Does the world need to hear my very special story?
December 4, 2012 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Should I write a novel or a graphic novel? Advice from authors and comic artists wanted!

I'm not trying to "become a writer," so much as I have a specific story I want to tell. It's kinda like this guy's story mixed with this guy's story. It would be kind of like a sociological personal memoir. I've never written anything but narrative blog posts (example!) and academic papers before.

I've already started a comic layout, but it's taking a lot longer than expected, and I'm wondering whether the cons would outweigh the pros, for someone who's not exactly in the "scene" or anything. However, I personally enjoy reading graphic novels a lot more, and I rarely read fiction. If I did finish the graphic novel, I would do both the drawing and writing, and it's looking like it should be about 180-200 pages in black and white fixed-width pen. (And I draw like this, basically. Nobody's gonna read this thing for this artistic virtuosity.)

So basically, I'd prefer to try to write a graphic novel unless I'm getting myself into something really difficult and it really would be a better idea to try to stick to the novel format.

--What kind of costs should I expect? I know, I know, everyone thinks they should write a book...I don't really expect to make money so much as I'm hoping not to lose a lot of money...and get it at least seen by people...(It'll probably be a pretty niche market,, people who are either interested in Judaism or religious sociology...or "year in the life" memoirs written by college students, I guess.)

--What is marketing? What is publishing? Do I have to "network"? Do I need a website aside from my current blog? Are those "self-publishing" websites any good? Are the novel and graphic novel markets really different (is either one more difficult?), especially for "alternative works"? I'm expecting to completely avoid any "mainstream" companies; that's just not me. I feel like the comix world more easily accepts less mainstream autobio stories, is this accurate?

--Could I put pictures in this hypothetical novel, a la Breakfast of Champions?

--Should I just give up? I know nothing about the writing business. Is it just too hard? Is it confusing? Is it like music, where only one band out of ten million will actually make it? Is it 1% talent and 99% luck?

--Is there anything about the craft of writing (or drawing) I really need to know? I write a lot, but I don't really know the "rules" or anything. Do you have any advice on how to avoid coming off as completely amateurish?

posted by lhude sing cuccu to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered releasing thing as a long-running web comic? If it becomes phenomenally successful, you can then easily find a publisher to release it as a book. But you'll start by communicating your ideas to at least some people.

Most publishers these days are looking for an author with a "platform," i.e. someone who's going to market the book for them.

There is not a lot of money in alternative graphic novels -- I think most people who make money on it are surprised when that happens. There is also not a lot of money in novel writing. You can make literally hundreds of dollars -- if you get pubilshed.

Since your main objective is to communicate and find an audience, and not to get rich, I'd start by doing that, and worry about putting ink on pages later, after you've proven that people want to read you. Actually, that's also a better path to getting rich.
posted by musofire at 5:21 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re webcomics: Wouldn't that only work with one-page situational comics? I'd like to focus on developing a story, but should that be a later goal?
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 5:34 PM on December 4, 2012

I think some of the best webcomics have progressive storylines. A good graphic novel will still be good even if it's broken up into many chunks - think of it as the logical endpoint of serialization. The major difference is you would need *something* at least interesting going on in each comic to hook the reader, but that should be a goal even if it was a huge graphic novel. I agree with the long-running webcomic idea - maybe try to write on the order of 30 pages to start so that you can keep posting on a regular schedule. It's super low risk.
posted by permiechickie at 5:57 PM on December 4, 2012

Do you have a script for your comic? That's the first step for such a long project.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:00 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would definitely suggest practicing with some shorter stories before jumping into something like this, so you can get a feel for pacing, layouts, and telling a story visually. Drawing and writing a comic is more complicated than it seems, and a 200-page story is a tall order for a first attempt.
posted by Nedroid at 6:01 PM on December 4, 2012

Having a story to tell is most of the work. How many people wish they had a story to tell...?

Marketing? Being successful? I wish I could help you there, but I have to tell you that the act of storytelling is a reward of sorts. My first comic, Detached, was about my scary eye surgery. My latest, Speechless, was about thyroid surgery, and losing my voice. I'm very glad I managed to finish these projects, but for personal reasons. I managed to tell my story in a very clear and straight-forward way, and I'm proud of that.

Feel free to take a look at my comic site, and also contact me if you have any questions about process, or self-publishing, or how to see it through.

Good luck.
posted by jpburns at 6:04 PM on December 4, 2012

I just spent several hours reading the archives of your blog. You're a compelling writer with a really interesting story. I read graphic novels, too, but I honestly think your voice is strong enough to just write a series of essays or a narrative about your life and for that to fly. You can illustrate it to, if you want.

But you should just write a book, when it comes down to it. Seriously. I love religious memoirs and I really dug your blog.

Once you have a manuscript, feel free to MeMail/email me. I'm happy to send you resources. The manuscript is the first part, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:33 PM on December 4, 2012

If you want to make comics, you should learn a little first. Like, do you have a script? Are you thumbnailing? Are you enthusiastic enough about your topic (and about drawing) to spend the time on it? There are some things you can learn that will make your work easier and I suggest getting a good book.

This is one good book about making comics, one which talks a lot about focusing your creative expression How To Say Everything
This is another good book, but one that talks a lot about how to set up your desk, what kind of pencil doesn't Xerox, how to lay out pages etc: Drawing Words and Writing Pictures

It is difficult, though not impossible, to get published as an unknown cartoonist who is not part of any scene. So: if you're making comics:
--put it piece-by-piece on the internet. it will give you social feedback and help you make friends and get readers.
--when you have a whole chapter or segment done, make a xeroxed version of it (a "minicomic") and take that to indie comics festivals near you (i.e. MoCCA, SPX, APE)
--take a class if you can find one; make some cartoonist friends if you can find some; cartooning is slow work and it helps to have compatriots who you can talk to about it.

And to answer your questions more formally:
It doesn't have to cost you money; even if you self-publish, you could do it through a print-on-demand website. You can post it on your current blog. If you want people to read it you do have to network, but just think of networking as "making friends." The memoir and comics markets really are different (though less so in 2012 than in any previous year).

You can put pictures in a hypothetical all-text memoir.

And yeah, depending on what you mean by "make it," I'd say a very small percentage of cartoonists turn out to be Charles Schultz or Chris Ware.
posted by feets at 12:37 AM on December 5, 2012

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