Monday, August 5, 2013


It's Super-Bob-- Writer Guy and his big bag 'o cash!

Where's my money, honey?
I read an article on The Beat asking the question, Should Writers Pay Artists Upfront? You can read the full article here. Basically, the point being put forth is that writers write comic book scripts and try to get artists to draw them for free. This happens, believe me. I’ve worked with artists this way a time or two, usually on a project we both enjoy and weren’t expecting to make much money on anyway.

The argument is valid, but seems a little skewed toward the writer being the initial point of creation. Experience has taught me that this is not always the case. Sometimes artists have an idea and seek out a writer, usually asking the writer to work for free or “for exposure” which is a dreaded term in creative circles these days. We’ll talk about that a bit more in a minute. Granted, some creators have reached a point in their career that working for exposure is not in their best interest. Others, well, maybe if you’re new to the game, a little exposure couldn’t hurt. Of course, each individual creator has to make that decision for him or herself.

Below is my response to the topic, which basically tells how I try to handle this as a writer. It also partly emphasizes why I don’t write nearly as many comic books as I used to.

Show me the money.
There are different ways to look at this. 

I generally offer co-ownership and splitting profits (with the artists getting a larger split of the profits) for creator-owned work. I don't just stockpile and pitch stories. We don't start working on a project until the artist and I agree that this is what we all want to do and we work up a loose plot or idea together. In addition to writing, I also handle the contacts, shopping it around, marketing, etc. Sadly, even with all parties agreed, this doesn't always work and I end up having spent time writing something that never gets finished. It is frustrating at times, which is part of the reason I write very few comics these days. Some of these have languished for years and may or may not ever be completed.

Too funny.
It is important to note that not all project ideas are started by the writer. I have had artists come to me wanting me to write the story he or she wants to tell or just saying they would love to work with me. Every time, I have done this as a partnership, co-owning it as opposed to asking the artist to pay me to write it for them. Sometimes these projects never see the light of day because the art doesn't get finished. I spent time writing that I was then not paid for and have a script I cannot use elsewhere because I only co-own the property.

Funny aside (or not so funny, depending on your POV): I had an artist pitch me his idea and asked me to write his idea into a graphic novel script. The artist then told me his page rate so I could pay him to draw his idea because he thought paying for the book was the writer's responsibility. Suffice it to say, I declined the offer.

Two words I don't want to write.
I can definitely sympathize with both sides. I like to form creative partnerships. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. Ah, comics.

That was from the comment section on The Beat.

Exposure is one of those tricky beasts. Writers, artists, colorists, actors, musicians, singers, performers, and on and on and on are constantly being peppered with requests for them to do some type of work “for exposure.” As I mentioned above, the term “for exposure” is not a popular one to hear, but it sure seems popular to use, especially by non-creative people.

But is working “for exposure” a bad thing?

This is totally how a writer makes money.
It depends. The first question you should ask yourself is, “do I need exposure for my work?”

In my writing career, I have worked on many royalty-based pay projects. Most prose (novels, short stories, novellas) publishers pay royalties, as a matter of fact. Some publishers offer work for hire and pay a set fee for a story, but when it comes to novels, most of the time it’s royalty all the way. That means, if the book makes a profit then I will make money. If it doesn’t, well, then I won’t. A lot of “for exposure” offers are cloaked in the phrase, “if it makes money, you’ll make money.”

In my case, I have done “for exposure” work on a few occasions. My first professional comic book work was done “for exposure” because the publisher wanted to try me out so I scripted a story from a plot and artwork that was already completed. I knew up front that I would probably never see a dime from this, but it got my work in front of the publisher. My “for exposure” work got me the gig and a few other writing gigs, each of them paying. In this instance, working for exposure paid off for me.

Must be a writer. :)
I wrote a draft of an episode of a web series “for exposure” because I knew it would be produced and I would have a screenwriting credit to my name. I did another for that same reason. One of those experiences worked out better than the other because I ended up not being credited for the work so the exposure I sought wasn’t there.

At the end of the day, working for exposure or not comes down to what you, as a creative person, want to gain from it. If you think the opportunity to expand your brand or move into a new type of creative endeavor is there and “for exposure” is the only way to get started, then you have a decision to make and no one else can make it for you.

I love being a writer, but let’s face it, at the end of the day it is pretty much a crapshoot whether you make a living or not. I’ve worked on royalty-based projects that have not put a single dime in my pocket, even though, in some cases, others were paid. In other cases, my “for exposure” project netted me a paying gig on another project.
This has happened to me.

The choice falls on the individual creators. You have to follow the path that feels right for you. You are in charge of your creative career and have to make those decisions. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, you’re sure to gain some valuable knowledge from the experience.

Happy creating.


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