Oct 10 2009

15 Questions with Bob Heske

Bob Heske is a screenwriter and an award-winning comic creator. Under his “Heske Horror” shingle, Bob produced a critically acclaimed indie horror series called COLD BLOODED CHILLERS and a “best of” CBC anthology coined BONE CHILLER which won a Bronze medal at the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Bob’s vampire graphic novel, THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST, is being published by Studio 407 with film rights optioned by Myriad Pictures. 

Aside from being a horror writer, Bob has a funny side having written contest-winning short and feature film scripts. His comedy LOVE STUPID, an independent movie, will wrap by Summer 2010. Bob also writes the “Indie Creator” column for Invest Comics.

In our recent interview, here’s what Bob had to say…

SN: What are some effective and cheap ways to promote an independently published comic book?

HESKE:  The cheapest and easiest way is to set up a free Partners account at MyEbook.com and create an e-preview book. My 4 e-previews for my Cold Blooded Chillers issues 1,2, and 3 and Bone Chiller anthology have had over 500,000 hits in 9 months.

Another way is to comb through the bulletins at comicspace.com and read all the ones with “Read my interview/review with XYZ website” — then contact those websites directly to see if they would be interested in reading YOUR book or doing an interview (sometimes you’ll strike gold and get both!).

SN:  Which promotional media, if any, have you found disappointing? 

HESKE:  I’ve found that the production quality is fantastic for printing comic books at Ka-Blam (IndyPlanet.com) and Comixpress; however, working with these guys for promotional purposes is slow to non-existent. Sure, they have a website, but your book gets lost in the mix. Also, I’ve been disappointed with ProjectWonderful for banner ads — they’ve generated some hits but this hasn’t translated into sales.

SN:  Do you do convention panels? If so, what sort of advice would you recommend for a first-time panelist? 

HESKE: I will be a first-time panelist myself on a horror writers panel at Rock & Shock Horror convention in Worcester, MA on Saturday, October 17th. So I could use a little advice myself!

SN: What sort of people would you say are best-qualified to self-publish or start their own publishing house successfully? Who would you recommend steering away from it? 

HESKE:  Someone who is organized and passionate. You need the organization to get from Point A (concept) to Point Z (publish/market/distribute); and you need the passion because, frankly, you’ll be losing money until you build a fan base of 1,000 buyers. Be prepared to spend $2,500 to $3,000 to self publish a comic book or $5,000 to $10,000 to self publish a trade paperback. And plan to spend a good 6-9 months to see your book in print (4-6 for a floppy).

One final quality – being adaptive. My current anthology (2012: FINAL PRAYER) was heading with a full head of steam until my pre-flight designer went AWOL for over a month. Since she went incommunicado, I had to swiftly change gears — recreate covers and find new designers to create ads, fine-tune files, etc. Once I had all this wrapped up (it took another 3 weeks), naturally I heard from the “Lost” pre-flight designer who claimed she’d lost her purse in Mexico and had been detained. Mucho apologies muy tarde. The moral of the story: Always have a backup plan or BE ADAPTIVE and ready to change/move on a dime.

SN: How much startup capital do you think someone would need to start self-publishing a single series?

HESKE:  Skimp, beg, borrow and save no less than $10,000 – but $15,000 is a safer bet. And don’t expect to earn it back in sales. More likely you will “earn some of it back” as a tax write-off.

SN: In terms of proportions of sales, where do you sell your books? 

HESKE: I’m a creator and marketer, but not a distributor. Nor do I want to be in the game of taking orders and shipping out comics. So I tend to out-source this via a number of channels:

1. Online retailers like Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble
2. Indie distributors like Haven, Ka-Blam (IndyPlanet) and if I get lucky, Diamond (but not likely since my books are b&w)
3. Comic-centric sales sites like HeavyInk
4. Other offbeat publishers such as Last Gasp Publishing

I also “do digital” and make PDF downloads available at DriveThruComics.com.

Finally, I do a fair amount of local author events and comic cons.

Here’s the rough breakdown of sales:
– 50% sold at author events, “free comic book” day, and comic cons
– 40% from web distributors (Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Haven, HeavyInk, Ka-Blam, Last Gasp)
– 10% from digital (DriveThruComics)

SN: Which aspects of the business of the comic books industry are most important for writers? 

HESKE:  Two words: creative freedom.

SN: Approximately how many copies do you have to sell to break even? 

HESKE:  Too many. I’d guess 1,000 to 1,500 trade paperback sales will help me break even per book. 10,000 sales would net a pretty good profit. Right now, I am just trying to build a “true fan base” and create a positive brand identity. Once THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST becomes a movie, I’m sure I’ll get there fairly quick — but that is probably 2011 so I have to tread water and fight the current … or drown in the interim. Slowly but surely I am beginning to move upstream against the heavy current of indie comic creators fighting for fan dollars. But it’s a lot of work. A LOT of work…

SN: In a sentence, why should people buy your book rather than the next horror book on the shelf? 

HESKE: My COLD BLOODED CHILLERS and BONE CHILLER book fill an underserved sector of the over-saturated horror market — tales that focus on “man as the monster.” These are what I’ve coined as “suburban horror”. Critics have agreed that I have a knack for cutting to the bone and finding the dark underbelly of society in my stories. My writing is very unsettling, but very entertaining if you like to be taken out of your comfort zone.

And if that doesn’t flip your burger, consider these three points: 1) My work has won literary awards, 2) garnered strong critical reviews, and 3) been optioned for film. More than one critic has written that my books may become collectibles — so buy early and buy often! 😉

(Sorry, that was waaay more than a sentence. Damn!)

SN:  Within horror, there are quite a few types (teen slashers vs. zombies vs. creature features, for example) and styles (like the gruesome masochism of Saw vs. the relatively quiet suspense of Hitchcock). Where does your work fall? What led you down that path rather than another?

HESKE:  I write on two levels. THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST is a hard-core vampire tale with lots of blood, action and suspense. None of that soft-core teenage romance crap that drove TWILIGHT sales. Dragos (my protagonist) would take Edward’s lunch money and rip out his heart for dinner. Fangoria wrote that it could be “The next ’30 Days of Night.'”

COLD BLOODED CHILLERS is dark and disturbing. Think “The Twilight Zone” … but episodes too dark to be put on television (at least back in 1959 when The Twilight Zone first appeared; today with shows like “Dexter” on the air, maybe). Let me put it another way — even my wife’s family and my family (except for a really cool older brother, Ed) won’t buy my books. My wife tells me that the artwork and stories are great, but too “over the edge” for their taste. (Wimps!) 

SN: Describe your ideal reader.

HESKE:  Someone who hangs around an accident to get a peek at the bloody body.

SN:  What was working with so many artists like?

HESKE:  Awesome. Every once in a while you deal with a slacker or an artist who doesn’t live up to their portfolio on a particular story. But all in all, the level of talent I’ve “discovered” on sites such as comicspace or have been referred to by other indie comic publishers is flat out phenomenal. As an example, Insomnia Publications sent me about half a dozen creators who submitted (and were accepted) into my 2012 End Times anthology. The book ended up with contributors from the US, UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Scotland and South Africa. Since the 2012 phenomena is truly a global event, it was critical to get a creative global perspective — and I was able to capture that by “reaching out” to other comic publishers.

There is so much talent out there. It is my pleasure to work with artists from around the world. And I thank the Internet every day for giving me this flexibility and freedom.

SN: You’ve probably read a lot of comic books. What are some of the common mistakes you’ve seen? What are some of the characteristics of bad comic books? (Either horror specifically or just in general). How did you avoid those?

HESKE: Embarrassingly enough, I am relatively new to comic books. In my youth I collected sports cards. I only became fascinated with comics when I began converting a treatment for a film into comic format (THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST). Still, in the past two years I have done my fair share of reading. The errors in bad comics are similar to the errors in bad screenplays — mostly related to poor story structure, two-dimensional characters, or predictable endings. Another tragic flaw is when creators get too cute and leave the reader (or the vast majority of readers) confused about what the story is really about.

SN: At 140 pages, writing BONE CHILLER must have taken a lot of time and energy. How did you stave off writer’s block? 

HESKE: Sadly, I have a limitless reserve for being dark, disturbing and morose.

SN: How important is it for writers to be readers? Why or why not?

HESKE:  Extremely important. When you read, you learn. You see different ways of doing things and presenting information – or unfolding a story – to a reader. Writing comics is like being a good poker player: don’t show your hand too early. Keep ’em guessing and on the edge of their seats.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to do a writer’s interview, please let me know by leaving a comment or emailing me at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.

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