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MCM Comic Con: Outline your story, listen to feedback and be nice on social media

Rising stars of sci-fi and fantasy tell us how they construct their stories; insightful roundtable on the business of comics publishing; northern talents to the fore. A summary of our second day at the MCM Comic Con London 2018.

Young Literary Guns

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The rising stars of fantasy and sci-fi fictions share their experience at MCM Comic Con. From left: Tade Thompson, Heather Child, Leo Carew, the moderator, Temi Oh, Nick Setchfield, Tasha Suri and Micah Yongo. Photo: © Story Of Books

To outline or not to outline

Are you an outliner or non-outliner? Do you carefully plot your story or do you, like Andrew Weale, “wild-write” and enjoy flying by the seat of your pants when writing a story?

The “Young Literary Guns” session saw authors Tade Thompson, Heather Child, Leo Carew, Temi Oh, Nick Setchfield, Tasha Suri and Micah Yongo talking about their methods in constructing fantasy and sci-fi stories.

“I have written books that ended differently although I plotted them,” said Heather Child. She said the plots help her understand her style of writing better. Nick Setchfield revealed: “For Book One, I plotted chapter by chapter. For Book Two, I was not as rigid. I let the storytelling muscle shapes the story.”

“It can be effective,” said Tade Thompson, “ but it depends on the kind of writer you are. I don’t start the novel until I know the character. I would do the first draft and then follow a strict outline.” “I am a strict outliner,” said Tasha Suri, “I put bullet points in each chapter. With outlines, you can go back to a point without losing the thread of a story.”

Micah Yongo didn’t outline his first book. He started writing for fun and halfway through the manuscript, he realised it could be a novel. “For the second book, I plotted because there were deadlines,” he said. Leo Carew found that plotting the story drive the writing process effectively.

Temi Oh outlines her story but she also understands that creatives may be repelled by that process. Thompson reminded us that “creativity is not just about writing or inspiration. For every art, there is a draft part of it. There is an outline. It’s like doing sketches – you have to study, you have to plan for it. Michelangelo stared at a block of marble for a year (before sculpting). That’s outlining.”

Listen to feedback

The authors also shared their experience of having their works edited and getting feedback on their works.

Oh said: “I feel that the other people has to tell me what’s wrong. It’s an act of charity for someone to tell you.” Child also felt the same way about feedback. “First, they pack a punch and then you realise they make sense,” she observed.  “Profound edit changed my idea of the editing process,” Setchfield admitted. “Editing is vital. It moves the perspective on your story three degrees to the left or to the right.”

“I like to be elusive,” said Thompson. “I don’t like to tell the reader everything. The editor will ask me to explain the story a bit more but I like the readers to find out for themselves.” “The editorial process invoked a lot of conversation,” said Yongo. “It gives you the permission and also encouragement to show more of your work.”

“It’s like doing sketches… Michelangelo stared at a block of marble for a year. That’s outlining.”

Suri recommended aspiring writers to enter competitions. Carew advised the audience to get into the right mindset if they want to take up writing. Thompson had this to say: “Step one: develop a thick skin. Step two: be ready for the opportunity. You must be consistent in writing. Have a body work and a pitch ready. While luck happens, do everything else.” “Read widely and read different genres,” Yongo added.

“Write about your inspiration very carefully,” Setchfield said. “Inspiration such as the film I love, book I love, character I love got me through writing.” Thompson countered: “People say write what you love but also write what you hate if you feel strongly about it.”

More on the Young Literary Guns and their books

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The Comics Industry Roundtable

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Leonard Sultana (pictured, left), Tara Ferguson and Lauren Klasik discuss the state of things at the Comics Industry Roundtable. Photo: © Story Of Books

At the Comic Industry Roundtable, Dublin-based Tara Ferguson, Consultant, Comics Marketing, and Lauren Klasik of Pennsylvania-based Zenescope Entertainment provided a good marketing insight into the comics landscape on both sides of the Atlantic. The session was moderated by Leonard Sultana, Founder, The Convention Collective.

Overall, Klasik said the independent publishing is growing. Retail outlets – now more receptive to indie titles – provide a much needed visibility to publishers. “Customers want something new. They’re tired of seeing the same thing over and over,” she said. Ferguson observed that the challenge is the limited budget that comic publishers have. The number of titles are not going down but the budget is being spread across them.

 The polemics of social media

Much of the marketing relies on social media but this is a double-edge sword. Comics, as a genre, embrace a wide range of themes covering diversity, sexual orientation and perhaps unintentionally, politics. A reader who knows how to critically appreciate a creative work won’t be swayed by the creators’ identity, politics or belief systems. He’ll just enjoy the work. But not all readers have a clue about critical appreciation. They, sadly, also tend to be trolls on social media and online forums.

Sultana asked if the Big Two (Marvel Comics and DC Comics) and other publishers are driven by that conversation. Ferguson felt that issues in the industry should be discussed but the tones have to be appropriate. “The (comic) brand represents themselves on social media,” she said. As for the creators, “if they’re freelancers, they represent themselves not the brand.”

Ferguson is not alone in her opinion. The trolling of Chuck Wendig on Twitter, his lone retaliation against an army of hate bots (with no protection or union representation) and the way the matter was handled by his former client has been a talking point in publishing. It raises a few questions, and not just within the comics industry.

Should creatives be allowed full freedom? Within a parameter, yes. Works like Superman are consistent in their characters and outputs. “Every creator has an editor and every editor works for a company. It’s not really the creator at the bottom line,” Ferguson explained.

Price points and sales channels

The roundtable agreed that comics are becoming mainstream and the reader profile has expanded beyond the usual Spider-Man and Batman customer base. Comics are no longer for the consumption of children, young adults and male readers.

The price point of $4.99 for a comic book might be a bit steep for a kid. Klasik said publishers are aware of it. A dollar issue in newsprint format could be the entry point for these readers. If they like the dollar issue, they might be persuaded to pick up the $4.99 issue later on.

Sultana suggested that pre-orders can be in marketing road map for companies. What can publishers do to get people to pre-order? Publishers and marketers can only talk so much about the book, Klasik said. Media coverage and word of mouth can generate the excitement need to get readers to pre-order.

Story Of Books asked if the US library can become a distribution channel for indie comics like in the UK. Authors here could earn revenues via licensing under the UK Public Lending Rights Act 1979 if their books are circulated in libraries. Klasik responded: “We would like the library to carry comics but we go where the customers go to for the comics, and that’s the book shops.”

We hope the public libraries will throw their weight behind these indie publishers, not just the big names. And readers, if you see an indie comic title at a book shop, pick it up. Buy a story to support the industry.

About the panel of speakers

Meet the Northern talents

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Joseph Oliveira of Afterlight Comics. Photo: © Story Of Books

Talking about indie publishers, Story Of Books came across two from the North: Joseph Oliveira of Afterlight Comics, Manchester, and Tom Smith of Frisson Comics, Liverpool.

Oliveira is the Editor, Letterer and Colourist of titles such as the Wendigo Woods, Series 1 and Folktales of the Cryptids, based on folklores. We are impressed by Wendigo Woods. If that freak is Herne the Hunter, he doesn’t look like the happy beast in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Afterlight Comics is raising funds for Wendigo Woods. We hope it gets to be become big like The Sandman.

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Tom Smith of Frisson Comics. Photo: © Story Of Books

Smith is the Writer and Editor for the publishing house Frisson Comics. We bought two titles: The Residents, a story of a woman haunted by the past, and The Call of The Copse, a ghostly tale stylishly executed with freehand lettering. The Residents is written by Mike Apnea and edited by Smith. The Call of The Copse is written and illustrated by Katie Whittle.

The ghostly tales are allegories of fear and despair, and we find the ending of The Call of The Copse sad. A bit like The Haunting of Hill House where you start to feel sorry for the Bent Neck Lady towards the end although she scares you witless.

More on the indie publishers

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Story Of Books at MCM Comic Con

Image credits

Do you Dream Of Terra-Two? (Image credit: Simon & Shuster); Empire of Sand (Image credit: Little, Brown Group Book); The War In The Dark (Image credit: Titan Books); Lost Gods (Image credit: Penguin Random House); The Wolf (Image credit: Wildfire Books); Everything About You (Image credit: Little, Brown Group Book); Rosewater (Image credit: Hachette Book Group).

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