ymmv .24 – Everything Else
I love that image you get of the reclusive writer, married to their pages, hammering away while the world falls apart around them.
I grew up wishing I could find my own Overlook Hotel to tend for the Winter. I’d pack the Underwood, a suitcase full of books, a few reams of paper, and I’d just sink into the words for 3 months. This was a literal dream of mine.
The idea that you’d die for your words, bleed for your craft, that it’s all that matters. That romanticised image of a writer writing the great unwritten, forever and ever, amen.
And it’s such bullshit, especially in today’s age of the ubiquitous modern writer.
I’m sure it probably never was, or it was the fabled 1% of Hemingways and such who got away with being such misanthropic examples of creative freedom. Everyone else no doubt had to tend with the ‘everything else’ that gets between you and the page. And this has never been more of a barrage than it is today.
Robert E. Howard used to spend his time away from Cimmeria sculpting his body to become a walking weapon, and trading words with pen pal H.P. Lovecraft. Imagine if he also had to deal with maintaining a positive social media presence, while preparing his latest Kickstarter, and writing a section of his next pitch that imagined the multi-media possibilities of his latest story. Imagine!
Make no mistake, modern writer, you have a lot of other things to write that you never expected to clog your time up in the misty cabin where you’d pen your literate masterpiece. It’s fun to create characters, destroy worlds, and lather up some purple prose, but are you prepared to also write everything else?
If we’re going to write about the shitstorm, well, we might as well dive in with both feet paratrooper style, right?
Social media is a hot mess, and a totally necessary one. Especially for the nascent modern writer. The world is a big place, and the odds anyone is stumbling across you by happy accident is infinitely miniscule. So you need to put yourself in the way if you’re to have any hope. Being visible, being available, being you is relatively easy, but it’s also a sinkhole.
One major thing to consider is which social media platform you’ll favour.
But whether you are throwing your piss into the wind of the drunk uncles/racist grandparents/proud fathers/cat memes/meal photography on Facebook or braving the tumultuous storms of the Dark Comics Twitter come controversy time, it’s all time writing.
These platforms are places you type words, they are hours you spend not hitting the story up, but they can be sources of inspiration and support. There are also war stories of editors looking up people’s feeds to see if someone is a negative black hole of hate or not. Because, like it or not, no one wants to work with a complete dwarf star of unrestrained bile and pessimism. That’s just life, and it’s the life of the modern writer, so figure out how to manage it and how to be yourself.
One person said it to me best when they said, “Facebook is the place you pretend to be someone you’re not for the people you know, and Twitter is the place you are truly yourself in front of strangers.”
Beyond these two, you have to consider if you’ll manage an Instagram account – where images are king and people have no shame in adding 40 hashtags to their pic to up the Like quotient.
I was once at a public pool and I watched a young girl sit with her iPad and scroll Instagram monotonously and hit like for every single picture in her feed. It was one of the saddest things I ever saw, and I think it can happen to creatives online, too. You want to be loved, to be seen as positive, so you sink hours watching the pics float past, liking things because of course you’re a nice person. But is it making you a better creator? Is it really what Robert E. Howard would do?
Tumblr falls into a similar world where the interaction isn’t as back-and-forth as Facey or Twitter, but it can be fun. Like a quirky cousin to the big dogs, Tumblr has become the cool kids hang out and as such I am thoroughly lost. But it looks like fun.
You can go even further down the line to ello, Spotify, Google+, or Periscope. These are all tools to reach out, some say to ‘brand,’ and others think just to have fun. Either way, it’s time, it’s energy, and you have to wonder if you want to do it, and once signed up, are you equipped to do it well?
I always tell people that, for me, Twitter has been the one I have the most fun on and is the one I’ve landed most gigs through. But I also tell people that they should use the ones they enjoy, they should be genuine on there, and they shouldn’t be doing it with too much of an overtly strategic face because that kind of disingenuity is as opaque as Wonder Woman’s jet and smart peeps will see through it.
Writing pitches sucks. It’s my least favourite part of this whole writing caper. But it’s extremely necessary, so suck it up and get better at it.
Story/book pitches will vary publisher to publisher, but you should have some of the basics locked down.
Nail that title. I won’t offer advice, I suck at this most times.
Then hardball in a high concept tagline while you have someone’s attention. “It’s Die Hard in the DC universe!” which can be explained in the broadstrokes of the one-sheet as you detail why Bruce Wayne taken hostage by terrorists in the Daily Planet building is the best story to be published in 2019.
If anyone is still reading, and even if they aren’t, you’ve gotta drop the issue breakdowns, to show you know narrative structure, and how to land an end on each issue to make the audience need to come back.
You’ll probably even write some character bios, you might discuss the ideal target audience for this story, or how it’ll have multimedia appeal.
You have to write all of this and it’s like getting a Jenga tower to form and hold its perfect shape in zero gravity. The best I can offer you is to find people willing to share their pitch documents, especially for books that got picked up, and to study how they set them out, how they turn an issue of story into a nut-punching paragraph that hooks and delivers. Study up, practise lots, and always be editing.
Also always be ready to spend the entire time knowing you haven’t nailed it, being unable to nail it, and sending it anyway. Sigh.
No one’s going to dance with you if you keep standing against the wall, but the kicker is you can’t go around asking everyone to commit a little murder on the dancefloor, that’s just not cool.
Getting an editor’s email, or even that of an artist or someone you want to collaborate with, is exciting, but then you have to learn and know how to use it. There’s a fine line between being persistent and being a creeper. You have to know how to stay relevant and keep it personal while never stepping over the line.
To be honest, this is the sort of thing that drives me crazy. I overthink what I wrote, what they reply, when emails are sent. Everything is ripe for overanalysis and it’s maddening.
Erring on the side of less is more is probably the better advice, but then you run the risk of fading into obscurity.
In short, good luck, and land the gig quick, but only once invited to pitch or ask. Always wait for that offer before stuffing every pdf you worked on into their inbox.
If you’re lucky enough to get a comic made, then you will want to engage the press. This is yet another discourse, different from pitching the book, or buttering up editors, this is another way to walk entirely.
I remember reading an account of the making of The Evil Dead once by some flunky who stood around and held the wires or something and this guy was bitter about the whole experiences. One of his major complaints was Bruce Campbell. This guy thought Bruce was either all business, or all schtick, and he didn’t seem to like either. Well, that’s how I feel about my press emails, they’re all business, or all schtick, and I don’t know I want them to be either.
The moment you are sitting there writing draft three on an email to some press peeps who are usually the good peeps, the ones who you trust their word and look forward to improving based on their feedback because that’s why they are in your rolodex, you want them to get the book early, to lay their thoughts and words on you, well, once you are writing new drafts to them you feel insane. This isn’t what you signed up for, is it?
Spoilers: yeah, it is.
Oh, and some actual help I can offer you – put an emoji in your subject line. It’s fun as hell to do, but it’ll make it stand out in the inbox for when anyone needs to find it again.
I love Kickstarter. I love running the campaigns. I love the engagement, the interaction, the spirit, and let’s be honest, the money.
But I downright loathe writing the campaign page, and the pledge levels, and the press emails to get the word out, and the tweets and updates you’ll write about the campaign as it runs. I hate working out if I should be all business or all schtick, and I hate how much time it takes.
Once the campaign starts, if you’ve done your job right, it will run smoothly, and your hard writing will be behind you. But for the months beforehand, you’ll second guess every word choice, you’ll scrutinise every paragraph length, and you’ll endlessly poke the words around your plate like someone who doesn’t want to finish their meal but also doesn’t like to waste food.
You’ll kill yourself on these, but it is worth it.
It’s just not the writing you thought you would be doing. I mean, at least you get paid for this writing [if you play your cards right], but you can’t imagine Michael Chabon wasting his time trying to write a witty pledge level description for a digital download for his book, can you?
[Yeah, I know, he’d be awesome at that. Stupid Chabon.]
You will not feel like a true writer hacking away at your 160 character soundbite intro, but you will be a true modern writer if you do this.
Because these are the things you just have to do now. You can lock yourself away in a snow cabin and come down the mountain every 18 months to restock on gin as you drop off your latest manuscript, but good luck anyone caring. Few are that good to get away with it. If you want to hustle and keep going and try everything and never give up, well, these are the words to which you are also committing yourself.
You might not have grown up hoping you’d be a grown ass man trying to work out if he should use hashtags to sell his work in email subject lines, but this is the writing landscape sometimes. And if you want to write that comic script then you have to be prepared to put in the 10k of words that float around that action in tweets and emails and digital panhandling.
These words matter and if you are not good at them then you will feel the difference, you will know the barrier, and you will have to work on it. Heck, you might even learn to enjoy some of it. But not writing Kickstarter campaign pages, no one likes that.
Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer who has logged time at Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Vertigo and other esteemed publishers. He currently writes Negative Space, a comic we here at Loser City love quite a bit. You can (and should) pick Negative Space up from your local comic shop or directly through Dark Horse.