Oct 31 2010

This week’s reader questions (finding an agent, editorial jobs, copyright, etc)

Here are some questions and Google queries I got this week.

“Why are there no good superhero novels?I disagree with this premise–I’d recommend checking out Wild Cards, Dark Cloud Rising and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  However, let’s say for the sake of argument that there aren’t many good ones.  I think that’s because superhero novels are very rare.  Probably fewer than 50 unlicensed adult superhero novels have been published over the past ten years.  With so few books on the market, there couldn’t be tons of  good ones.  PS: Besides presidential memoirs, I doubt that any subgenres have a higher proportion of Pulitzer winners than superhero novels.

Action novels–not enough story. Even an action story needs a central plot and character development.  And not “development” in the Dragonball Z sense, charting how much more powerful a character becomes from one chapter to the next. How does the protagonist’s quest change him? What sort of difficult choices does he face?

How to copyright a comic book. Your comic book is automatically copyrighted as soon as you write it. You’re fine.
How to copyright a superhero. Likewise.

Is “superhero” a genre? Not any more than “vampire,” I think.  To be considered a genre, I think that a concept has to say a lot about the main goal of the author and/or main character.  For example, detective stories are always about solving mysteries and romances are always about finding and/or protecting love.  I’ve seen too many superhero stories that have nothing to do with beating up criminals to think that “superhero” meets that description.  I would consider “superhero” to be a subgenre, usually of the action genre.  Another indicator that “superhero” is not a genre is that bookstores rarely, if ever, designate a shelf (or online search category) for superhero stories.  Genres usually get their own shelves.

How to tell if your superhero story sucks. Well, we’re too polite to put it like that, but having your story critiqued on  a review forum on Superhero Nation or Critters can identify potential problems and solutions.

Unused superhero names. Heh, good luck with that.  If you want original names, you probably need to come up with your own or brainstorm privately with a friend. If you use a name posted on the Web, you’re running the risk that someone else might have used it.

How to write a superhero story like [a particular series]. You are capable of better writing than glorified fan-fiction. If not, I would recommend looking into other career paths.

Responsibilities and duties of a comic book editor. First, I’d like to preface this by saying that jobs as editors are usually not entry-level positions.   If you’re interested in breaking into comic book editing,  I’d recommend looking into assistant editor positions.  That said, some responsibilities of CB editors include…

  • Ensuring that many series come out with high quality and on schedule. According to Mark Waid, DC editors usually handle 4-8 series a month and Marvel editors do maybe twice as many.
  • Coordinating the writer(s) and art team and any freelancers.
  • Supervising and developing junior members, like preparing assistant editors to eventually run their own series.
  • Moving Heaven and the Earth to meet deadlines.  There will probably be some nights without sleep.
  • Promoting the series.  For example, you might do some conference appearances and write content for (and moderate) websites and online forums to keep fans pumped up for the series you are oh-so-reliably putting out on time.
  • Some copyediting and proofreading (although I think these are usually handled by assistant editors).
  • Effectively communicating orally and in writing.
  • Working effectively with a variety of people (writers, artists, letterers, freelancers, readers, etc).
  • Meeting deadlines.  (Have I mentioned how crucial this is?)

How much do comic book writers make? More than novelists, less than vagabonds.  It really depends on how many series you are able to write per month, and how well they sell.

A good start off sentence to present a superhero. Lead with an interesting detail, preferably something that distinguishes him from other superheroes.  For example, maybe something about his personality or an interesting life experience.  One thing that bothers me a bit is when a story zooms in on how buff/hot the character is, because 1) most superheroes are just as buff and 2) if the character’s attractiveness is really his most interesting/notable trait, I would HIGHLY recommend going back to the drawing board.

What should I say if the publisher asks for five reasons you chose us? Interesting question.  I’ll do this in a full-length post later today. Here’s my short version.  1) Your story fits their preferred genres and/or subgenres.  2) The publisher works a lot with your target audience (such as gender, age, literary background, etc).  3) One of the employees there has personally impressed you, perhaps with a blog or a writing guide.  (Please note: you won’t necessarily work with that employee, but the publisher will appreciate that you have a demonstrated interest in their work).  4) You’ve enjoyed this publisher’s books in the past.  5) The publisher is clear about its expectations (on its submissions page, for example).  That’s a big plus.  6) The publisher has something unique going on that appeals to you.  Perhaps they’re looking for an unusual story format or have a unique cultural slant or publish in your country or whatever.

I’m looking for representation for a fiction manuscript 70,000 words long. Check out AgentQuery. Also, when you’re looking for agents, I would recommend picking out prospects based on your genre and/or style of writing more than your word-count.

Superhero with potassium properties. WTF? The only property of potassium I can think of is that it explodes when exposed to water.  I’m, umm, not familiar with any such characters.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “This week’s reader questions (finding an agent, editorial jobs, copyright, etc)”

  1. Sean Higginson 04 Nov 2010 at 8:45 pm

    I’m really enjoying the site thus far. I’ve been world for over three years now and have recently begun posting stories online to hopefully build a following before I complete my novel. Raptor City is getting a good kick off, but I’d wish I’d known about this site sooner. You have a wealth of information on here and I really appreciate it. Posting a link on my site today!

  2. Milanon 05 Nov 2010 at 9:31 am

    > Why are there no good superhero novels? I disagree with this premise

    Absolutely! (And not just because of any interest in the word ‘premise’). A superpower exaggerates some characteristic of a person. For amusement, or to test the extremes of that characteristic against human morality, and frailty. Even in a conventional world, there are people with power. What if it lay with one person?

    Then there are the villains, equally important, exaggerating human vices. Superhero stories become like allegories, or fables. Some dimension, or perhaps dimensions, get exaggerated, but ultimately human mores hold sway. Holy books do this, many supernatural books or science fiction books do this. They’re also superheroes if we can’t all aspire to be messiahs or werethings. Leotards, justice-teams and logos aside, there are lots of superhero books. Of course, if you need leotards and stuff, you might be looking for the wrong thing. What do you want from your superhero novel?

    I’m honestly curious. I might like to write what you want.

  3. B. Macon 05 Nov 2010 at 1:43 pm

    One reason that I think that a person might think there are few good superhero novels is that he’s comparing them to superhero movies. It’s extremely hard to write an action novel that can hold a candle to the excitement and stimulation of a superhero movie. A superhero novel that tries to be a superhero movie–focusing on epic battles and riveting chase scenes and the like–is probably gonna suck when compared to, say, Nightcrawler’s White House scene.

    I think that a novel has to use its strengths, like a greater capacity for character development, even if it’s an action novel. Otherwise, I think it’ll come off more like a second-rate movie.

    One possible solution would be mixing in non-action elements into the story. For example, as you noted, you might do something with the theme of temptation, so see how someone being super creates a moral conflict or the potential for corruption. Batman and Spiderman are two examples of characters that experience those in interesting ways (for example, Batman’s conflict with Lucius Fox in the Dark Knight and Spiderman’s conflict with Venom whenever it comes up).

  4. B. Macon 05 Nov 2010 at 3:41 pm

    I’m glad to hear we’ve been helpful, Sean. Now, if only I could convince you to give up on the Pack for the One True Shuffling Crew.

  5. TTon 03 Aug 2015 at 5:25 pm

    How do I contact Marvel? I’m writing a character with spider-themed powers (but not all of Spidey’s, and also some new abilities). Once I finish the book, I’ll need to ask Marvel if I can let her out.

  6. B. McKenzieon 04 Aug 2015 at 4:39 pm

    “How do I contact Marvel?” Generally, I think Marvel (and DC) is hard to get a hold of — e.g. “we don’t have the resources to review or respond to unsolicited material… If you are an aspiring comic book artist or writer, we suggest you publish or publicly post your material, continue to create, and if you have the right stuff, we’ll find you.”

  7. TTon 05 Aug 2015 at 8:48 pm


  8. B. McKenzieon 06 Aug 2015 at 6:12 pm

    It would probably take Marvel and/or DC hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in editorial salaries to read most of the submissions they receive. Given the economics, Marvel’s tone was more positive than I was expecting. E.g. DC Comics’ phrasing is closer to standard: “At this time, DC Entertainment does not accept unsolicited artwork or writing submissions.”

    At the risk of being depressing, this industry (and the entertainment sector generally) treats prospective writers in a discouraging way because there isn’t enough money/manpower to treat them well. Almost every other industry treats applicants better and it’s probably the only industry that frequently uses unpaid training (usually ~10 years of it for novelists).

  9. TTon 08 Aug 2015 at 11:22 pm


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