Latest News:
28th August 2015: It's been a horrid year for colds and flus - I got sick AGAIN this week, and was unable to do more than tone the rest of Chapter 13 and do the chapter opening. I'm now up for colours for the Chapter 12 opening, and can't muster the energy today, which means I may not be able to put up chapters 12-13 on Smashwords by the end of August. Speaking of SW, Amazon's annoying algorithms did something stupid - they price-matched the Kindle "Fabled Kingdom" book 1 with one of the 2-chapter releases I have on SW, meaning that they sold a $4.99 kindle book for $1.69, despite it being 2 DIFFERENT books. Can't blame SW for this nonsense, but it really isn't helping my experience with them. Also, the Comics-Prose Tutorial is stil up on DeviantArt!
Fabled Kingdom Update: Chapter 6, Part 7of8. The so-called "Black Queen" awakens... What will happen to our heroine? Beware of grandmothers who have been asleep for too long...
Appearances:
Oz Comic-Con is coming up in September! I'll be in Brisbane from 19th-20th September and in Sydney from 26th-27th September. I'll be selling my books, so hope to see you there!
I'll be at Marrickville Library on Wednesday, 30th Sept @ 7:30pm-9pm for a panel called "Comic Con-versation: Buy My Work - Creating and publishing for an audience". Interested in self-publishing and promotion? Come along! Registration essential.
Ashfield Town Hall has an Artist's Alley on the 3rd October @ 3pm-8pm, where I'll be selling my books! Come along - it's fun and free with lots to do!

Women’s History Month 2015

This was written for ‘Women’s History Month 2015’. This year’s theme is to describe a moment in your life where a hurdle occurred, and explain how you overcame it. I decided to choose the topic of drawing as a manga-style comic book artist, and the gender-related labels that come along with it.

 

Working in a Male-Dominated Industry?

When I’m interviewed for my comic book work, a question that comes up often is ‘what’s it like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry?

Typically, these sorts of questions come from well-meaning people. They tend to be into ‘geek culture,’ but are not quite informed enough to understand that comics is a large pond–deeper on some continents than on others. If you take all the different comick-ing styles in the world and put them under the same umbrella, you’ll find a mishmash of aesthetics, philosophies and audiences that tend to have nothing to do with each other. To an outsider, it can be confusing, because typically they understand comics = superheroes in tights and capes. This perception cannot be further from the truth.

Luckily, there’s a way for me to explain this in a sentence or two. All I have to say is: ‘I draw manga-style comics. So it’s not a male-dominated industry at all.

The reaction is usually polite, mostly because while the interviewer is bound to have heard of manga, they don’t know anything about it except that it’s ‘comics from Japan.’ While that’s a technically sound description, it doesn’t describe the no man’s land of being a manga-style artist in the West, which is the thrust of this article.

Being a manga-style comic book artist comes with gendered labels and assumptions, both by people inside the industry and outside. And it’s a label that is tagged entirely by the style in which you draw, rather than by the content of your work.

 

Comics for Girls

When manga first became popular in America, it was mostly through the translation efforts of a company called TOKYOPOP. As the first publisher I ever worked with, their editorial department was clear on one thing: we market to girls, because they’re a neglected audience when it came to comics.

That was true at the time, and it was a clever business strategy. In fact, they succeeded almost too well at it. A few years and a global financial crisis later, TOKYOPOP’s publishing department is dead, but the impression they left on the American comic book market remains. Unfortunately, that impression on non-manga readers is that manga = girl’s comics, which is a misconception at best, and downright misleading at worst.

As an artist who draws in a manga-influenced style, this was a huge hurdle to overcome. Despite being a non-Japanese artist whose debut work was ‘The Dreaming,’ a Picnic at Hanging Rock-inspired horror story, I found it impossible to escape the girl’s comics box that people put me into the moment they laid eyes on my work. What the story was about seemed to be irrelevant. Some people’s eyes glaze over immediately when they see the style I draw in, even though they were initially interested in the story when I first described it to them.

How do you fight against something like this?

I wish we live in an age where we can have true gender-equal entertainment options. I wish we live in a culture that valued female-oriented entertainment as much as male-oriented entertainment. But we don’t. Unfortunately, there’s something about the girl comics tag that can give a male reader pause, and not just that, give parents (both fathers and mothers) pause when considering whether to buy something for their son (but not so for their daughter).

Anyway, the causes of this are too many to cover. However, I can talk about how I managed to break out of the girl’s comics tag, something that was done entirely by accident.

 

Mixing Prose and Comics

Sometime in 2010, I began experimenting with something new: mixing prose and comics together. This was partly-inspired by ‘Small Shen,’ a book by Kylie Chan that I adapted into what I now call ‘comics-prose.’ The book was enthusiastically received by the publisher and readers, which thrilled me. I felt comics-prose had a lot of depth and potential, and I started to work exclusively in the format.

When I started showing my work around to others, one of the first reactions I got was this:

‘I can read this, because it’s not manga.’

I looked my friend in the face, to see if he was joking, but he wasn’t. He was in his late-30s and a reader of comics, but he never read manga, claiming that the art style didn’t appeal to him. This was perfectly acceptable, until I found out the real reason why he didn’t read manga – whether knowingly or not, he seems to think that reading girl comics will give him girl germs. My comics-prose story was drawn in exactly the same style as my traditional manga-style comics, so if he was willing to read my new work (but not my more traditional work), then it couldn’t be the art style that was turning him off. It had to be the girl comics tag, even though he denied it.

Again, how do you fight against something like this?

In the end, I didn’t fight against it. I came up against the hurdle, and I responded by morphing into something different, though I was still able to retain the essence of what I did. It ended up opening a path that led to somewhere completely different, which was unexpected but not unwelcome.

I was meant to tell a story about how I overcame a hurdle, but sometimes hurdles are not meant to be jumped. Sometimes, they can be tunnelled under, or you can find a way to walk around it. Truly, an example of how life can be strange, wonderful, and never the way you expected it to turn out.

Posted in Comics-Prose, Other | Leave a comment

Fabled Kingdom

Hi all! I finally got some time to post up news about my latest project, a fairy-tale inspired fantasy called “Fabled Kingdom”. It’s planned for 3 volumes, each with 7 chapters.

NOTE: I’ll be serialising the first 2 volumes online here. Updates 3-4 pages every Friday.
 


 


Book 2 out in December 2015!

Chapters 6.5-8 (in PDF*) out in March 2015!


BUY as PRINT BOOKS:
Amazon** || Lulu

**If you buy this in print, you can buy the ebook version for $0.99 with Amazon’s Matchbook Program

BUY as E-BOOKS:
Amazon || Smashwords (PDF)* || Apple iBooks*

Also available on Kobo and Nook, but the older versions of these ereaders may have difficulty displaying the pages. Please read a sample first before buying.

See More Photos

What if Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother isn’t her real grandmother?
What is her two trueborn grandmothers are both queens – and one is good, while the other one is evil?


 

The Story

Fabled Kingdom is a 3-volume fairytale-inspired YA fantasy. It’s a comics-prose story, written and drawn by me. It will be released both in print format, and as an e-book series.

The story is about Celsia, a ‘Red Hood’ training to be a healer under her grandmother’s tutelage in a small village deep in the woods. One day, she discovers a shocking secret – her grandmother isn’t her real grandmother. Forced to leave her village, she goes on a quest to find her two trueborn grandmothers, who are both powerful queens of magical kingdoms. Accompanied by her childhood friend Quillon and the cheeky faun Pylus, her first destination is the ‘Fabled Kingdom’ of Fallinor, a magical kingdom that was destroyed 60 years ago. Or… was it?

You can also read this on DeviantArt, SmackJeeves, Tapastic, and on my website.

 

Background Information

As you may know, Fabled Kingdom is a comics-prose story, and it was originally accepted by a major publishing house in 2013. However, I didn’t like the contract terms they offered, so I declined. Only 3 chapters of the book was done at the time, and now, I’m halfway through chapter 8. I decided to finish the book on my own, and then see what happens.

Doing this story has been quite an interesting experience, because in terms of length, there is a direct comparison. ‘Fabled Kingdom’ is a 3-book series much like ‘The Dreaming’ was (done 10 years ago), except that FK is in comics-prose format, and TD was a traditional manga story. Due to the differences in these formats, I was able to directly compare the amount of work required to do both. And here is where it gets real interesting.

‘Comics-Prose’ was originally conceived to (1) reduce the amount of time required to draw a single comics page, and (2) to shorten the number of pages required to tell a sequence of events. After having done about 212 pgs of ‘Fabled Kingdom’ (compared to 166 pgs for volume 1 of ‘The Dreaming’), I can declare the points below:

  • ‘Comics-prose’ uses a lot of prose, but ultimately it’s comics. Its length is calculated in pages, not words. Saying a comics-prose story is 70,000 words is a meaningless unit of measurement. Like comics, page count is what matters.
  • It reduces the number of pages required to tell a sequence of events by about 30%. I estimate that 50 pages of comics can be reduced to 30 pages of comics-prose.
  • It reduces the amount of time to draw a single comics page by 40-50%. This is an average, because that depends on the complexity of what’s depicted on a single page.

 

Some more statistics for comparison. These are approximates only:

  • ‘The Dreaming’ vol.1 = 166 pages’ VS Fabled Kingdom’ vol.1 = 210 pages
  • 7 chapters of ‘The Dreaming’ (166 pgs) took 8 months of 10-hour work days VS 7 Chapters of ‘Fabled Kingdom’ (212 pgs) took 7 months of 6-hour work days.
  • ‘Fabled Kingdom’ vol.1 has 26% more pages than ‘The Dreaming’ vol. 1
  • I estimate that ‘Fabled Kingdom’ tells 1.5 times the amount of story that ‘The Dreaming’ does in a single volume.

I’ve mentioned before that I have no intention of going back to doing traditional comics, and this is why. Traditional comics is back-breaking labour; it really is. Having done it for 10 years, the burn-out is terrifying, and it doesn’t get faster or better – in fact, the whole process just gets harder, because you get older.

I’m older now, less naive, and less committed to being chained to my drawing board all day long without even being able to go out for lunch or to meet friends. When I did ‘The Dreaming’, I literally had NO social life. My friends didn’t see me for months at a time, and I almost lost touch with a lot of people. Now that I’m doing ‘Fabled Kingdom’, I have no trouble going out daily, and meeting my friends once a week. I usually start at 4pm, and get two pages completed (pencils, inked, toned) by 12am at night (with breaks in between for dinner, etc). Even on a really busy day, I still manage to get a full page done within a few hours.

To be honest, I feel relieved.

Posted in Comics-Prose, Fabled Kingdom Series, Manga-Comics | Leave a comment

Section 2: Getting a Manga Published (Part 12 – FINAL)

I finally got to finish this series. I bunch of stuff happened in the past 2 months and I just got super busy and failed to post this up on Tumblr sooner. The good news is, I’m finishing this up and moving onto my next project “Fabled Kingdom”, so good to see this finally done! I’ll post more stuff from FK once November starts!

 

  • This is part of an on-going blog series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The Table of Contents is here.
  • My comics-prose stories “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back” is available on Smashwords and Amazon. Read more at this link.

 


 

Part 6: Books Shipped, Books Returned, and the Returns Reserve

This will be the last post in this series, since it covers pretty much the end of the chain of production. Here is how it goes:

  1. The rights to a book are bought by publishers.

  2. The advance and royalty percentage is worked out in a contract
  3. The book goes through the publishing editorial process
  4. When it’s ready for market, the publishers look to book sellers to order copies so they know how many copies to print.

Point 4 will be the focus of this post, plus what happens from that point onwards.

 

Part 6a: Books shipped VS Books sold

Firstly, I will tackle a subject that few readers think about, but which plagues authors and publishers like crazy. That is: the difference between the number of books printed, and the number of books actually sold to a person who pays money to buy the book. Mind you, this doesn’t include things like promotional copies, deep discounted copies, or any number of alternate editions (such as book clubs, preview copies, etc) that a book may get.

I bet you when you go into a bookstore, most of you don’t realise that the bookstore doesn’t actually own any of the books on the shelves. The truth is, bookselling is a business that’s based on consignment – bookstores let publishers stock their shelves with books. In turn, bookstores get to keep a percentage of the profit when a book is sold.

That is, if a book sells. What if you printed 1000 books, and only 500 of them sold? That is the difference between ‘books shipped,’ and ‘books sold.’

It’s the bane of publishers everywhere, because it’s possible these days to print 10,000 copies, and only sell 100 copies. A book that doesn’t sell is only taking up shelf space, and book sellers don’t like it when non-selling deadweight flops take up precious, limited shelf space. You can betcha that if a new book is sitting on a bookshelf and isn’t selling, a bookseller will take it off the shelves to make room for new books. All the copies of the non-selling book will then be returned to the publisher – at the publisher’s expense. It’s the sort of thing that can bankrupt a publisher, if they bet on the wrong book.

So, how long will a book get to sit on a shelf, until it’s decided to be a flop? About 6 weeks.

If it hasn’t moved a designated number of copies (decided by a computer) after 6 weeks, then it will be returned to a publisher. The book will then be declared ‘dead.’ Now, this may seem harsh, but then again, this is how much publishing has changed in the past 20 years. Returns have always been a problem, but the pace of new books being published is so fast that this has become the new normal. On average, 25-40% of all books printed gets returned, and the publisher AND author will bear the cost of it.

 

Part 6b: Returns Reserve

The trickle of books returned to a publisher will take a while to be calculated. Some books sell better at some stores than other, so it’s very hard to predict exactly how many books have been sold until the quarterly figures come in and are tallied. Usually, it’s assumed that after 18 months, all copies of a book that are to be returned have been returned. That means that after 6 months on the bookshelf, a book is presumed to have sold most of the copies it would sell in its lifespan.

Because the cost of unsold books will have to be borne by the publisher and author, usually on an author’s royalty statement there is a 25% ‘returns reserve’ provision. What that means is that 25% of your royalties will be withheld from you, until 18 months is over. Since 85% of books fail to recoup their advances (see my previous post on advances), if you didn’t recoup your advance during this time, you probably won’t after this. So withholding 25% of your royalties from you isn’t that big a deal – after all, you’ll get it back after 18 months.

*****


This ends my series on publishing. There’s a lot more to cover that I’ve yet to cover, but it’s probably easier for people to contact me directly if they have a question to ask.

Since I promised people that I’ll be doing a tutorial on ‘how to do comics-prose’, I’ll probably spend the rest of my time doing that. I’ll include self-publishing in there too, since I feel being able to self-publish and put a price on your work is an integral part of doing comics-prose. Talk to you all later!

Posted in Publishing | 1 Comment

Section 2: Getting Paid – Publishing Advances

The NBN has come and gone the Internet seems to be working so far… hopefully it stays working so there won’t be any problems. On the other hand, this post will be the second-last one. The next one after this will address royalties and returns – and then Section 2 (about manga publishing) will end, and I’ll be getting back to drawing my next story!

 

  • This is part of an on-going blog series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The Table of Contents is here.
  • My comics-prose stories “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back” is available on Smashwords and Amazon. Read more at this link.

 


 

Part 5: Getting Paid – Advances

When people talk about publishing contracts, the first thing that comes to mind is probably money. How much will I get paid, and how will I get paid?

Money’s obviously very important, but the general answer to that question if you’re a manga-style artist in the West is: “Not that much,” and “in chunks.” Usually, the money you get is paid in 3 parts – once on signing the contract, once when you’ve reached a milestone, and once when the project is complete. Regardless of the sum, the money is called an ‘advance’, and regardless of whether it fulfils the normal definition of an ‘advance,’ (like in the event of work-for-hire), the money will usually be called an advance.

The first thing you must know about an advance that a lot of people don’t know:

An advance is technically a loan.

That’s right. It’s not ‘free money,’ or ‘payment for your writing of your book which we are now going to license the rights and then publish.’ The money you get paid upfront… isn’t actually yours, though you get to keep all of it, even if your book doesn’t sell well. However, if you screw up your end of the deal and don’t deliver your book on time (or to the publisher’s satisfaction), then the publisher has the right to demand the advance money back from you. Usually they’re highly unlikely to do so, due to the time and costs involved, but sometimes they may.

The advance is money the publisher lends you, in the expectation that you’ll have something to live on while you’re working on your book. When the book is done and published, the publisher fully expects you to repay that money. In other words, if a publisher advances you $10,000 to do your book, your book is expected to earn them that $10,000 back – not through the money they make, but through the money you make.

How?

Well, I’m sure you’ve heard of this thing called royalties. I’m sure you’ve heard that writers (and musicians, etc) get royalties from publishers, which are a small percentage of the sale of each book. Typically, royalties are 8-10% of the list price (15% for hardcovers). This means that if your book’s retail price is $10, then you’ll earn 80c to $1 for each copy of your book sold.

You are expected to earn your advance back through royalty payments, before you’ll see any actual royalty cheques from your publisher.

MATH TIME!

Say I wrote ‘Awesome Story,’ and I sign a publishing contract with QC Publishing to publish the book. The advance was $20,000 at a gross royalty rate of 10% of the list price. The book will be sold at $10. The book just got published.

Question: So, how much royalties will I be getting right off the bat?

Answer: NONE. I’m in the hole to QC Publishing for $20,000, due to the advance they paid me. An advance is a loan, remember? It’s money I technically owe QC Publishing, which I have to recoup for them.

Each copy of ‘Awesome Story’ sold at $10 gets me $1 per copy. If I sold 1000 copies of ‘Awesome Story,’ then I’ve made $1000 worth of royalty money. Take that out of the $20,000 I owe QC Publishing, and I still owe $19,000.

Anyway, I need to sell 20,000 copies of ‘Awesome Story’ before I will see a single cent in royalties. If I don’t sell those 20,000 copies, then I’m in debt to the publisher, and the publisher may not want to publish my next book.

This is why 85% of all books don’t earn back their advance. It’s because not that many books will sell consistently over 20,000 (this is too small a number, actually).

Now, if ‘Awesome Story’ sold only 18,000 copies, QC Publishing is highly unlikely to ask for that remaining $2000 back from me. It’s simply a dick move, and no publisher does it because it’s unfair. Once a publisher pays an advance, the author usually keeps all the money, regardless of the outcome. However, nobody will be impressed when they look at your royalty statement either.

But hey! The Publisher lost money too, right? They took a risk and paid me $20,000, so they lost $2000 on the gamble, right?

Not necessarily.

Retailers take a 40-60% cut of a book’s retail price, so if a book is sold for $10, then $6 go to the retailer (whoever it is). The remaining 4% will be split between the publisher, publishing costs and the author. If the author gets $1 per book, the publishing house gets $3, which has to cover printing, shipping, warehousing, cover design, formatting, copy-editing and all the overheads of running a publishing house.

Anyway, assuming I sold 18,000 copies of ‘Awesome Story,’ then it means my publisher grossed 18,000 x $3 = $54000. Did they lose money? Depends. Generally speaking, publishers calculate print runs through mathematical formulas that will give them an idea of how many copies a particular book will sell. They will usually print a number of copies close to how they think the book will sell, and they will definitely make sure they’ll recoup their costs. The number of copies they print of a particular book isn’t a wild stab in the dark. It’s calculated to ensure that the publisher at least breaks even. If they don’t do that, they’ll go out of business real soon.

*****

Next Wednesday – royalties and returns! Last post on this!

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