And so, we soldier on! In this my third installment of my ten-part series on playing the game of Independent Publishing, I turn away from the negative to embrace the positive. Where part one saw me bitterly biting folks over my trust issues, and part two was a wicked warning on the evils of exposure… this week, I’m opening up a topic that truly has no seedy underbelly! Wait, don’t quote me on that. This week, I implore you to consider this:
Networking is necessary.
No one is an island unto themselves if they want to be a success. Crack open nearly any comic worth its salt, and you’ll see colorists, letterers, editors, and others throwing in to the mix. When you’re starting out as a creator, shake hands with everyone you can. Because the next hand you shake may wind up saving your book in the eleventh hour. But let me not get ahead of myself… We should slow this down some.
Networking is just adult speak for making friends. But in these cases you exchange business cards — no, seriously you hipster millennials, real actual paper cards— and make it a point to save that information where you’ll come back to it later. Because trust me, you’ll need it.
When you make that leap across the aisle from fan to creator, you’ll suddenly be introduced to dozens upon dozens of like-minded professionals. And soon thereafter, you’ll learn how everyone basically knows everyone else. And because of this, networking becomes a crucial skill to ensure that you reduce the number of mistakes you make as you pilot your rickety raft down the river of comic creation. Whether you’re creating a rolodex of artists to partner with, media-savvy bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters who want to assist you in promoting your projects, or amassing a list of venerable vendors to get you physical products and promotional items… being able to schmooze is a skill that you absolutely need to succeed.
If I could impart any specificity to the nuts and bolts of networking, I cite the illustrious Alex Ross. In a Wizard Magazine interview from too-long-ago-to-look-up, Ross made clear how he first broke in to the industry. To paraphrase him: “Beyond having the best art I could put forward, I was sure to act professional with everyone I met.” Acting professional — even when networking at the bar after a long day at the con — communicates professionalism. Simply put, I don’t know many folks who want to work with you if you come across like a drunken frat kid upon first meeting.
Shake hands. Make eye contact. Be personable without dumping out your life-story. Ask questions. Be mindful of your time. When a would-be vendor, or aspiring artist / writer comes by our table and starts pitching to me? These are the things I expect of them, as I do them myself. It’s a language unto itself; communicating that while comics are a hella cool industry to work in, at the end of the day it’s still a business. Which means if you and I want to keep our collective lights on, every now and again we have to act like spoiled-sport-grown-ups to do so.
Take a step back though, and allow me this digression. More often than not, a large part of networking with your fellow artists will occur in downtime – before and after the convention days. This could be in the aisles during set up, or the aforementioned bar scene afterwards. During these times, you really must become adept at reading the room so-to-speak. If a creator you’d love to work with happens to be bellied up the bar, cracking wise with a group of their peers? Probably not in your best interest to shake their hand and dive into your pitch. Better to make eye contact, and figure out if you’d be welcome to join in their collective good times, or if you should politely wait for them to break free of their group to introduce yourself. In short? It’s like hanging out in High School. Which, clearly, we’re all so very good at. Right? Put a pin in that, as that in and of itself is a whole topic for another week. Digression over.
As Alec Baldwin once crowed… Always Be Closing. In my mind, the closing of a good network contact comes in the follow through. When I come back from a convention, I sort through my pile of business cards, and pile them according to our needs – the podcasters and media folks in one pile, artists we’d like to work with in another, and lastly the vendors and sellers-of-stuff-we-might-need. Then, I’ll crack open my mail program and build out an easy to use template email to send personally to each contact I made. I make sure to leave room in each to make it clear how I could see Unshaven Comics work specifically with said contact. In some cases it’s as simple as “If you ever have a spot on your show and we could be a guest… we’d love to do it!”, where in others there might be specific mentions of gathering quotes/estimates for products, or discussing portfolios and page rates. The key to it all is all in that follow through. It showcases that beyond a handshake and a few shared anecdotes… there is potential business to conduct together. Savvy?
And before I leave you to gnaw over all of this, let’s quickly discuss social networks. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like are part of the world in which we live and do business. The best advice I could give is to heed the same advise in the real world as you would in the digital – but keep in mind that the world we access through a browser or smart phone can come with any number of sycophants, psychos, and outright liars. Do your homework when someone hold up a digital hand to shake. See if anyone in your own networks know them. Go ahead and Google them while you’re at it. Ultimately, use caution, and keep your information safe. I know I sound like a dad about it all… but hey, it’s not safe out there kiddo.
And with that, consider our little meeting done. OK, partner? Now, if you want to get a hold of me, you’re more than welcome to. Look me up on Facebook or Instagram, and tell me all about yourself. Or hey, better yet, meet me at a convention coming up. You see, I never know who I’ll run into out there, and well… I’d be a fool not to at least shake your hand and see how we might become fast friends when it comes time to making a comic!
Next week… The Battle for Your Soul (to Poster or Not to Poster)