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Filtering by Category: "comic book industry"

Treat Your Art Like An Investment

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

The success of Guardians (See Guardians Zoom to $94 Million Dollar Weekend) and the ongoing success of the Avengers franchise in mainstream entertainment creates a ripple effect reaching into the comics and other media. Guardians is getting a TV series (See Marvel Announces New Guardians Series). Staple Avengers characters are getting diversity makeovers (See On the New female Thor and a Black Captain America). Other Avengers characters are getting high profile spin off comics (Loki, Hawkeye and Black Widow). As the public perception of these properties rise, Marvel is putting more energy into them.

Meanwhile, other properties are getting less attention. From where I’m sitting, franchises like the X-Men are losing currency in the comic book universe. While the X franchise still has a large percentage of the books coming out every month, they are being marginalized from a story perspective. They’re not the focus of many of the tentpole events of the past few years (Secret Invasion, Civil War, Siege, etc.) and there was a major storyline killing off most of the mutants in the Marvel Universe and sending the rest of them to live on an isolated island. To top it all off, the major event of this summer is killing off Wolverine. The X-Men have been the best selling and most popular franchise for the past twenty years of Marvel Comics. All that might be changing now.

Why?

I think part of the reason has to do with lack of control and lower revenue. Marvel has far greater control of the Avengers and Guardians characters than they do with X-Men. The X-Men film license is held by Fox (and the Spider-Man license is held by Sony in a co-production agreement). Those licenses were created when Marvel had very little leverage because of their recent bankruptcy. The revenue from those movies and their associated merchandise programs, helped put the company in a position to make films like Iron Man and Captain America, but deals that made sense then aren’t as attractive now.

The X-Men and Spider-Man deals are still making money for Marvel. But from a business standpoint, it makes more sense to focus on the characters who generate more money. Changing focus means some characters get more attention, while others get less. This thinking explains part of the reason for the shift (See Marvel Shorting X-Men Due to Fox Deal)

Marvel’s strategic creative choices offer useful guidance for emerging and independent creators both inside and outside of comics. When you strip away all the fanfare, details and nuances of each tactical move, the basic idea can be expressed in three parts.

1) See your stories and characters as investments of your skill, time, energy and passion

2) Take the long view of your stories and characters when considering their business potential

3) Focus your energy on those projects that fit with your long term goals

I could be wrong about the direction of X-Men comics. This transfer of focus could be a temporary move designed to reinvigorate the franchise or regain complete control if and when the film license expires. Either way writers and artist can learn the concepts of artistic investment by watching the way the big boys play.

Have fun.

Gamal

What Message Should You Take from the GoG Success?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

At this point, the internet is saturated with reaction from the monster opening weekend of Guardians of the Galaxy (See Guardians Sets New August Record). Some see this as a new plateau in the golden age of comic book movies (See Films Based on Comics are Serious Business). Others assume saturation is just around the corner. Either one of those perspectives could be accurate. In certain ways, they’re probably both right. But as writers and artists, what should you take away from the breakout success of the latest Marvel film?


Answer: You never know which property is going to be successful and you never know when.


Consider the doubt many people expressed leading up to the release of GoG (See Guardians Will Be a Flop). A film based on a group of unknown characters created in 1969 and only loosely linked to the Avengers franchise didn’t have the established mainstream fan base widespread support of Spider-Man, Batman or even Hulk. I think quite a few people saw the “inevitable” failure of GoG as the beginning of the end of the comics based movie era, especially in the light of disappointments like Green Lantern, Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Wolverine. But when an obscure property makes $94,000,000 in its first four days of release, people take notice. When a film opens as a historic success, as part of a string of top grossing film and merchandise campaigns, the potential of comic based entertainment can’t be ignored.


All this means you can’t afford to ignore the legal status of your property either.


  • Yes you might be working on your first self-published book.
  • Yes, you might still be looking for a creator owned deal.
  • Yes, the vast majority of comics will not become movies or TV series or anything else.
  • Yes, it might take decades before Hollywood (or in the future Amazon, Netflix or its successors) stumbled upon your little book.


Even if all of this is true, can you afford to be cut off from ownership and potential future earnings? In his new book Words for Pictures, Bendis suggests you treat your story like it’s going to be the next big thing when it comes to dealing with your contract. It might be optimistic to the point of being delusional, but it is still sound advice for anyone in comics, even if your book doesn’t have a talking raccoon character.


Have fun.
Gamal

Why Comic Creators Need Lawyers

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.
Technology has given independent artists the tools and freedom to control more of their work. It is easier than ever to create, publish and distribute your stories without a deal from the big boys. This evolution in the industry gives you more chances to get your work in front of bigger players, and gives you the potential to make deals that were few and far between a few years ago.

But this DIY spirit can be dangerous if taken too far. There is a point where it is helpful, even preferable, to do things on your own. When it comes to legal agreements involving your intellectual property, you need the support of a professional.

Disclaimer
You’ve probably already came to the conclusion that I'm only writing this post to get more work. After all, I am an attorney who represents comic creators. (See An Introduction to Creative Contract Consulting). If I scare you into thinking that you'll be cast off into the Negative Zone if you don't get a lawyer, then there's a good chance you'll hire me. To a certain extent, that's true. But there are three points to keep in mind before you dismiss me out of hand:

So as self-serving as this post might be, that doesn't mean it doesn't make a point that can help you.

Division of Labor
The reason you need a lawyer to help protect your rights is because legal contracts and legal principles are designed to be confusing.  The language used in contracts is circular, opaque and dense. What the words mean and what you think they mean are often two different things. The implications of certain words are often unclear even to the person who wrote the contract. Without someone there to explain things to you, it is easy to sign something that will hurt you down the line.

This is not an attack on your intelligence.  Many of my clients are a lot smarter than me. This is a question of training and experience. I’m a writer as well as an attorney (See Smooth Operator). I don't edit my novels and I don't design the covers. I hire professionals to do that. (See Judging a Book by its Cover) As an airline passenger, I don't fly my own plane. I pay the airline to supply professionals. I could learn editing, cover design and piloting, but it saves time and money to bring in a professional.

Hiring a lawyer is the same. We already wasted years of our lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars learning to decipher contracts. Why not take advantage of our poor decisions?

A Word about Costs
Lawyers are not cheap. We have to pay off exorbitant loans and many of us have expensive tastes. We normally charge by the hour, so the best way to use a lawyer is to hire one for as short a period of time as possible. If you hire them before a deal gets signed, it might cost you a few hundred bucks. If you hire one after something goes wrong and you need to go to court, that number can rise exponentially. Court cases can take years and those billable hours pile up fast. It's better to bring us in on the front end and nip the issue in the bud.

Somebody, but not just Anybody
I understand if you don't want to hire me. You might not like my style. I might not be attractive enough to be your lawyer. That's fine. I've been rejected before. All I ask is that if you're faced with a contract that involves you or your work, get a lawyer to review it before you sign it. And not just any lawyer. A criminal defense attorney might not understand the entertainment or comics market well enough to help you. Check the background of your prospective attorney, talk to your colleagues about who they use. Once you find the right one and you determine they have an acceptable level of attractiveness, retain them and put them to work. That will give you the time and the peace of mind to go back to making comics.


Have fun.
Gamal

Recommended Panels for New York Comic Con 2013

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

Events like NYCC are beneficial in many ways. They allow professionals a chance to network, connect with their fans, sell their work and be inspired by the work of others.

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 enhance your career.

This is a list of the most interesting panels I've seen on the schedule at this point. I can't vouch for the speakers or the quality of the presentations, but these are the places I plan to spend my time on Thursday afternoon. My own willingness to attend these meetings and not stand on line to play Arkham Origins has to count for some type of endorsement.

Thursday October 10th
3:15: Comixology Submit: The Future of Self Publishing
4:15: Protect It and Publish It: Meeting and Negotiating with Publishers
5:00: You've Broken into Comics, Now What?

I'm also giving these two panels honorable mentions. I won't be able to attend because of schedule conflicts, but they do sound useful.

Thursday, October 10th
4:15: Protect It and Publish It: Creating and Protecting Your Property

Friday, October 11th
Comics & Hollywood: What Creators Need to Know

I plan to write an essay about what Iearned 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 Friday. If any of you have a booth, please let me know the number so I can try to stop by.

Otherwise,  you can find me at the Arkham Origins booth.

Have fun.
Gamal

Analysis and Results of the Great Independent Comic Survey, Part 1

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

Early this year, I wondered if the independent comics industry was ready for an independent merchandise platform (See Do You Want to Create Merchandise for Your Comics?). During the spring, I created a business model that would fulfill this theoretical need and discussed its’ potential. (See The Magic in a Batman T-Shirt).  Over the summer, I set up a survey to test the market and see if conditions were favorable for launching such a venture (See The Great Independent Comics Survey). Now that New York Comic Con is just around the corner, I’d like to share the results with you. While they don’t support my business model, I still think there are some important lessons that independent artists can take from the survey. This post intends to share both the results of the survey and my interpretation of those results.

 Methodology
Keep in mind that I am not a statistician. I don’t have a degree in marketing or any background in analytics. I simply asked ten questions to determine the current size and scope of the independent comics market. My questions might not have been ideally worded to generate optimum results. My sample size (based on the Facebook, Linked In and Google + groups I belong to) might not be representative of the overall US market. I just tried to work with the resources I had available. This is what I got.

I broke the survey into three parts; sales, distribution and merchandise rights.

Sales
Question 1: How many creator owned titles do you release per year?

Answer: 75% of the group releases 1 or 2 titles per year. This makes sense since creator owned projects are often passion projects that have to take a back seat to day jobs and paying work for hire gigs that up and coming artists need to gain recognition (See Entertainment Contracts 101). The reality from a retail standpoint is that more titles in the market provide more chances for readers to find a title and a story they like. If the one title available doesn’t suit them, the reader has to move on to another book.

Answer Choices
Responses
1-2
76.67%
3-4
10%
4-5
3.33%
5+
10%

Question 2: How many issues do you release for each title per year?

Answer: 87% of the group releases 1-4 four issues of each title per year. This reduces the market entry points for independent artists even further, because readers used to monthly offerings in the mainstream comics market are more likely to turn away from or forget a book that comes out quarterly or annually. While it might not be realistic given the time constraints, more issues of a title can raise the profile of the title as a whole.

Answer Choices
Responses
1-4
86.67%
4-8
6.67%
8-12
3.33%
12+
3.33%

Question 3: How many copies per year do you sell for each creator owned title?

Answer: 53% sell less than 100 copies, 23% sell less than 250 copies. This could be the result of many factors, but depending on the price point of each book, this suggests that many creator owned books lose money and do not recoup their initial investment.

Answer Choices
Responses
0-100
53.33%
101-250
23.33%
251-500
10%
501-750
6.67%
750-1,000
6.67%
1000-3,000
0%
3,000+
0%

Question 4: What is the average number of copies that you sell per month?

Answer: 83% stated that they sold an average of less than 50 copies per month. This question is an elaboration of question 3 that reinforces the idea that the overall sales of independent books have a lot of room for growth.

Answer Choices
Responses
0-50
82.76%
100-150
3.45%
150-200
3.45%
200+
0%
51-75
10.34%
76-100
0%

My next post will look at the distribution and merchandise aspects of the survey.


Have fun.
Gamal

The Great Independent Comic Market Survey

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.
If you went to SDCC (or to any major convention) you know that merchandise is a major factor in the mystique of comics (See Making Comics Isn’t Really About making Comics Anymore). This is true because the lure of comics creates fans hungry for increased identification and connection to the characters they love (See The Magic in a Batman T-Shirt) Readers of this page know that I think independent comic creators deserve their own merchandise lines, just like the major players (See Do you Want Merchandise for your Comics). I think I'm close to a solution, but I need to find out if it makes sense for creators to get involved in the business.

That's where you come in.

I've developed a short survey to study the sales patterns of independent comics to test the viability of my model. It's short and sweet and if you take five minutes to answer the questions, there's a free gift in it for you.

Readers of my other page (See http://gamalhennessy.com/) know that I am also a published author. If you take the independent comic survey, I'll send you a free digital copy of my short story A Special Request as a thank you. Just send me an email after you finish the survey and I'll send it to you.

The survey is designed to benefit you and the book will (hopefully) be a classic one day so you win coming and going. I plan to keep the voting opened until August 20th. Make your voice heard.

Thanks in advance.


Have fun.
Gamal

Deal with the Devil (How Comic Creators Get Their Rights Stolen)

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

When I started consulting private clients about licensing issues (See Client List), I thought it was going to be a low impact, secondary service. I planned to explain the finer details of contract language, so artists and writers could make informed decisions about selling the rights to their work. Now that I've been doing this for a few years, I can see that I was wrong. Some contracts that I've seen are prudent actions by publishers trying to protect their investment. But too many of these agreements are nothing more than blatant attempt to hijack intellectual property from unsuspecting artists.

The Double Edged Sword

Signing a contract with a publisher can start an artist down the road to professional recognition and lucrative opportunities far beyond comics. It can also strip you of everything you have worked so hard to create. There are a lot of potential pitfalls in creator owned contracts, but the major ones are:

Of course, not every contract is written this way. Not every publisher is a demon attempting to steal your life's work. Some relationships between creators and publishers are much more balanced and fair in reality than they appear in the contract. But the history of comics is littered with famous stories of iconic characters being given away by their creators for little or no money. The current litigation concerning Ghost Rider is simply the latest chapter in a long line of cases. But the answer isn't to avoid all contracts all the time. The key is to understand what you are signing and what you are and are not willing to give away.

Reality Check

It is obviously self-serving for me to make dire claims about the dangers of creator owned contracts. The more you are concerned about this legal problem, the more likely it is you will become my client and pay my fee. It is also clear that many creators feel compelled to sign away their ideas to get their foot into whatever door they have found into the ultra-competitive comic book industry (See David and Goliath: Negotiating Comic Contracts). Both of those concepts are true. I get it.

Here is my response to those facts; if you don't want to use me to review your contract, I respect that. By all means, use someone else with a background in contracts, IP or entertainment law, just don't do it yourself. This is not an insult to your intelligence or business savvy. It is recognition of your specialization. You are an artist or a writer. You probably didn't waste a lot of time in law school learning about contracts (if you did, sorry about the loans). It is unrealistic for you to be expected to understand the implications of contract language. Many of the most successful businessmen have several lawyers explaining things to them when they need to make a major decision. You should too.

And even if you do find yourself in a position where you “have to” sign a bad deal, do it with your eyes opened. Know what you are getting into, so you don't wake up one day without any claim or credit for what you worked so hard to create.

Have fun.
Gamal


PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSEING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.

The Magic in a Batman T-Shirt: Why Licensing Works

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.
Summer is comic book season in the entertainment world. Blockbuster movies pop up in theaters. Major video games debut at E3. Kids have their comic related clothing. Crossovers dominate the comics market, but mainstream media doesn't notice that unless Superman or Captain America die (again). The interest in the comic characters is arguably highest in the summer, but that interest is often focused on the 'secondary' market, not the source material.

Why? What makes a superhero based TV show or movie so popular? More importantly for our purposes, why does comic related merchandise sell so well every year? I originally explored this idea in an earlier post (See Making Comics Isn’t Really About Making Comics Anymore). Now I'd like to explore the social and emotional aspects of licensing, and those factors can help the independent comic creator.

Disclaimer: Most of my other posts have discussed the legal aspects of the comics industry, but this will be more of a pop culture analysis. While I don't have an anthropology or sociology background, these ideas come from the time that I've spent working and observing consumer behavior as it relates to licensed goods at Central Park Media, Marvel and as an independent consultant.

The Definition of Cool
There is no practical difference between a plain white t-shirt and a white t-shirt with a Batman logo on it. Both of them protect you from the elements and get you into restaurants that have a 'no shirt, no service' sign. But the Batman shirt can cost twice as much as a plain t-shirt. Why? Some might say 'because it's cooler than a plain old t-shirt.' That might be true, but what makes it cool?

A person who likes Batman and owns Batman merchandise gains three benefits that have nothing to do with the practical uses of the items. Those benefits are identity, community and nostalgia.

Personal Identitification: When a person relates to a character or a story, their connection to that brand increases. It could be Superman's morals, Wolverine's rebellion or Batman's determination that we aspire to. It could be the emotional impact of stories like Watchmen or Kick Ass or the wit of characters like Iron Man and Spider-Man. Wherever that connection comes from, a reader sees themselves (or wants to see themselves) in the characters they love. They emotionally identify with that character and on a certain level, the merchandise they wear is an expression of that identity.

Community Acceptance: Humans are social animals. We like to organize ourselves into groups based on some defined characteristic. We are also highly visual creatures. We make decisions about people based on what we see. When we see someone who we perceive to be similar to us, we are more likely to accept them and feel a sense of connection to them, however small that connection might be. This is easiest to see in children. Two boys meet for the first time in the park. Both are wearing Batman t-shirts. "You like Batman! I like Batman too! Let's play!" Now they're friends, very little additional interpersonal screening between them.

Emotional Nostalgia: Merchandise can be a subtle reminder of a past experience with, the power to evoke much of the initial emotions. If you have fond childhood memories of watching Batman cartoons, the Batman t-shirt can act as a kind of artifact. It can bring your mind back to a pleasant event in your life and impact your mood whenever you see it.

Not Just for Comics
It’s a mistake to think that the identity, community and nostalgia concepts are unique to comic geeks and unsophisticated children. Groups on every level of society share the same qualities. They just use different products. A man might express his wealth and status with his Mercedes or his Rolex. A woman can instantly accept or reject another woman because of her Prada handbag or Gucci shoes. A football fan has a connection to the jersey he wore when his team won the Superbowl. The baseball fan has his signed glove. In a larger sense, consumer products on every level use logos to evoke emotional responses in order to sell goods and services. Starbucks, Apple and Nike are universal examples of logo and merchandising power.

The Cure for Oversaturation
With all the merchandise, logos and product placement in our society, why would an independent artist want to add to the wall of noise by selling his own stuff? The answer is evolution.

There was a time when certain characters, logos and stories were popular with a small, but passionate audience. Success and mainstream over time acceptance elevated those properties into the icons that we have today. Now they have become diluted and altered. The sense of community they created has extended so far that it covers almost everyone. Ironically, the wide appeal of a character all but eliminates the original connection the first fans had to it. (See Ninja Turtles: From Parody to Property) People inevitably seek out new characters and icons to identify with. They look for smaller, more passionate communities to connect with. The independent artists of today can create the icons of tomorrow if they decide to extend their work beyond the page and into everyday life.

The Power of Story
How does an artist create an iconic character that translates into a successful licensing property? Two of the keys are appeal and evolution. Appeal comes from good stories. No matter how unique and merchandise ready your character might be, without great stories readers, won't identify with the character, connect with other readers or feel any nostalgia for the property. Evolution comes from a consistent relationship between the character and society. Comic book icons like Superman and Batman are more than 70 years old. Each one has changed with the popular culture, and target audiences, to create identification without losing the core concept of the character. The image is what goes on the item for sale, but it is the story that makes the property successful. (See Image and Story: The Role of Copyrights and Trademarks in Comics).

I'm planning to launch an on demand independent merchandise platform for comic creators this year (See Do You Want to Create Merchandise for Your Comics?). My most successful partners will be the ones who can capture the magic of merchandise in their characters and extend their popularity far beyond the comic book page.

Have fun.
Gamal

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSEING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 atgamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION. 

Eternity is a Long Time: License Terms in Comics Contracts

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.
Western society is focused on the present. In business and in life, most of us are concerned with what's happening right now. Little thought is given to long term implications and outcomes. This can be a mistake, especially when it concerns your original stories and characters. A prudent creator will consider the length of time that their property is tied up when considering any deal.

How Long Is This Going to Take?
In the language of contracts, the Term is the length of time that a contract will be in effect. So if you license the publishing rights to the Greatest Comic Ever (GCE) for three years from the execution of the agreement, and the contract is signed on January 1, 2014, then the rights revert back to you on January 1, 2017.

In some cases, the starting and ending dates can be manipulated so that three years isn't really for three years. For example, if you license GCE for three years from the date of first publication of the book, you're looking at a longer deal, since GCE might not come out months or years after the contract is signed.

Forever and Ever, Amen
There are two types of terms in comic book contracts, finite and infinite. A finite contract has a term that lasts for a certain amount of defined time. Like the example above, the term could be months or years, but sooner or later, the rights revert back to you.

With an infinite term, there is no practical end to the license. You could die, humanity could be destroyed in the zombie apocalypse and the earth could be eaten by the sun, but as long as there are lawyers around the contract is still in effect. You can tell a license is infinite if the term contains words like perpetual or in perpetuity. Also, if you can't calculate when the term ends, there is a good chance that it never will.

There are also modifiers to standard term language that can make an infinite term look like a finite term. An in use license could be written so that as long as the licensee is actively using the license, then the license is still in effect. This is part of the difference between the X-Men and Daredevil movie franchises. Fox keeps actively making films with the X-Men universe, allowing it to keep the license. Daredevil reverted back to Marvel because Fox made no use of the license after the 2003 film.

An automatic renewal clause can be placed in term language so that the original term continues to restart as long as certain conditions are met. For example, I have seen publisher's contracts where the license term was valid as long as the book was in print. In today's world of internet comics, a book will always be in print if the book can still be downloaded, making a finite license infinite for that purpose.

Also, a license can convert from an exclusive license to a non-exclusive license (See Addition by Division: Separation of Licensing Rights for Creator Owned Deals) after the initial term ends. This can provide some protection for both parties upfront, but creates complications later on.

Think About the Future
Publishers have an inherent interest in holding rights for as long as possible for several reasons. First, it might take a considerable period of time before a property reaches its height of popularity. Wolverine has been a benchmark of popularity for the past ten years, but its celebrity status in comics has been solid for the past twenty years and it languished in relative obscurity for years after his first appearance in 1974. Second, IP assets, like characters are not perishable and they don't take up space. They are mental concepts that can be stockpiled at little cost. Finally, characters can prove to be powerful assets to whoever holds them whether the rights are resold as movies or games, or if the characters themselves used as assets to generate investment income.

The risk that a creator runs into in this scenario is signing away the rights to a Property for too long. What too long means will differ from one person to the next, but it is generally a mistake to sign away rights forever if the benefit you receive doesn't match what you're giving away (See Get What You Give: Rights and Revenue for Creators)

Not every Property is going to be as popular as Superman seventy five years after it is created. Your personal situation might prevent you from making demands about the length of your contract term (See David vs. Goliath: Negotiating Power in Comic Book Contracts). But anyone getting involved in a creator owned deal or some other type of licensing agreement should consider the length of the term in their contract term and strive to maintain some control of the property in the long run.

Have fun.
Gamal

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSEING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 at gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.


Your Slice of the Pie Part II: When Do You Get Paid?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.
I haven't written anything about comics in a few weeks because I've been working on creating a independent artists merchandising platform (See Do You Want to Create Merchandise for Your Comics? ). I'm still testing the feasibility of that business, but I'd like to take a break from that and discuss the ways time impact a contract. This essay will focus on the most important short term impact; the time it takes for you to be paid.

Payment Timing

The most important thing to understand about working with a publisher is that payments are traditionally paid in lump sums at specific periods during the year. For instance, let's say your publisher reports sales on a quarterly basis (4 times per year) and pays royalties thirty days after each reporting period. Let's also assume that your new book hits the stores on January 1, 2014. This means that you'll see your first report on March 31st, 2014 (or the first business day after that) and the earliest that you'll see the first check is April 30, 2014. Payment cycles can be monthly, quarterly, bi-annually or annually. The rise of online sales can speed up the reporting process to almost real time, but the publisher might still delay payment for various financial reasons.

Not So Fast

Keep in mind, the earliest point where you might get paid won't always be the day you get the money. There are several factors that contibute to payment delays that have nothing to do with negative intentions from the publisher. A delay in payment can occur:

  • if the publisher pays you any advance prior to the release of the book (See Your Slice of the Pie Part I: Net and Gross Profit). In this case, you won't be paid until your percentage of royalties exceed the money you were given up front.
  • if the cost of producing the book and deducted from the gross sales exceed the actual sales, then you won't get paid until sales exceed costs (See Your Slice of the Pie Part I: Net and Gross Profit)
  • if the publisher only pays royalties after a certain threshold is reached (normally $50 or $100) then you won't be paid until the pay cycle where your share of the royalties crosses that threshold
Watching the Clock

When you are thinking about the practical effects of payment timing there are two things to keep in mind. First, don't expect to see immediate payment for a new book unless there was an advance up front. Very few independent artists rely on just creator owned book sales to make a living, but it's worth pointing out that you don't want to count on paying February's rent with the money from January's book sales. That money might not come until April or May. The solution to this is to supplement your creator owned income with work for hire gigs (See Entertainment Contracts 101: Creator Owned vs. Work for Hire) that at least in theory are paid much faster.

The other thing you want to avoid is forgetting about your royalties entirely. In some extreme cases (large deductions from gross, annual reporting and rolled over payments), years could pass before sales reach a point where you start to collect royalties. In the majority of cases, the publisher will just send you the money even if you don't keep track. This is a nice surprise (the industry equivalent of finding money in the pocket of an old coat) but you don't want to get into a situation where you forget and the publisher forgets and you never get paid for your work.

While I often advocate for creators to negotiate changes to their deals, payment timing is something you need to understand not try to negotiate. The payment systems of most publishers are tied to their accounting systems and their overall business operations. It is worth asking for a change if the publisher seems flexible, but unless you are Stan Lee most creators will not be in a position to get this change (See David vs. Goliath: Negotiating Power in Comic Contracts). The best option you have is to set up some kind of long term reminder of the payment terms of all your books at the beginning of the deal.

Now that we've explored the short term effects of time on creator owned deals, next week I plan to look at the long term effects of tying up intellectual properties and the not so philosophical concept of eternity in the comic book business.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Have fun.
Gamal

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