Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Week in Writing #257

The week after Comic-Con is always a bit hard. The conference really takes it out of you physically. There are usually a couple of days during the week back that weariness creeps in during the afternoon. But that passes after a few days.

Something that you don't want to pass is the feeling of belonging. While there are people there who are more successful than the others, many, if not most, are in similar straits. Creatives who have to support themselves through other means, like a day job. For many, the creative outlet is not enough to make a living. In many ways, they make a community and I'm only starting to understand how to work with it and within it. It is that feeling that I think makes me sort of melancholy on the ride home on Sunday night.

But work continues. While we were gone, Rachel sent us pencils for four more pages in Issue #12 of Powers Squared. Paul and I didn't really have a chance to look at them until Tuesday night. But knowing she was working on the last section of the script made me anxious to make sure the next story arc, The Imposter, is ready when she is.

On the night we returned from San Diego, I did some work on the script and I worked on in it some more on Monday and Tuesday night as well before giving it to Paul to take a look at. I don't consider anything I've written to be cut in stone and the goal is always to make the book better.

During the week, Nina sent in four more pages of Issue #11 and Trevor lettered four more pages from that issue as well.

Our Kickstarter plans seem to have taken a backseat for a while; not forgotten, but just delayed a little. I think we're getting close, but there are still a couple of things we need to pull together before we go live. I'd like to get the graphic novel lined up, as well as make sure I understand the pricing of using a print on demand service to fulfill the orders. We're also thinking about a new t-shirt we could offer, but that's just in the preliminary stages.

On Tuesday night, I also listened to another of the List Launch podcasts, this one about building your list through family, friends, and colleagues, you know, low hanging fruit. We're still about 24 subscribers short of the magical threshold of 100, so if you're reading this and you're someone I know, be prepared to get some sort of communication from me about signing up. And if you're reading this, and we don't already know each other, I will invite you to join here. It will only cost you an email address and you'll get a free copy of Issue #1. And you can then read all the Powers Squared nonsense on our newsletter, The Hound Dogs' Howl, rather than reading it here, though this does have a different slant.

Paul took over an hours' worth of video that we both shot at Comic-Con and edited down to a half an hour, which we put up as this week's YouTube video. It's our longest video to date and is more about our life behind the scenes as attendees. One of the problems with me watching it is that I had to look at myself repeatedly over the 30 minutes. It's sort of one thing to shoot a vlog live and then move on, but to have to watch yourself in action is a different experience. You may not learn the secrets of the galaxy, but you will get to see Paul and I (and Trevor) standing in lines, coming out of restaurants and even sitting in the occasional panel. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

One of the things I think I've learned from watching the List Launch videos is the concept of an avatar or your ideal subscriber. Your avatar is supposed to be the hypothetical person you're aiming at with your newsletter/marketing, etc. I'd also like to think of the avatar as the person you're trying to impress. I'm trying to apply some of that to not only this blog but also to my other writing as well. If I want to be a writer, then I need to do things writers do besides blogging about them.

I know that I talk, or, as is the case, write, a lot about querying, but I don't do it. I was telling someone recently that I find the whole process mildly time-consuming but also soul-sucking as well. But to prove it to myself, I did it last night, sending a query regarding Broken People through an agency's online submission form. I had to provide not only basic information about the book, but a query letter, a short synopsis, and the first three chapters. Luckily, I had been working on the short synopsis. Rather than worry about rejection letters, they provided me a link I can look at to see when they reject me. So far, none of the queries I've sent out have gotten as much as a response, which is the soul-sucking part, but I want to do well by my avatar, so I'm going to continue. Of course, I'll recount here how many I do and if I ever hear back anything.

Worked most evenings on The Runaway and I'm not at the place where I left off, which is about 237 pages in. Now it gets down to more original writing, which is harder but not impossible. I will, of course, write about that here as well.

A little bit of news on Familiar Stranger. Called the editor on Friday afternoon and, of course, once again got his voicemail. This time, though, I decided not to leave a message, I mean what's the point. However, after I hung up, I received a text from him, which I couldn't answer in the car while driving, but did later when I got home. Now, the polite thing would have been for him to reply back to my text, which of course he didn't, but it's sort of a positive baby step, I guess.

Sadly, no new reviews from me this week for Trophy Unlocked. Trevor, however, did come through with a review of a 22-year-old video game, Spy Fox in "Dry Cereal", so there was still a Saturday Morning Review on the blog.

Well, that's it from here for now. Until next week, keep writing.

Monday, July 22, 2019

A Week in Writing #256: Report From the Front: SDCC 2019

A day late, but better late than never, right?

Every year, for 13 of the past 14, I've attended San Diego Comic-Con and every year, since I've been blogging, I've written about my experience, first on Trophy Unlocked and then here for the past few years now. I write about my experience at the Con and the panels I've attended, sharing what I've learned in hopes that it will help me make more sense of what I've learned and to pass that on to you, dear reader, in case something I've learned would be helpful to you.

The San Diego Convention Center at night.

I will write about about some aspects of the convention but if you're looking for photos of Cosplayers or a rundown of the MCU Phase 4, I'm going to have to tell you to look elsewhere, as there are much better sources for that sort of information. In all the years I've attended, I've never made it into Hall H, nor have I attended the Masquerade ball they have on Saturday nights.

This is the first year that I've attended the event as a Professional, thanks to Powers Squared. Obviously, sales numbers are not taken into consideration when it comes to handing out that sort of badge. Being a Professional means that you don't have to go through the registration process, you get all four days and preview night, and you don't have to pay for admission. While that is all pretty sweet, that is all that you really get. After that, you are simply an attendee with no other real perks, or at least ones worth noting here.

For those who couldn't attend, I put up some photos as a sort of travelogue on the Powers Squared Instagram page, which means they showed up double on the comic's Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Tumblr. If you want to see lines and crowds and see where we ate while there, please check that out. Paul and I also did short videos which will be edited together for next week's A Week in Powers Squared vlog that we put up on our YouTube channel.

Let's get over the basics, Comic-Con is tiring and expensive. For the most part, you're one in a sea of people all trying to do something different, which means there is general organized chaos going on at all times. Lines are long, even for pre-ordered items, and having a magic ticket, so to speak, means you're at the end of a line that never seems to move more often than not. Some booths, like Hasbro, seem to know how to handle a giveaway while others, like Viz, still do not. Last year, they nearly shut down the Con based on the near-riots that they caused.

While I want to have fun at Comic-Con and did attend some panels in that vein, over the past few years I've trying to attend more learning and professional sessions and that's what I write about here. There was one panel, The Art of the Pitch, that I could not get into. Not sure why, but I suspect that it had something to do with Yvette Nicole Brown, of Community fame, being the moderator. Don't know for sure because I never got into the room and I wasn't paying attention to what the next panel was supposed to be in that room. For some panels, especially the popular ones, you have to sometimes sit through one or more prior to get to the one you want to see. I didn't expect one about Pitching to "sell out," so I missed that.

There is no substitution for actually attending these sorts of panels. I know not everyone can, so I try to present what I learned to help those who can't.

I did make it into Finance Your Indie Comic Now, moderated by Barbara Randall Kesel, and while it featured four male black creators and one woman, as Kesel pointed out, this wasn't about diversity in comics. The nice thing about the panelists is that they, like many in the room, were creatives; Andre Owens had recently become a full-time creative, which is, of course, everyone's goal.

Like most panels, there really isn't that much that you haven't already learned and you will sometimes hear advice that is impractical for your situation. However, here is what I was taught in the panel:

1) If you spend more than $162 a page, in a comic book, and your sales are not 5000 and up, there is no way to make money on your book.

2) You should try to price your book at about half of what Marvel and DC charge for the same amount of pages $4 to $5, which means you should price at $2 to $2.50, or make up for it by offering more than what they provide for the same price.

3) The sources for funding are the usual: Crowdfunding (Kickstarter and the like), Print-on-Demand and Digital-only distribution. They did agree that there is a little Kickstarter fatigue that has set in, which, if true, is not a good thing.

4) They did mention a website that I have not had a chance to explore,, which is meant to provide comic book freelancing tools and resources.

Nerdy Finance was actually a replacement panel, but when I heard about it, I wanted to be sure to attend. Presented by Neil Narvaez, the panel discussed the tax implications of a hobby and trying to run a business, or as he put it, trying to make money.

His first bit of advice was to have an accountant do your taxes, as they know, or should know, the ins and outs of the tax codes and will allow you to take full advantage of all deductions.

The IRS considers you a business if you are:

1) Acting like a business (i.e., trying to make money)
2) What is the time and effort you're putting into it (can't be an hour a week or a month)?
3) Do you depend on the income generated by your business?
4) Are losses beyond your control?
5) Do you change strategies to be more profitable?
6) Do you have knowledge/skill?
7) Did you make a profit in the past?
8) If you made a profit, how much?

The top five deductions for a creative:

1) Home Office. If there is a part of your home that is only used for your business, you can claim that percentage against everything from mortgage/rent to property taxes to utilities as a deduction on your taxes.

2) Travel - to conventions, etc. This is no longer allowed for W-2 work, but if you're your own business, then it is still allowed up to 50%.

3) Meals while traveling. Again, it's up to 50%

4) Materials and supplies.

5) Hiring your children to work in your business.

He also talked about the perceived tax advantage of being an LLC. While a Limited Liability Company does provide you with some sort of protection, it does not have an impact on your Federal or State Taxes. He made it sound like it is more trouble than it is worth. In states like California, it costs $800 a year to register. There might be cheaper ways to protect yourself, like an Umbrella insurance policy.

He also did not recommend forming an S Corp unless your income is $60,000 or more. Again, costs and bookkeeping, etc.

He also talked about Estimated Tax payments. While these are voluntary, if you owe Uncle Sam more than $1000 at the end of the year, they will fine you, so if your accountant recommends you make them, you should.

See an accountant!

Bryan Kaiser Tillman leading Proper Pitching and Promoting Yourself panel at SDCC 2019.

Proper Pitching and Promoting Yourself was moderated by Bryan Kaiser Tillman, a very charismatic behind-the-scenes creative who has been doing some form of this panel for the past 10 years. He opened by saying that you wouldn't necessarily hear something you had never heard before, but he would make it so that you would remember.

He went over the top five rules for proper pitching:

1) Know your product. There will be questions asked that you need to be prepared to answer. The better you know your product, the more confidence you'll have when presenting. Rehearse. Everyone is in the same boat you are, but the more you practice what you'll say, the better you'll present. And most importantly, you need to believe in it.

2) BS your way to the Truth. If in your presentation you're asked something you haven't considered before, you'll need to come up with an answer on the fly and then make it part of the story. DON'T LIE!! (as an example: Don't say you can pencil 24 pages in a week because when you can't, no one will hire you.) If you didn't think about it but can fix it in your presentation, do it. But remember to be consistent. If you give an explanation one time, you need to give the same one each time, as you don't want to lose the confidence of those you are presenting to.

3) Don't Cross the Thin Line between Confident and Cocky. No one will want to hire or work with you if you're a jerk. Something that was mentioned more than once in several of these panels is the old adage that you need to be two of three things; Fast, Good, Friendly. If you're a jerk, then you have to be good and fast, which is difficult if not impossible. Be nice to people. Don't be a jerk.

4) Network. Okay, we're all introverts in this room, but it can start with nothing more than saying "Hi" to someone and talking to them. Ask questions. Go to conventions in your area of interest. He made a point that if you're a creative, you don't or shouldn't go to Comic-Con to go to Funko, you should go for the opportunities to meet like-minded people and learn. And don't be creepy.

5) It's not about you. It's about the product. Learn to detach yourself from your work.

The final panel I attended, Full Time Creative Work on a Part-Time Schedule, spoke to me when I saw it in the list of panels. Oddly enough, this panel was one of the last ones offered at the Convention. You'd think if you have a full-time job, then you might be leaving earlier than most to get back home. This one was held at 4 to 5 when the convention closes down at 5, so there's no revisiting the floor after this one.

This panel was actually pretty good and included an opportunity to network with the panelists as well as others in the room. Of course, it was important to have a business card which one of the panelists, Sean Glumace, emphasized. He talked about the ability to use software like Evernote to ingest business cards and set up networks. To demonstrate, he used his phone to scan and send emails to Trevor, Paul and I during the panel itself. Unlike most people, we actually had cards to hand out. Very effective demo. One of the things I need to do a better job of is following up with people.

In addition to having business cards, it is recommended to have a page on Linkedin and Facebook, which people who hire still use and will look there to see who you are and to look at your work. Apparently, Linkedin now has a place for portfolios.

They took Q & A, which for the most part was specific to the person asking the question. However, advice to writers: Always Keep Writing, Keep Sharing and Surround Yourself with other writers, including writing groups.

They also provided the basics part-timers need to be aware of:

Communication - Everyone needs to be on the same page.
Focus and Time Management - Rearrange as much of your life as possible so that it points to your goals.
Never Too Early to Start - So many people get their start in college.
Organization - Make lists and use them.
Networking - This comes up in every panel.
Support - You need as many people helping you as possible, but it is a two-way street.

So much for the panels I attended. Again, if you have the chance to go to Comic-Con or a like convention, then I recommend trying to attend professional panels if they are offered.

One of the important things about conventions is to make contacts and to keep up with the ones you've already made. Was able to touch base again with Doug and Corey at the Comic Creator Connection. Their book, Epic Win!, was very important for me when we started Powers Squared. Also able to run into our contacts at comiXology and at IDW. The former is our digital publisher and the latter is someone we've known through various conventions for the past ten years it seems. I had been carrying around printed versions of Powers Squared for a couple of days, which for 9+ hours a day can get quite heavy. I wanted to be prepared, if the opportunity arose, to show them to someone. I managed to get up the courage to show them to our friend at IDW.

He was very complimentary, saying they're getting better as they go along, which they should. He also liked the artwork. I had to point out to him that we had changed artists; he had thought the artist had simply gotten better with time. I know it's not much of a win, but hearing that from him made me feel like we're at least on the right track.

Did make an effort to support other creatives when I could, reaching out to Don Nguyen and Andy Nordvall, who were doing a signing at the Geekscape booth on Sunday. Nice to put a face to people you've only met through social media. Wanted to support them as well. Bought some of their books and will discuss as I read them. Right now I'm still working my way, slowly, through Spider-Man Noir.

Next year, I'd like to try to do some portfolio review with the book. Maybe we could interest someone in picking it up or maybe we could find additional work because of it.

In our absence, work continued on Powers Squared, with Rachel sending up four more penciled pages that Paul and I, as of this writing, have yet to have a chance to review.

No new reviews for Trophy Unlocked. Our Saturday Morning Review was another old favorite we hadn't previously reviewed: Toy Story 2, which Trevor reviewed. We are trying to onboard a new reviewer, but not sure where that stands at the moment. More if that materializes.

Did some more rewrites on The Runaway on Monday and Tuesday but like everything else, they were on-hold during Comic-Con. And surprise, no response from the editor on Familiar Stranger. WTF.

Well, that sort of wraps up this week in writing. If you have any comments or questions, please let me know. So, until next week, keep writing.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Week in Writing #255

Did more writing this week than normal and less on Powers Squared, though it still came up quite often. It is nearly a daily project in some form or another.

A couple of things I want to mention off the top. I did call the editor of Familiar Stranger at his place of work. Normally, I wouldn't have done that, but it has been about 15 months since he's had the book, which is ample time to have done something with it, even return it without comment. No surprise that I ended up leaving a voicemail. I did call rather late on a Friday, but I now have his number in my directory, so he should expect more calls if I don't hear from him soon.

I made the call on my way home and I was later than usual leaving work on a summer Friday afternoon. I attended a Lunch and Learn called Art of the Pitch Workshop, which I was lucky enough to get one of the seats. I can't go into anything that was really discussed and no I don't think because of the workshop I really nailed how to do one.

It was kind of brainstorming about an idea to pitch rather than how to present one. Everyone was supposed to submit an idea for a story, at least a starting point, from which Production Executives would choose four. We then broke into groups and brainstormed a story to go along with the idea. The session we had was rather interesting, though it was, again, more about coming up with a story than how to do the pitch. Our Production Executive, no names here, was very adept at telling a story and sort of lead us away from one that was more in the vein of Logan to one that was more about the power of imagination.

The woman who had submitted the idea was in our group, so we made her the presenter. All the other groups, though, had the entire group present the pitch. It was interesting to hear him tell her what to say and actually hearing her give the pitch. If you remember the old game of telephone, you can imagine how it changed from his polished idea to her more nervous presentation. Interestingly enough, she did a pretty good job of it, as we each won a bag of company merch.

The idea I submitted, which is the story I had hoped to pitch, and which should sound very familiar to anyone who has heard us or read the website: College-aged twins discover that they were granted superpowers when they were young. Of the 10 or 11 that were submitted anonymously, I took some pride in that it was one of the four that were selected to be expanded on for a pitch. The story that group came up with was far from the idea of Powers Squared and turned into a story of triplets, where one of them was evil. Ironically, if that's the right word, two of the powers they came up with were somewhat similar to the ones Marty and Eli do share. I still like our idea better.

The graphic novel Artithmeric had sent us arrived on Monday night. Paul and I made a little-watched unboxing video of the event. Artithmeric simply put the first five issues into a hardbound book, but I believe we all really liked the concept. We've discussed how we could edit it to make it into one continuous story. I showed the book off to some people at work, whose opinions I respect, and it was pretty well received. It's always good to get positive feedback. We think the graphic novel would make a great Kickstarter tier reward.

On Tuesday, I spent some time listening to another seminar on creating a good landing page for your comic book. It did get me to thinking and I made some revisions to the page, adding in testimonials from the internet, of which we have a few. If you have read any or all of the issues, any comments on our Facebook page or other social media would be appreciated and they just might find themselves on the page.

I made some edits and posted the link on the private group site for the seminars. No comments, which I don't think it means I nailed it, but rather no one has bothered, even the moderator, to give advice. On Saturday morning, I made some more changes, even creating a single .jpg for the page rather than trying to manage several separate ones. Me and photoshop.

Friday, Rachel sent us the first four pages pencils of Issue #12, which Paul and I reviewed that night. The work is her usual very good and we were both happy with how things are looking. The story gets better and her art holds up very well. This was not always the case, as our first artist got inconsistent over time.

Also on Friday received a new t-shirt from our shop, which will go live today. Since we redid our banner image on social media, I thought it was time for a t-shirt to go along with it. Purchased one as a sort of test for myself. I was wearing it in this week's A Week in Powers Squared video. Since the latest unboxing video went pretty much unwatched, decided not to do one for this unboxing.

On Wednesday night, received our first sticker from Stickermule, another test run for a possible Kickstarter tier reward. Sent one to our only known Super Fan, which we hope she'll appreciate. She actually suggested stickers, so we wanted her to have one first, or close to first.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I did make progress on my new edits of The Runaway. Earlier in the week, I thought I was trapped in a sort of endless loop conversation in the book. I don't know if you've had the same experience, but I sometimes find the book to get away from me and take on a life of its own. I want to say this and this, but the characters want to say this and that. I managed, I think, to write through it, but it does happen from time to time.

No new reviews from me for Trophy Unlocked, though I did start one for What We Do in the Shadows since we watched the film on Friday night. This week's Saturday Morning Review was Paul's review of A Bug's Life. We realized that there are many Pixar films we had not reviewed, so this is a little bit of catch up. Fun fact, this was the first film the boys ever saw in a movie theater.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

A Week in Writing #254

Some weeks, I feel like all I really do is work on Powers Squared. It's not that I have anything against it, it's that I also have other interests and writing projects but it seems when I take a long look at the end of the week, all or most of what I have accomplished relates to the comic book.

The week started with new thumbnails from Rachel regarding the first eight pages of Issue #12, which are actually two separate versions of each page and each panel. Paul and I went through them and made choices between A and B versions. Issue #12 is the concluding chapter of What's in a Name? which started with Issue #10.

Trevor, who still has a fractured arm, managed to letter the first four pages of Issue #11 after Nina sent us those pages last week. He has four more to go.

We're still moving ahead, though slowly, with the Kickstarter. We're looking at other things to offer besides digital and printed versions of the issues. One of the items we're considering are stickers and we took advantage of an offer from Sticker Mule to test drive a set of 10 for only $1. They'll look like this:

Theoretically, we could also do a magnet of the same design. Thoughts?

Something that we might also consider would be graphic novels made from previous issues. Our print-on-demand provider would like us to make them and is sending us a sample in the post. Depending on what it looks like, we may offer them as well.

We're prepping to attend San Diego Comic-Con the week after next. Planning both fun and educational programs to attend. Interested in ones that will help grow our lists and sales. It can be a very slow process. As an example, this past week, we ran a Facebook ad to try to boost a post related to signing up for our newsletter and we're offering, in return, a free copy of our first issue. It's a little frustrating with the results. As of this writing, the post has been seen by over 1400 people and over 229 likes on Instagram, but the result has been only one new signup.

Speaking of Comic-Con, wanted to let you know that everything will be delayed a day as a result, both the weekly email about Powers Squared and this blog post. No time to do it on Sunday after returning, so Monday will be packed with trying to get everything out. As per usual, this post will be a Report from the Front and will detail my experiences at the Con.

There was also some writing progress made on The Runaway, though not as much as I would have liked. I didn't really work on it past Tuesday night.

I'm sort of feeling like I need to divide up my writing time so that not everything I do is Powers Squared related. I know with Comic-Con coming up and a Kickstarter to plan that might be wishful thinking, but I'd like to maybe only spend one or two nights a week solely on the comic book and the other two or so on other writing, like The Runaway and reviews for Trophy Unlocked. I also need to send more queries or this will forever be just an avocation.

I also need to call the editor on Familiar Stranger. I'd like to say I'll do it this week, but I know I've said it before.

Did manage a new review for Trophy Unlocked, Spider-Man Far From Home, which came out this past week. Hope you'll check it out.

So, until next week. Keep writing.