Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Table Talk: What's it Worth?

It's time for another round of Table Talk, where we invite you, the reader, behind the table to listen in on what New Pulp authors Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock discuss when they think no one is listening. Shhhh! Don't let them know you're here.

Question: Since most new pulp writing jobs pay very little, if they pay at all, how do you decide what jobs to take and what ones to turn down?

Bobby: Good question. This is one I’ve struggled with myself. When I started writing pulp stories, as well as other shorter pieces for various genres and anthologies, it was always intended to help me get work out between novels. However, the more I wrote, the more I was asked to contribute to until I realized I had set aside the novels in favor of shorter pieces. There came a point where I had to start turning down projects so I could get back on track for my writing goal, which is to write more novels.

I don’t have a hard and fast rule for what projects I have take on or say no to, but I do ask a few questions.

When is it due and can I realistically meet that deadline? Sometimes the deadlines are tight, which makes it easier to pass on a project because I know I can’t realistically complete it in time.

Does it pay? Now that I’m writing full time this question becomes more and more important. I have to give priority to projects that are going to pay so I can keep the power bill paid so I can write more stories. Royalty pay is good, but on an anthology where every dollar of profit is split amongst several people, the pay tends to be small so those projects are usually the ones to get a pass.

Is it fun? There are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes a project comes along that sounds like so much fun that I can’t help but agree to write a story for it. Sometimes the fun factor outweighs the “does it pay?” factor. It doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen.

Is it something new? Breaking into potentially new markets is tricky. Sometimes an anthology is a great way to try your hand at a new genre you don’t often get to write. That was one of the deciding factors in my writing a story for A Fistful of Legends. I’d always wanted to try my hand at a western and this gave me an opportunity to do that and see whether or not I enjoyed writing that type of story. Doing that particular project allowed me to scratch a creative itch, so to speak.

Who is publishing it? Another important question as not all publishers are created equal. I’ve developed relationships with a few publishers over the years and I know which ones I work well with. I also like to meet and work with new publishers as well. Sometimes I’ll agree to a short story as a way of gauging how well a publisher and I fit.

I could probably go on and on about this topic, and I’m sure there are a few reading this now who will say I already have (HA! HA!), but it all boils down to following the career path I’ve set for myself. I’m more choosy about my projects now than I’ve ever been and I think that will help me reach my writing goals.

Barry: You’re right about the fact that most jobs don’t pay very much, if anything. Frequently, I work for comp copies. So the most important considerations for me when choosing if I should accept a project, I look at the deadline, my interest in the characters and how much exposure it will bring.

I’ve written things that didn’t really appeal to me just because I knew it would expose me to a wider audience and other times I’ve taken on projects that really didn’t “boost” my career but I just really wanted to do them because I loved the character or concept.

But deadlines are a major concern and frequently I’ll say no to a project just because of timing – my schedule is always pretty full.

Mike: I usually know pretty quickly if I’ll take the gig or not, based on all the same factors you mention, Bobby. The most important of those being pay. While I’ll occasionally do a freebie, they’re very few and far between and need to be the perfect mix of character/publisher/venue for me to consider doing something that won’t help put food on the table or clothes on my son.

That being said, there are some I’ve done recently just for the fun of it, but in the end, if I’m going to write for free, I’d rather write my own characters than something someone else assigns me.

In the end, every job pays something, whether it’s cash, comp copies, new network connections or just the enjoyment/satisfaction of working on something that makes you smile.

Question: Working for “exposure” is something we hear a lot these days. What are your thoughts on what amounts to basically writing for free? Is exposure worth the time and effort you put into a story?

Barry: I kind of touched on this in my answer to the last question – exposure is definitely worth the time and effort. You reach a new audience and sometimes even new potential editors and publishers. I was never a huge Green Hornet fan but you better believe I was ready to write the character for Moonstone!

Bobby: I’m in the same boat when it comes to exposure. I’ve worked on several anthologies or comic books where the goal was to reach a potentially new audience. Sometimes it has worked out, others not so much. I did a lot more work for exposure’s sake in the early days of my writing career than I do now though.

Mike: That’s a big, grey area for me. I think, to riff off the answers to the last question, every job pays something. However, “exposure” is hard to quantify. I wrote Phantom for years, yet at most US comic conventions the kids have no idea who the character is, but I get tons of fan mail from overseas. While I’ve met a lot of great people that way, especially in the ranks of Phantom Phandom, at the end of the day it’s hard to pay the mortgage with fan mail. (Thankfully, Phantom was a paying gig, and one I absolutely loved doing). While there are one or two characters out there I’d love to work with in that regard, I can’t say there’s anything I’d want to do at this point merely for exposure, unless it was screen/tele-play work, which is something I’ve wanted to get into for a long time.

Bobby: I can understand that, Mike. Last year I wrote a screenplay for a fan film for some folks I met at a convention because it sounded like a fun project and it was incentive to write a screenplay. In that instance, exposure was a good thing. Another time it came in handy was back when I started working on the Demonslayer comic. The first two issues were basically a try out. They liked what I did in the tryout and I worked on that book for a few years.

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