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Fighting the Demons of Independent Comics Publishing

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

Publishing your own comics, like any type of independent creative endeavor, can be an exciting journey of achievement. It can also be a descent into poor health, isolation, and financial stress. Creators who can balance the love for their book with their long term well being have a better chance of enjoying the experience

Jessica Bruder wrote a thoughtful piece in Inc. Magazine called "The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship." While publishing an independent comic isn't the same as launching a Fortune 500 company, there are simple lessons in this post creators can learn like:

  • Make time for friends and family

  • Ask for help if depression or hopelessness sets in

  • Take care of your body (sleep, exercise, etc.)

  • Don't bankrupt yourself to make your book

  • Don't define yourself only by your book

Publishing independent comics can feel like being a superhero with a secret identity. Both your passion project and your alter ego need to be protected. Neglecting either one can create an imbalance that destroys both.



David v.s. Goliath: Negotiating Power in Creative Contracts

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

When I analyze contracts for my clients, I point out all the language in the agreement that has been written to favor the publisher. I point out all the ways that contract clauses are used to limit their control over their work and their ability to make money. I offer them suggestions on how to make the contracts more equal and level the playing field. But I am aware that the terms of most of these deals will never be changed. As a comic book creator, you often must deal with the reality that you have little or no negotiating power relative to a publisher. Taking this fact into account will help you make decisions about what deals you will or will not get into and help you understand how they will impact your career.

Scarcity Breeds Power         

Publishers have to take the financial risk of releasing an unknown and unproven book. In order to mitigate this loss and to give themselves the potential for substantial revenue and control on the back end, many of them incorporate biased language into their contracts. Many creators sign those contracts because of their lack of influence.

It is easy to understand why comic creators normally have very little negotiating power. It boils down to supply and demand and market scarcity.

The publishers currently corner the market on supply. They control the means of production (printing) and direct distribution (comic shops, bookstores, online and digital) and often control secondary distribution (merchandise and media licensing)

The number of comic creators who want to gain access to the publishers supply is massive compared to the number of publishers. Who knows how many potential artists and writers are out there dreaming of getting their books in print, movies and games?

The scarcity of publishers relative to the abundance of creators produces a situation where publishers can afford to offer one sided deals. Every unknown creator who demands a superior deal can be rejected by the publisher because there are ten or twenty other creators willing to accept an inferior deal. Since the publisher is primarily looking for books to fill their publishing plan, one unknown book is just as valuable as any other from their perspective.

Options for Creators

In light of the reduced negotiating power that undiscovered creators have, does it make sense to push for a bigger deal for a creator owned project or page rate? Yes and no. While you might not be able to wrestle a six figure advance out of Marvel, there are options you can pursue to make the most of your work.

  • Establish your reputation in the industry by taking on work for hire projects that will get you exposure for your skill without exposing the characters and story lines that you are saving for a creator owned work.
  • Find a more flexible small press that will offer more reasonable terms for new creators.
  • Explore self-publishing if only to increase your name recognition in the market.
  • Accept the biased deal as a means of name recognition.

While none of these methods is a quick road to fame and fortune, they can boost your negotiating power over time. An unknown creator has almost no leverage with a publisher. A creator with a following who represents tens of thousands of copies sold per month can command lucrative exclusive contracts, back end participation deals and creator owned contracts that give them considerable revenue and control potential. The best analogy is the contract situation in professional football. As a player, you may not make very much on your first deal but once you prove yourself as a marquee player, your subsequent contracts can be huge.

Need to Understand Your Agreements

Whether you make the choice to accept a one sided deal, negotiate better term or walk away, you need to understand what the terms are for the deal you are being given. It might make sense to take a bad deal now if it will boost your career later. The key is making an informed decision about what you are doing. Whether you decide to use a service like mine or not, knowing what you are signing and why is key to building and leveraging your negotiating power.


Gamal Hennessy

Success in the comics industry requires an understanding of the business, creative, and legal aspects of the medium.

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Recommended Professional Panels for NY Comic Con 2014

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

If you work in comics (or you just enjoy comic culture) then events like New York Comic Con one of the high points of the year. It’s a place where professionals get a chance to network, connect with their fans, sell their work, be inspired, geek out and spend too much money on comics, toys, t-shirts and other random paraphernalia.

Cons are also a good source of information when it comes to managing and understanding your career. If you take advantage of the professional panels at NYCC, you have a chance to learn from people who can help you avoid mistakes and have more success. 

This is a list of the most interesting panels I've seen on the schedule at this point. There are a lot more than last year, which proves the growing popularity of professional panels at the Con. I can't vouch for the speakers or the quality of the presentations, but you might learn something at these panels to help your career and your ideas. My own willingness to attend these meetings and not stand on line to play FarCry 4 has to count for some type of endorsement.

Thursday October 9th

  • 1:15 pm: Selling Your Comics to Hollywood
  • 6:00 pm: Comixology Submit: The Future of Self-Publishing
  • 7:15 pm: How to Succeed in Self-Publishing

Friday, October 10th

  • 11:15 am: Landing a Publisher and Negotiating Publishing Deals
  • 7:00 pm Make Comics Like a Pro: Breaking into the Industry

Saturday, October 11th

  • 4:15 pm: Copyrights, Contracts and Comic Book Creators
  • 7:15 pm : Collaborating in Comics

Sunday, October 12th

  • 1:15 pm: Successfully Crowdfund Your Comic
  • 5:00 pm: Protecting Your Ideas

I plan to write an essay about what Iearn at Comic Con, but nothing beats being there yourself if you can. If any of you are planning on attending NYCC and you'd like a meeting to discuss the rights of your book, please send an email and we can set something up. Also, I plan to be in Artist Alley on Thursday afternoon. If any of you have a booth, please let me know the number so I can try to stop by.

Otherwise, you can probably find me at the FarCry booth.

Have fun.

Artistic Fantasy vs. Financial Reality

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.


By Gamal Hennessy

At some point, every artist needs to balance the relationship between their art and their finances. A musician might want to spend all her time practicing and performing, but if singing isn’t making her enough money to live, she might have to take an office job and spend less time with her music. A writer might want to create experimental work outside of the mainstream, but agents and publishers might push for a YA or historical romance, because the market for those books already exists. When your bank account and your craft pull you in different directions, you have to make a choice about what you can and can’t do.

Independent artists have an additional layer of complexity when it comes to the relationship between financial and creative resources. Many of us have finance the production and marketing of our own projects. Not only are we trying to make enough money to have a home to live in and food to eat, we need to pay to get our work out into the world. The new era of digital distribution has made it much cheaper to release work, but it still isn’t free (See How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book Anyway?) Successful projects will cover their costs and turn a profit (See Profit and Loss Statements for Independents) but it might take a book several years to recoup its production costs, and some books never turn a profit at all.

In the face of this reality, I realized I have a problem for my books. My publishing goal for the next four years is to release two books per year (See What is Your Publishing Plan?) This goal has two parts; the creative side where I have to write the book and the publishing side where I have to pay to get the book out. From a creative standpoint, things are going well. My second book for 2014 is done and so is my first novel for 2015. I’m 60% done with the first draft for my second book for 2015 too, which puts me ahead of schedule. As a writer, I’m very pleased with my pace and my progress.

As a publisher, things are not so great. Various circumstances (some positive and some negative) limit my ability to fund my second release of this year. I’m uneasy about the idea of crowdfunding (probably because I’ve never tried it) and the idea of pushing the release back six months throws off the momentum I’ve built with my core group of readers. As it stands now, I simply don’t have the financial resources to cover my artistic goals.

So I made a choice. The book I planned to release in October (See The Dark End of the Street) will be put on hold until I can figure out a new spot for it in the publishing plan. Maybe I’ll put it out in 2016. Maybe I’ll release it as a series of short stories to spread out the cost over a few releases. Maybe it will become the “lost undiscovered book” people get excited about after I’m dead and all my other books have become well known movies. Whatever, it will go in the can until I’m willing and able to release it properly.

I know this isn’t a major problem. Many writers struggle to get just one book out per year and many more aspiring writers never release more than one book. We all have to balance our creative goals with our real world resources. In my case, I hope this is just a minor detour on the writer’s road.

Have fun.


When Artists Hire Artists

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

by Gamal Hennessy

The business of storytelling is evolving to take advantage of new technology and business models. It’s creating new opportunities to get stories in front of people by breaking down the old barriers to entry. Self-publishing and independent projects are growing at a record pace, thanks to digital distribution and micro niche marketing.

Creators are now in a better position to publish books on their own without traditional publishing houses to act as gate keepers. Some artists are releasing their own comics to build their reputation in the industry and break into the mainstream. Some writers are self-publishing their books to retain more profit and control. But with great power comes great responsibility (sorry, that was too tempting to leave out).

Artists and writers who used to be forced to sign a publisher’s work for hire agreement are now in a position where they need their own work for hire contracts to protect their rights. But what are the key elements that need to be in this kind of contract? How can you protect yourself in both the short term and the long haul? How can you be the type of creator other artists want to work with? When artists hire artists, they need to take care of their world, their defenses and their reputation.

Your World

When you create a story, you have the power to define what happens. When you have your own creative project, you have the power to define your relationship with your artists. The three key factors you need to deal with are:

  • Defining the project: Spell out in as much detail as you can what the artist is working on, what kind of work they’ll be doing, when the work is due and how much they’re going to get paid.
  • Owning the Services: Make it clear that your relationship with the artist is a work for hire. This means they aren’t going to have any ownership or control over the property itself or the underlying characters or stories they’re going to be working on.
  • Own the use and distribution: Reserve the right to use any work the artist does for you in any and every way you can think of. You might only be planning to do a web comic now, but you don’t want to limit your options to do a deal with Netflix or whatever the next hot media turns out to be

Your Shield 

Producing your own book opens you up to a certain amount of risk. You could pay for work and never get the finished product. Your artist could deliver artwork done by someone else. There are all sorts of pitfalls in publishing, but certain terms in the contract can help protect you from trouble.

  • Payment: If you tie payment to delivery of work, you are more likely to get the services you commissioned.
  • Representations and Warranties: If your artist makes promises to protect you and your work, they’re less likely to screw you over because they’ve been put on notice
  • Indemnification: If they do break their promises to you, an indemnity (just a fancy word for repayment) gives you the ability to resolve your dispute in a court (which is one place artists don’t want to go).

These protections are not perfect. People breach contracts all the time. But when all the terms and conditions are spelled out, people are more inclined to see you as a professional and treat you in a professional way.

Your Reputation

Clear and consistent contract terms will remove most of the confusion and doubt that comes with making a business deal. As more and more people do business with you and get exposure to your business practices, the better your reputation will be in the industry. The creative world of books and comics is a small one if you stay in the game for a while. A professional reputation as both an artist and a publisher can be just as critical to your long term success as your ability to write or draw.

Independent creators need to tailor each work for hire contract to fit each new creative project. Larger publishers work better with form agreements and economies of scale, but until your publishing evolves into that level, a custom agreement is probably your best bet.

Have fun.


P.S. I’m going to be attending New York Comic Con on Thursday, October 9th, 2014. If you’re going to have a booth in Artist’s Alley or you’d like to set up a free consultation, please leave a comment and let me know.