Comic contests, solicitations to have your comic reprinted in a magazine, offers to run your comics on other sites…
It would be nice if opportunity actually knocked.
But let’s face it, sometimes opportunity stands outside the door and kinda… waits. Or maybe sulks out by the shrubs.
Most of the time, it’s hard to tell if it’s opportunity at all.
So how do you know when to open the door?
Here’s a few things on my own checklist.
Opportunities that involve a money-for-comics exchange are no-brainers, right? Wrong.
- Is the money offered enough for what I’m giving them?
- If this is an original piece, what would my hourly rate be?
- If this is a re-use of a previous piece, are there strings attached? (Am I signing over more than just a one-time re-use of my comic? — And if so, am I being compensated appropriately?)
One of the most often-repeated complaints I hear from cartoonists is “I never know how much to charge for my work!” I always say the same thing. Go high. You can always negotiate down, but you can never negotiate up.
In negotiating these issues, if I’m met with a “hey, that’s more money that you would have had without the opportunity” kind of logic, it’s an immediate red flag. Of course it’s more. The question is, is it enough.
These are harder to weigh. In general, the minute someone explains that part of my compensation in a deal will be “exposure” for my webcomic, it’s another automatic red flag.
As Rich Stevens once said, “People die of exposure.”
No site — no matter the traffic — has a lock on Internet traffic. You can drive just as many eyes to your site as any other site can drive to you.
Furthermore, big sites don’t get big by sending readers away from their sites.
I’m not saying these are never good deals, but I am saying that when I’m facing with exposure as an opening salvo, I immediately switch into a defensive posture.
Here are some more thoughts:
- Is it possible that your comic brings more to the other guy’s site / publication than that site / pub can deliver to you? Sites need content. That’s one thing we webcartoonists deliver in droves. Take a close took at your opportunity. It just might be someone trying to make an opportunity for himself.
- How much control will you have over your work after engaging the opportunity? If you disagree in its use, will your voice be heard?
- Will your comic be used to build community elsewhere — when that’s exactly what you need to be doing on your own site?
- If you decide to leave — or when the opportunity reaches its natural conclusion — will the fruits of your efforts be directed back to your site?
Go in with your eyes open. And, by all means, get a written contract.
Once you get a contract, follow Robert Khoo’s advice and start filling buckets. (Especially Bucket #3 — How to Get Out). If I’m on the fence with an opportunity, I’ll take a limited risk if I have an iron-clad exit strategy.
I’ve been pitched some pretty lousy opportunities. You wanna know what they all had in common? In every instance, the person spent less time talking facts and figures than he spent weaving a narrative. And there are some common themes to those narratives. Besides “exposure” and “more money than you had,” here are some narratives that set off the red alert.
- This is your chance to be seen by (a) a much larger audience (b) decision-makers in X industry. (This is a variation on the exposure gambit.)
- XXX was instrumental in launching the career of Joe Famous. (Jack Kirby would have still been the King of Comics if he had signed with any other publisher than Timely/Marvel.)
- Our top participants regularly pull in $X-astronomical sum. (Amway uses a similar pitch. So did Bernie Madoff.)
- We can’t offer you money now, but as soon as we make money, you’ll make money. (Hey, that’s the same opportunity you have waiting for you back at your own URL… only you don’t have to share.)
- You’re on the ground floor of Something Big. (So’s the doorman at the Ritz Plaza.)
- Money isn’t everything (Seriously, sometimes they’ll try to sell you on all sort of intangibles that only have value if you let them have value.)
- Hey, no one is making money in this industry. (Is this a person you really want to do business with?)
- The false proposition. In a logical argument, propositions are used to build to a conclusion. A false proposition is an untrue statement designed to lead you to the other guy’s way of thinking. The introductory video to social micropayment site, Flattr, contains a doozy: “When you create, there’s not really a good way to get money for the content; and when you find something you like there’s no good way to show love for it.” Both propositions, as you should know, are patently false.
The Acid Test
You wanna know the all-time best way to know you’re looking at a weak opportunity? Explain it to a total webcomics outsider. Your spouse… A parent… A co-worker…
They should be understand that (a) it is a great opportunity and understand (b) why it’s beneficial to you in under five minutes. If you have to start breaking into a narrative of your own to get them to see that, you’ve got to take a long, hard look at this.