Anna Marie answers your FAQs about the comics industry.
You've never heard of me…or maybe you have…but I've been around the comics industry block for a while now, and there are some things that every newcomer should know. Hell, even those who've been in the industry for a long time may not know these tidbits because they're working for one big publisher or another. It's not an indictment on anyone, it's just a fact. So here's one of the many questions I get asked a lot. (Be patient with me as this may jump around a lot. I’m still getting my sea legs on this.)
HOW DO YOU GET A BOOK PUBLISHED AT IMAGE?
Image Comics is probably the most successful independent and creator-owned comics publisher to date. Started in 1992, Image’s goal and mission was always to put creators first and let them keep control of their creations and intellectual properties (IP).
Because Image doesn’t take any piece of the IP, if a comic is sold to Hollywood (everyone’s dream, I know), Image isn’t getting a huge check and screwing over the creators. Considering the current state of things with publishers not even paying page rates (which I’ll get to, please be patient), having control over your own IP is a big deal.
So, how does one get published by Image? The simple answer (that no one wants to hear because it means hard work) is that you go to the Image site, you scroll down to the bottom where it says "submissions," and you follow the directions.
There's no magic spell. You just follow their guidelines exactly as they have them laid out…and you have a CHANCE at getting published.
“Why did So-And-So’s book get published by Image, but mine didn’t?” Well, because So-And-So had something that appealed to Image more than your book. Or maybe your book is too similar to something else they have coming out that you’re not aware of because solicitations haven’t come out yet. Or maybe Image, in their vast decades of experience, don’t think there’s a market for your book.
Look, just because Image publishes creator-owned books doesn’t mean it’ll just publish anything that gets thrown at it, no matter what you think of the books they put out. But if you want a CHANCE at getting a book published by Image, follow the submission guidelines. Print them out at the library (I know no one has printers these days), and use them as a checklist. Make sure you’ve covered EVERYTHING in the submission guidelines, and your book will have a chance. It’s not the sexy answer with a secret handshake or secret password, but it’s the truth…and the truth isn’t always pleasant to hear.
So let’s get some more unpleasantness, shall we?
IMAGE DOESN'T PAY PAGE RATES.
Read that line again. Then read it again, and again, and again until it sticks. The publishers that put out “creator-owned” books that DO pay page rates come with a catch: They take a piece of the IP. Because Image doesn’t take a piece of the IP, they don’t pay page rates. The publishers that DO, use sales and (hopefully) option money from Hollywood to recoup the page rates they’ve laid out already. I’ll do a post on “creative accounting” another time, but for now, I’ll just focus on Image.
So Image doesn’t pay page rates. It's written right on their website, plain as day that they don't pay page rates, but everyone glosses over that. Don’t gloss over that line. That line is probably the most important fact people miss. Comics cost money to make. Even if you’re doing everything on your own (writing, penciling, inking, coloring, lettering), your TIME is money, so comics STILL cost money.
What does, “Image doesn’t pay page rates” mean? It means that you have to make sure that the book has a funding source. If you’re NOT writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering your own book, you have to HIRE people to do that. Those people work for money. How are you going to PAY for this book?
You COULD run a crowdfunding campaign for your book, secure funding, and then pitch the book to Image. Several creators have done that. What’s the advantage of that? Well, there are a few:
If you have a crowdfunded book, you’re reaching an audience of…conservatively…1,000 people. That’s actually a lot of people, but I’m trying to be nice here. Big surprise, I know.
Out of those 1,000 people, though, many are out of the country from where you are, so it’s cost-prohibitive for them to order the physical copy of the comic. They order the digital version, but they’d REALLY like the printed version. That’s where Image comes in (if they approve your pitch).
Image has a far greater reach than you have as an individual. So, that backer can go down to their local comic shop and get the book in print, if they want. That's a win-win for you, as you get paid TWICE for the same book.
IMAGE DOESN'T HAVE EDITORS IN THE SAME WAY OTHER PUBLISHERS DO.
If your book is approved by Image for publication, congrats. Their editors are some of the best proofreaders in the business. They'll tell you where all the commas go! BUT their editors won't give you advice on the story and where it's headed. That means that if you don’t know how to end your story, that’s on you. This is why everyone EVERYWHERE needs an editor.
A fresh set of eyes is ALWAYS a good thing. Creators get so into their own heads that they can’t see any plot holes. An editor is the one who will say, “This doesn't make sense.” You ever read a book that goes off the rails for no reason? It’s likely because they didn’t have an editor keeping the creators on the story’s path.
IMAGE LIKES TO KEEP TO A SCHEDULE.
Like ALL publishers, they like to be able to deliver what they’ve solicited. If you get your book greenlit by Image, you’re going to have to keep to a schedule with solicits and other deadlines. If you’re not familiar with solicits, the quick version is this:
When you have a book, you write up a short synopsis for each issue along with the cover art. That goes to Diamond to be put in their Previewsworld catalog and on their site. This info also goes to any other book distributor (Simon and Schuster, Penguin Random House, etc.). This copy will have to be written by YOU in a timely manner, and believe me…they have tight deadlines.
You may or may not know this, but most monthly publications have deadlines so tight they squeak, so this isn’t an anomaly in the comics world.
WHAT DOES IMAGE GET OUT OF THIS?
So you’re asking yourself…if Image doesn’t pay page rates, and they don’t take IP, what do they get out of it? Well, they get a percentage of sales and a nominal fee for printing the book (the fee comes out of your sales, so you don’t have to worry about putting the money up yourself).
What YOU get out of it is that little I in the corner of your cover and to be among giants of the industry! Not really. I mean, you get to say you have an Image book, which is cool. But that’s about it.
YOU’RE STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR MARKETING.
Just because you have a book at Image doesn’t mean you can just slack off when it comes to marketing. That little I in the corner isn’t going to do anything for presales unless you’re hitting the social media pavement. Unless you’re a top, top, TOP creator (you know the ones I’m talking about), you still have to tell the world the book is out there. What does that mean? Podcasts, social media posts, conventions, etc. You have to let the world know your book is coming out. The book will get better sales, which means that it will hopefully sell more, giving you more money and Image more money.
We live in a capitalistic society, as crappy as it is, and money is important, so please don’t hit me with any anti-capitalistic rhetoric right now, okay? Okay, thanks. To paraphrase the great Nick Fury, “We take the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.” Yes, puppies, kittens, universal basic income, and universal healthcare for all, but I’m talking about how the world works today. Back to the lecture at hand… (shout out to Dre and Snoop.)
THE FINAL ASSESSMENT.
Getting a comic published by Image is a feather in the cap of any creator, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of a comics career. Image has a wide, international reach that is appealing to indie creators. They have a hands-off approach. They don’t take a piece of the IP, which is very enticing to creators (especially with non-payment issues being reported).
The downside is that YOU are responsible for pretty much everything. If you get a nice royalty check, it’s on you, the one “running the show” to distribute that money to collaborators as per your agreements with them individually.
You have strict deadlines to abide by. Image can and WILL cancel a book if you don’t stick to those deadlines.
So, while Image is a great place, it’s not the Holy Grail everyone thinks it is. There’s a lot more work that goes into it, especially for mid- to lower-tier creators. If you’re someone with a streaming deal and a castle in a far-off land, then, yeah…they may help you with the marketing. Though, if you have a castle in a far-off land, would you even need to market your book? The answer is ALWAYS, “YES!”
Until next time…