This is the first in a special series of four columns about my experiences making self-published, self-funded indie comics. The columns won’t be too much about me or my process. Instead, you’ll be getting my experience of working in comics and trying to make a career of it on my own.
I’m going to be as honest and straightforward with you as possible. That means you’ll hear about my successes, but also my failures. It won’t be a mope-show, but things aren’t going to be all-positive, all the time. It will be real. Honest.
Honest to the point that I’ll be sharing my website stats and financials with you in the series’ final column.
It may not always be pretty. But I hope it will be informative, entertaining, and worth coming back for. See you in a week.
Hi. I’m Sam Costello and I write Split Lip. Split Lip is a horror webcomics anthology that (nearly) every month publishes a new story written by me and drawn by an artist from around the world. Each story is self-contained: there are no recurring characters or ongoing storylines. io9 called us “the webcomics answer to anthology series like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery” – which is basically exactly what I set out to be.
When I’m not writing Split Lip – which is most of the time, unfortunately – I work in web development. I don’t have much in the way of technical skills; I have soft skills: strategy, search engine optimization, writing, leading teams, and launching sites.
Doing that work, I’ve learned that how we work is often as important, or more even important, than the work itself.
Keeping projects moving and not finding excuses to stop (“we’re waiting on content,” “we need a decision on photography”) is rewarded with successful projects and happy clients. In short: Taking action and building momentum makes good things happen.
That’s also true when you’re making, or hoping to make, comics.
Since my efforts were being largely frustrated, I decided to stop waiting and start making. I concluded that Split Lip would be a webcomic and off I went, on my own. I wrote scripts, found artists, gave art feedback, learned how to letter, and promoted it. I couldn’t have done it without the talented artists I’ve worked with, but on balance, I did a lot of Split Lip myself.
And while I’m not a webcomics millionaire or a household name, just shy of our fourth birthday, Split Lip has 31 stories on the site (number 32 starts in a week or so; four others are being drawn now), over 500 pages of free comics, two TPBS, and a body of work to feel proud of.
All because, instead of continuing to waste time pitching publishers, I took action.
When I wanted to bring Split Lip into print, I apparently hadn’t learned anything.
With the quality of the work and the readership Split Lip had garnered, I felt I had a compelling case to make to a publisher. So I put together submissions packages and sent them to publishers who might be receptive to Split Lip.
The packages were basic affairs: a cover letter and each story boiled down to a punchy, vivid sentence or two, readership info, and a couple of cover mockups. I sent the pitches to five indie publishers – three well known, two smaller.
And they all passed. Some sent form letters (no worries; that’s common from my experience pitching magazines and book publishers), others sent personalized rejections. I had to resend the submission to one publisher twice before they passed. Another expressed some interest and we traded a few emails, but the conditions ultimately weren’t right.
So, after spending the better part of a year, I was back at square one – and obviously no wiser. I’d made the same waiting mistake.
If Split Lip was going to see print, I realized that once again I had to do it myself.
Doing it myself meant doing work — learning pre-press software, researching printers, creating marketing materials and web ads, investing the money to print the books — that I wanted publishers to do for me.
I waited a year, only to find out that publishers weren’t going to do any of that. And I lost a year and a half being inactive, waiting (it took me about 5 months to get the first Split Lip TPB printed).
It was useful in learning more about how to pitch, but it was a year when I could have been gaining new readers, selling books, and building my career.
If you want to be in comics, be in comics. There’s no certificate to earn, no test to pass. Comics are easy and relatively inexpensive to get into on your own. So if you want to make comics, start making them.
Don’t pin your hopes on being discovered or making the right connection at a con. Don’t cling to the idea that publishers will recognize your brilliance (no matter how brilliant you are). Don’t let your dreams depend on anyone other than yourself.
If you wait, you may never stop waiting. Getting started isn’t easy. It’s hard as hell. So is keeping going. But if you wait, your chance might not come. If you want to be in comics, you’ve got to make it happen.