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.

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