Essential Reading for Young Creators

One: Responding to Negative Reviews

Kevin Church, blogger and comic writer, tells you how to react to negative reviews. I like this so much, I’m thinking of adding to my form response to “will you review my book?” “Only if you’ve read this.” Here’s the rundown, but his site has a lot more explanation:

  1. Your LiveJournal “friends list” does not necessarily reflect the taste of the general reading public.
  2. When a reviewer does not like your work and criticizes it for faults, do not immediately assume they are a moron.
  3. A reviewer may not necessarily like your work, but most likely still “gets it.”
  4. The fact that a reviewer doesn’t make comics themselves does not automatically negate their comments about your work.
  5. Do not respond to a review or comment about your work in anything but a positive manner.
  6. Marketing yourself and your work includes your personal blog and website. Avoid making negative comments about reviewers.
  7. You are not your comic.

There are also some very experienced creators who would benefit from reading this piece, especially when it comes to point four,

“In much the same way that mechanics don’t need to understand the physics behind how a car works but can see if the fan belt has slipped off, reviewers can look at a completed work and dissect it in a way that provides the perspective needed by a creator and audience: the reader’s.”

Kieron Gillen adds to this in the comments, “It’s worse when someone’s actually done the critic/reviewer thing and so knows how annoying it is when a creator does any of the above, and then goes and does them all anyway.” Yeah!

Two: What the Publisher Wants May Not Be Best For Your Story

Queenie Chan, manga creator, discusses the problems of structuring a story to meet publisher demands. In her case, it’s Tokyopop’s request that the OEL/global manga creators tell a single story in three books.

I found her analysis fascinating, because I thought her story was damaged by the publication strategy. I liked The Dreaming, but I thought the second book was just more of the same, filling out the middle section until we were allowed to start seeing some of the answers and conclusions in next year’s book three. It wasn’t a bad read, but it wasn’t, in my opinion, filling enough to justify the wait of a year and the $10 price. Atmosphere and mood will only get you so far; given that this is a mystery, I thought the reader should have been given one or two answers in this volume instead of saving them all up to the end.

Read her essay to know more about why and how this happened. It’s also interesting to see other Tokyopop creators complain in the comments about needing four books to wrap up their stories. I see that Marvel (with their six-issue-no-we’re-going-to-need-seven miniseries) isn’t the only publisher who doesn’t know how long the series will be when they start. Although Marvel, with their more controlling, experienced editors and more experienced creators, should know better.


15 Responses to “Essential Reading for Young Creators”

  1. Ralf Haring Says:

    Isn’t Marvel the opposite of TokyoPop in the above example? They are expanding the story by an issue or two instead of insisting on a blanket six issues just because that was a number thrown out there months ago. In the aspect of them commissioning six issues when the story might not need that many, they seem similar to TokyoPop.

  2. Johanna Says:

    The way I was looking at it, both companies didn’t know the story and its execution in enough detail at the start to accurately forecast how many volumes would be needed.

  3. Stuart Moore Says:

    This is interesting because with EARTHLIGHT, my Tokyopop book, I was encouraged by my editor to move the interesting twists UP to the first volume and to end it on a cliffhanger! This was all to the good — at the time, I was still getting used to exactly how much story fits in 160 manga-format pages, and the cliffhanger is also a resolution of sorts, so it works.

    But then again, that editor isn’t at Tokyopop anymore. :)

  4. Johanna Says:

    Sounds good to me — I’m looking forward to reading it!

  5. Joshua Elder Says:

    Starting with volume 3 onward, each MON book will be entirely self-contained. B and C plots will continue from book to book, but the main A plot will always conclude by books end. Books 1 and 2 are the aberrations in this regard.

  6. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] In response to Kevin’s comments about how creators should respond to criticism, Rikki Simons (creator of Shutterbox) has posted a response that demonstrates his misunderstanding of a number of the points. [...]

  7. QueenieChan Says:

    *I thought the reader should have been given one or two answers in this volume instead of saving them all up to the end.*

    O_O I thought I gave some answers in the book? Mostly in relation to the history of the school? What Mrs. Skeener’s relationship to the history of the school was? Who “Mary Spector” in book 1 was? I popped up some big question marks too, to be honest, but I did give answers too. The plot is actually on auto-pilot at the end of book2. There’s a number of places to go and things to do in book3 that will definately have to happen to round out the series.

    *I liked The Dreaming, but I thought the second book was just more of the same, filling out the middle section until we were allowed to start seeing some of the answers and conclusions in next year’s book three.*

    Oh, sure I agree with you. “The Dreaming” vol2 IS more of the same. That’s what people who like that kind of thing want to read – there’s a certain kind of audience that this sort of thing appeals to. People who are just interested in how the mystery turns out will probably finds this frustrating, I know.

    But then that’s what happens when you break a mystery story into 3 parts. Mystery stories consist of 2 parts – Questions, and then answers. Breaking a single mystery story into 3 parts means that the middle part is where you give some answers, but also have to make more questions. Personally, I think that doing a 2-part series would have been better for “The Dreaming”. But alas… too late.

  8. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    Hm. If you are forced to have a story adapt to a publishing model and a publishing format instead of changing the format to fit the story, you are in trouble, Queenie.

    That is not a diss, by the way. I think — with that other example of Becky Cloonan’s East Coast Rising — The Dreaming is one of the few examples in TPop’s OEL line-up that at least tries to reach out to the non-fan-group

    Most of the OEL books are loaded with the same structural problems, and I think it’s because they’re done by single creators who are trying to emulate a story structure that needs the Japanese model of artist studios in order to ensure publication every 2 or 3 months and not every year.

    What I DO find a bit disconcerting, though, is your admission that “the plot is actually on auto-pilot at the end of book 2″.

    As for the general problem creators have with the blogosphere: this is nothing more or less than having to do stand-up in front of a crowd. To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve prepared things, and how long you have wrecked your head, it’ sink or swim time every time you publish something for such a small and incesteous circle as the comic book market.

    (and it IS small and incesteous)

    Try talking to a circle of movie producers one time after finishing a story, and you will notice that a) bloggers are much kinder and b) they at least have an unconditional love for the medium.

  9. Queenie Chan Says:

    Oops, I forgot to thankyou for the mention of “The Dreaming”, Joanna, even if it’s a somewhat negative one. I’m sorry that vol2 didn’t meet your expectations (though I stick with my original point that it did answer some questions from vol1), but I’ve received letters from fans who enjoy it heaps, so I guess that’s what matters at the end of the day. :D

    On the other hand, my essay seems to have made people buy “The Dreaming” (at least on Amazon), probably out of curiosity more than anything else. HAH! I was going to post a follow-up to it, but then I’ll save it for when vol3 comes out. ;) Helps sales.

    **Hm. If you are forced to have a story adapt to a publishing model and a publishing format instead of changing the format to fit the story, you are in trouble, Queenie.**

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean here… do you mean I should find a format to suit the story, or that I should have done a different story with TOKYOPOP? Personally, I believe there are stories to fit ALL finds of format, including this three-book format one – perhaps I chose the wrong kind of story to do for this one (Well, in this case, I was asked to do a “haunted school” story by my then-editor). If I have a REAL problem, it’s the one-year wait in between each of them.

    **The Dreaming is one of the few examples in TPop’s OEL line-up that at least tries to reach out to the non-fan-group**

    Thanks. :)

    **Most of the OEL books are loaded with the same structural problems, and I think it’s because they’re done by single creators who are trying to emulate a story structure that needs the Japanese model of artist studios in order to ensure publication every 2 or 3 months and not every year.**

    A chapter every week, actually. Sometimes monthly or bimonthly. In terms of “structural problems”, it’s a personal thing. I can’t speak for any other creators, but manga is much better over the long haul than over the short. It’s just the way the visual pacing and language is constructed. Doesn’t mean you can’t do well in shorter story form. It just means you’re not tapping it in its fullest potential.

    And besides, most of the OEL creators (including myself) are young. There’s plenty of time to gain more experience. The OEL thing has been happening for barely 2-3 years. I say we have to wait a bit longer to see what happens with this current crop of creators.

    **What I DO find a bit disconcerting, though, is your admission that “the plot is actually on auto-pilot at the end of book 2″.**

    Haha, don’t worry, that’s just my own way of saying that I have most of the important plot details down. What “auto-pilot” means to the author can be completely different to what it means to a bystander. I suggest you don’t take that comment seriously, and reserve judgement until you’ve actually read the whole 3-books.

  10. Johanna Says:

    Queenie, thank you very much for sharing more of your perspective. I have to agree that I probably would have enjoyed Dreaming more in two volumes… but then I am one of those people who aren’t reading it for the atmosphere, but to find out what happened and why. That’s why I came to the series a bit later than others; I wasn’t sure I’d care for it, although there was enough in book one to bring me back for more. And I will likely get the final book three, just to find out the answers I’ve been frustrated in getting. :)

    It probably would have bothered me less if the books came out every three months instead of every year, as Thomas mentions, but I know that’s not possible in the current setup.

    I’m glad to hear that your essay is bringing you more attention. I would hate for you to have had negative repercussions from something that’s enlightened so many people.

  11. Queenie Chan Says:

    Haha, thanks, Joanna. :D That’s somewhat true – different people look for different things when they read stories and that’s the norm. I’m glad book2 DID make you want to check out book3! :D

    **It probably would have bothered me less if the books came out every three months instead of every year**

    A monthyly anthology is still my pipe dream. :| Most artists I know are capable of doing one chapter a month. So… hopefully the idea is rolling around in the heads of certain people.

    **I would hate for you to have had negative repercussions from something that’s enlightened so many people.**

    I’m glad my essay enlightened people! :D I wrote it with the intention of bringing the issue to other OEL creators, because some of the first-time one may not have given as much thought to structure. That isn’t their fault – they come from different backgrounds to most writers, especially those from American comics, and I wanted other people understand that.

    I felt I needed to explain that TOKYOPOP’s 3-book format is something of a unique publishing format, both in Japan and in America. Some indy/arts comics may have done it in the past, but never has it happened to stories that ought to be mainstream, big-selling and commercial (not normally anyway). As a creator who’s spent far too much time wrapping her head around the format and its implications, I wanted people to THINK about it and realise that writing for it is not as straightforward a thing as it seems, especially when you have to take into account what it’s like for the average reader.

    I mean, some of the creators thinking that their story will look better upon completion is a good example. It’s probably true, and it looks like a good plan on paper, but if you’re a reader and you don’t like the first volume, what’s gonna make you read the second? It’s catch-22 things like this that some of the creators haven’t thought about, and I wanted them to think of it.

  12. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    *I’m not sure I understand what you mean here… do you mean I should find a format to suit the story, or that I should have done a different story with TOKYOPOP? Personally, I believe there are stories to fit ALL kinds of format, including this three-book format one*

    I’d have to disagree with you on that one, merely from publishing point of view. There are differences between the creation of stories and the creation of a mass market magazine, but from experience (I am quite old, you know), the following holds true for all new ventures.

    1) IDENTIFICATION of your target segment begets
    2) POSITIONING of your product begets
    3) STRUCTURE AND STYLE of the product

    To do that, however, is the work of the editor or EIC or launch editor, not an actual creator.

    In your case (and other OEL people), they went with the 3-book publishing format, let’s say, one book per year, apparently not thinking about how this HAS to affect the structure of the single books. In essence, they apparently tried to work the audience as IF there was a monthly anthology, with one chapter per month (or every two weeks) in it, keeping the audience hooked.

    Mr. Butcher’s comments on Harry Potter and its structure nail it pretty well. IF you have a book series out, with large gaps in the publishing schedule, each book has to stand on its own, with elements that can be concluded in each volume while furthering the main plot.

    From what I have seen of the OEL line, this rather basic knowledge seems to have been utterly lost on the people in charge there. I do not bear ill will against TPop in any way (and in fairness and full disclosure, I did have some dealings with them about a year ago, nice people, but I walked away from them for the simple reason that I have some very different ideas about publishing than they do)

    In your case, Queenie, I hope I might be able to see a BIG book like BLANKETS at one point (like, we really NEED to have more proper graphic NOVELS, we really do), not a couple of little ones that are structured as if they were a big one :)

  13. Amy Kim Ganter Says:

    First of all Johanna, I love your blog.

    In regard to Tokyopop’s 3-book deal… well, here is my experience with that subject, take what you will from it. I was signed up for 3 books, but I originally pitched Sorcerers & Secretaries as a 2-book story with one of my favorite comics, “Unplugged Boy” in mind. Halfway through book 1 of S&S I got stuck, and I told my editor that I only had enough story for two. She replied with something like “we don’t want to publish filler material, I’ll see what I can do”. They agreed to allow it to be only two books long, and I was happy. So I guess in the end… I dunno. As a friend of mine advised me, as a creator you’re hired as an expert. A lot of the publishers like Tokyopop and the book guys are new to comics, creating original content, and to working with artists. If you have information that would help them make a better system for producing quality work, tell them your point of view and see what happens. So this is the attitude I’ve been having with my working relationship with Tokyopop, and it’s the attitude I’ve had working with past clients as well. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Living near the TP offices helps, too. The way I see it, working with a publisher is a collaboration so the clearer the communication between artist and publisher, the better.

    In the end, I’m really interested in seeing how Tokyopop changes or doesn’t change their set up in the next few years. I don’t think there’s too many U.S. comic publishers that can say 75% of their readership is female so I want to see them succeed.

  14. Tokyopop Sets Tongues Wagging » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] 2006: Tokyopop’s demands on story structure conflict with OEL author Queenie Chan’s plans for The [...]

  15. The Dreaming Collection » Manga Worth Reading Says:

    [...] motives, this single-volume edition is a superior way to read this suspense-filled tale. (And the original intent of the author; the publisher requested it be released in three separate books, which required some editing and [...]

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