1. Upfront payment

  2. Revenue sharing based on units sold, ad revenue generated, sponsorships, etc.

  3. Ownership interests in the underlying property

  4. Credit on the underlying work

Better Odds

When creating a comic, the chances of success are greater if all jobs are assigned, everyone agrees on the terms, and the schedules for production, marketing, sales, and payment are established before making the book. All this preparation does not guarantee a hit book. The Big Two have dozens of people involved in each book and some of them still fail. But publishing comics involves a lot of individual tasks to make the machine run. If some tasks don’t get done on the business or creative side, then the machine breaks down fast.

Next month I’ll talk about creating a term sheet for the members of your team and the relationship between the term sheet and the contract.

Have fun with your comic...



Five Good Reasons Freelancers Need Contracts

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

Before I had to focus all my attention on releasing my new book*I wrote an article about getting paid as a freelance professional (See Solving the Payment Problem). One of my main tips was getting your payment terms in writing. Recently, another contracts lawyer (my apologies I couldn’t find the author’s name on the site) recently posted a similar article entitled Why Freelancers Should Bother with a Contract. The article focused on the ways you could be hurt by agreeing to contractual terms you don’t know about because you didn’t use your own contract. I agree with the article and I encourage you to read it (it’s very short). I’d also like to offer my own reasons why every freelance professional should have a contract in place for each of their clients and vendors.

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Five Ways Contracts Can Improve Your Business

  1. You want clear payment terms. This one was important enough to get its own article. Unless your business is not designed to make money, or if you enjoy spending a lot of time chasing clients for missed payments, it helps for you and your client to know how much they’re paying, when they need to pay and how they need to pay. Those points all go in the contract.
  2. You want clear deliverables. A client can order one service and then expect another. They can order one product and then change their mind. You can deliver the agreed upon product and the client could come back with endless requests for modifications, alterations and “one last change”. This pattern of behavior can be reduced with a contract. If your deliverables are in writing, there’s less chance for a dispute when they come back wanting more. You can always give it to them, of course, but with a contract you have the option of getting an additional fee for the additional work.
  3. You don’t want to rely on memories, email chains or texts. Contracts do not have to be in writing to be enforced. Contracts can be created without the formal process of writing and signing something. You don’t want to deal with any of that. Memories and informal agreements suffer from a lack of accuracy, subconscious bias and interpretation. A written agreement can remove most, but not all of those problems.
  4. You want accurate records for your taxes. At least once a year, you have to account for the truckloads of money you made to the IRS and your state taxation authorities. You could rely on Paypal and Fiverr CSV files, invoices and other receipts, but if you have a contract with each client and payment terms in each contract, it might be easier for you to figure out, and explain if need be, where your income came from.
  5. You want to improve the perception of your business. Certain things make a business appear more professional. Your website, your logo, your address all send a message to your potential clients, vendors and competitors. When you put a contract in place with each client you increase the perception of legitimacy in your enterprise. This is more psychological than legal, but it can save you troubles in the long run.

I can feel your cynicism seeping through the internet. You’re right: 

  • Contracts take time to draft and negotiate.
  • Contracts are not guarantees that your business deals will go well.
  • I do have a bias towards you getting a contract because I have a business writing contracts.

All these things are true, but they don’t reduce the value of having a written agreement in place. Whether you get your contracts from me or someone else, there are plenty of good ways contracts can enhance and protect your business.

Have fun.


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* In case you didn’t know, I’m a writer in addition to running C3. My fourth novel, Smoke and Shadow, came out this week. It’s doing pretty well so far but it’s not selling like Harry Potter so I’m going to keep my day job for now…

Solving the Payment Problem

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

As a freelance professional or a small business owner, getting paid on time can be the difference between surviving for another month and financial disaster.  For many of my clients, getting paid is just as important as finding new clients. Some of them don’t have the time or the resources to find new clients because they spend so much energy chasing after the money they are already owed.

This isn’t an issue unique to my client base. There are many articles revolving around the freelance payment problem (See She Waited 120 Days to be Paid and Would You Settle for Half of What You’re Owed?) I’d like to offer three techniques to navigate around the payment problem, including the method that I use with my own clients.

Three Paths Around the Payment Problem

1)    Set out clear payment terms in writing before you start a job: A small business owner has to wear many hats. At times, administrative tasks are done in a stripped down fashion or ignored altogether to maximize time and resources. Formal and comprehensive contracts often become a casualty of this process, because negotiating a deal can be confusing, stressful, time consuming and might result in lost business (See You Signed the Contract, but Do You Know What it Says?). But not having a contract can be more detrimental in the long term. Without a written agreement, the terms of your engagement are based on vague and biased recollection. Without clear payment terms, you could be at the mercy and cash flow of your clients. Without an actual contract, your legal remedies could be limited.

2)    Take advantage of human motivation when defining your payment terms: I have observed a specific aspect of human nature in my practice. When a client wants something, he has more incentive to pay. After the client gets what he wants, he has less incentive to pay. If you structure your payment terms to receive payment weeks or months after you deliver your goods or services, you are working at a disadvantage. I will explain my method of adapting to human motivation below, although I realize not everyone is in a position to be paid before the work gets done.

3)    Know which jobs to walk away from: Instinct and experience can warn you when a potential client might pose a payment problem. If your background and reference check of your clients reveal red flags, or if you get the sense in your initial discussions with your new client that cash flow might be an issue. It might make sense to pass on the job and focus your attention on the paying clients. (See Twelve Tips for Contract Negotiation) When you do work for someone who isn’t paying, you not only lose time chasing them down for money, you lose time finding and servicing those clients who are actually growing your business.

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The Tennis Method for Payment Terms

            As a lawyer, people expect a certain amount of cold blooded professionalism from me. In almost ten years of independent practice, no client has questioned my payment terms or been late in paying me. I think the method I use is applicable to other types of small business, so I’ll share it with you. Please feel free to modify it for your needs.

            The tennis method gets its name from the back and forth dynamic of my business process. A typical engagement has six parts.

1)    First contact: A client finds me through a referral or an online post and requests a free consultation online or over the phone.

2)    Engagement letter: Once I understand what the client needs and I determine I can do the job, I send the potential client an engagement letter laying out the service I am willing to provide and the payment I require for that service.

3)    First payment: The client expresses their agreement to the engagement letter by paying ½ of my fee upfront.

4)    Work: I perform all the tasks detailed in the engagement letter (See C3 Services)

5)    Second payment: When the work is done, I notify the client and the client delivers the second portion of the fee.

6)    Delivery: Once final payment is received, all the deliverables are sent to the client.

            Notice how the dynamic plays into human motivation on both sides. Once the client pays, I have the incentive to start working because she gave me money and because I know I won’t get the rest of it until I do the work. The client pays because they know nothing will happen until they pay and after they’ve made the first payment, they don’t want to throw their initial money away by not getting the work. Everyone stays honest and everyone gets what they want.

Fit to Taste

            Every small business may not be able to utilize the tennis method. The goods or services you have might not lend themselves to this process. You might not be in a position to dictate payment terms (See David and Goliath in Contract Negotiation). But in extreme cases, it might be better to walk away from a deal you won’t get paid for than to stick it out, hope for the best and not get paid (See How to Reject a Bad Contract). Getting paid is an important aspect of small business and you can only work so many hours in a day. Get a deal in writing that protects your business and let someone else deal with the problem clients.

Have fun.


If you want more advice on freelance and small business contracts,

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