Becoming a professional artist by Peter Bergting

Full circle. Back where I started. That’s where I ended up. Sort of.

I began my career at the age of five, by copying comic books using waxed paper (the kind you can see through), sprawled on the floor of our summerhouse. Most of my childhood was spent that way – drawing. All the time.

I learned how to draw the mouth of superman that way, using only a line with two smaller lines flanking it to make the dimples.

I began to create my own comic books, making up stories and characters that I was convinced would one day take over the world. Fame and fortune was just around the corner – or so I believed. I was eight at the time and the four or five people that bought my severely overpriced magazines didn’t exactly make for the success that I had anticipated. It would take almost 30 years before I turned my attention to making comics again.

Undaunted I continued to draw and in 1989 I got my first professional gig (unless you count a strip I managed to get into the Swedish Garfield comic book when I was 12). This did not come easy. I was at a game convention and having a miserable time. I had enrolled in a competition displaying my art and some painted miniatures and the competition was severe. My friends were up in the middle of the night fencing with sleeping rolls and plastic Coca Cola bottles. One of my friends decided to take a leak and found himself in the men’s room with a producer for a Swedish role playing games company. Having learned who he was my friend quickly persuaded him to take a look at my artwork. He was unimpressed but told me not to give up. I didn’t. I sent him 50 drawings every day using snail mail (yes, this was way before email was widely available). Finally he caved in and gave me my first gig. One thing led to another and I worked with them for several years after that.

FASA Corporation saw my art in Mutant Chronicles and picked me up to work on Shadowrun and Battletech, White Wolf came shortly after and I worked on Vampire, Mage, and Werewolf. By this time I was working full time illustrating just about everything that came my way. But the “creative” work was going nowhere and I I wasn’t evolving at all so I took a job as in house artist at a web bureau and moved to Stockholm. I stayed with that company until I was tired to death of doing web and got offered another job as in house artist at a computer games company. Doing conceptual art was the rage at the time and I really believed I had found my dream gig. But I hated my job there. Believe me, I know how dearly people want to get into that business but it was not for me. I dreamed of becoming a comic book artist and quit after about a year.

I began drawing The Portent and submitted the first eight pages to Image Comics and that was it. The Portent led to my work with Rick Remender on Strange Girl and Frazetta’s Creatures and eventually Gangwar that became a #1 best seller in Sweden. At the moment I can pick and choose what I want to work on but I still work 14 hour days. Or nights I should say, most of my days I have no idea what I’m doing. With two kids around I find that work is becoming harder and harder which means that I push my working hours well into the wee hours of the night to get anything done. But I like it that way. The house is quiet, everything is dark and I’m back where I started. Except that I’m not lying flat on the floor using waxed paper any more. Not all the time at least.

Peter Bergting is a comic book artist based in Sweden. Peter also provides illustrations for childrens books and art for publishers all over the world like Hasbro, Paizo Publishing, Aschehoug, White Wolf, Penguin, Bonnier Carlsen, Rabén & Sjögren and many, many more. His artwork appears in Stranger Comic’s THE UNTAMED, available soon from Stranger Comics. You can find out more about Peter at bergting.com.

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Self-Published = Not Easy.

When I started writing The Basics Of Flight, I actually wanted to send the story to local publishers, because let’s face it: it’s by a local (Singaporean) writer, right? Wrong. When I started sending queries, I got told – bluntly – that my story was not publishable. Just like that. I felt taken aback by the curt tone of the editor (well, I assumed it was an editor, not just a paid monkey to read email submissions).

When I combined The Basics Of Flight with Phoenix With A Purpose and tried the local traditional publishing route again, the same happened. Local publishers are just not interested in science fiction, simply because science fiction is so low-key it is not commercially viable or profitable. The local book market is replete with self-help books, memoirs, recipe books, children’s books and ghost/horror stories. No science fiction or speculative fiction. The only local science fiction novel I know is The Star Sapphire by Han May, but even then, it was not a popular book and was not well-received by the mainstream reading crowd.

I am sure that there are science fiction readers out there in Singapore and I am also sure that there are science fiction writers. We are seriously facing a problem: science fiction writers are not recognized.

So I decided to self-publish and to tell the truth, it felt like I was thrown into the deep end and asked to dog-paddle. I was suddenly the writer, the publisher, the type-setter, the designer, the marketer, the speaker and the printer all rolled into one. I ended up doing all the leg work and I sometime wonder if it was all worth it. It is not an easy route to take and you have to be really shrewd, to know your audience well. I turned to Lulu and Createspace to publish my book. I spoke to people. I advertised on my Livejournal blog.

There are days when I want to give up and throw up my hands in despair. Why is self-publishing so difficult? Why does it feel so solitary, lonely? Yet the lessons I have learned from this experience are invaluable: resilience, a thick skin, a never-say-die attitude and – yes! – creativity. I learned that I could come up with covers by myself and I ended up falling in love with photography again. I learned that self-publishing is publishing: you take on the role of the publisher. I did research. I read. It was a steep learning curve.

I have to repeat this: self-publishing is not easy. More so if you are an emerging author or a new writer fresh on the scene. I ask myself this question all the time: Will people take me seriously?

So, if you want to self-publish, remember to

1. P – Publish: Work on your publishing skills. That means being more particular when it comes to writing and editing. Get someone to proofread for you. Get someone to critique your work.
2. L – Love: Love your own work and let it go to editor or proofreader. Your attention to detail (your love and passion) will come through and people see that straightaway.
3. A – Audience: Know who your audience is. If you are writing for a genre market, be aware of the demographics.
4. N – Network: Writing might be a solitary activity. But it has a social aspect. These days, social media is the new buzzword. Network, get to know people, talk to them.

Most of all, if you are set on the self-publishing route (journey, as I always tell myself), PLAN. What is your long term plan before you launch your book. What is your targeted print run? Who do you want to distribute your book for you?

Reproduced with Jolantru’s permission from her blog at A Wolf’s Tale

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Story 2.0

Logging onto the Internet should be like opening the door of Aladdin’s cave for writers. So why do so many of them treat it like a trip to the grocery store? I only want to do two things with this post. I want you to be excited about the possibilities that exist for different, exciting, experimental kinds of writing. And I want you to be excited about giving your work away for free. Because for me those are the two things that really matter about the Internet.

Most writers (OK, some writers!) accept that they need a blog. A few writers tweet. Unpublished writers seek sites where they can display parts of their work for critiquing, or upload their books to sites like smashwords ebcause they think e-books are “the future”. But how 99.99% of them treat the Internet is as another way to do the same old thing. It’s a marketing tool for selling their books (be they in paper or electronic form). And if they see any innovation in writing substance, it’s the emergence of the blog.

It amazes me how little imagination writers often show. Think what happened when artists got hold of film. They didn’t think “here’s somthing else we can make pictures on!” Andy Warhol, The Wilson Twins, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor Wood, even back to the days of Dali and his collaboration with Bunuel on Un Chien Andalou, all of them saw a new and exciting medium and stretched and prodded and pushed and poked it to see what they could make it do – with no real idea what the answer might be! And the result was a whole new form of art.

What I want writers to do is stop worrying and start experimenting! And to get you going, I want to give you a couple of examples.

One of the most exciting things about writing for new tech is the way you can disperse information in order to give readers a different kind of experience (it’s arguable that the lines between some forms of novel and traditional online gaming will blur more and more, but that’s not what I’m looking at here).

Dispersal

Book crossing is something that grew out of the flashmob movement in art. It’s not really anything to do with writing at all. But you can easily tie it in with the way you write. Book crossers leave books in particular locations, then upload the details of those locations so people can find the books, and leave online comments as they do so. It’s a fun way of enhancing the reading experience and building community (more on this later). You can also disperse your content across the web, giving readers a number of different experiences depending how deep they want to go in investigating the various plotlines. Jeffrey Deaver did this by combining book and blog in his most recent venture. The best example I’ve come across, though, is Thomas Stolperer. Search for him on Facebook, and ask him to be your friend. As you get to know his fellow Facebook friends, many of whom are fictitious, slowly their story will emerge.

Collaboration

The Internet is great for collaborative fiction. You can do this through your blog, by opening your work up for comments and input, as Jessica R Brown will be doing with her latest book, Rain, inspired by Japanese horror. There are also full-scale collaborations such as dual author novels written on twitter. And if you want to go the whole nine yards, there are fantastic possibilities using online wiki software.

Serialisation

Serials are a very old form of writing, but they’re an art form many writers have lost. Blogs have helped, but it’s the introduction of subscription novels delivered to your phone by sites like textnovel that have really brought serials back to life. The thing about writing serial fiction is you have to make your prose incredibly tight; and you have to end every chapter with a hook. You can’t afford any slack or your readers are lost. Not only can you play with the form of the serial, youcan use it as a great writing boot camp!

FREE

I’m a great believer in making my work available for free on the Internet. This has become a real hot potato of a topic since the release of Chris Anderson’s book “Free”, and I don’t want to go into all the issues or start justifying “free”. I wrote a long post for one of my favourite blogs recently where you can find the nitty-gritty.

What I really want you to go away and think about as new writers is this. Before we can sell our work, we need people to have any interest at all in buying it. At the moment, no one has a clue who we are. If you give your work away for free, they might take a look. And if what you’ve got to offer is really good, a look is all you need.

That was the rationale behind organizing the Free-e-day Festival, an online event on December 1st where any independent writer, musician, artist or filmmaker could give something away as a free download for one day.

This is barely a whistlestop tour, but I hope it’s given you some ideas. Feel free to ask me anything. I’m happy to expand or digress or help in any way I can!

Dan Holloway is a founder member of the Year Zero Writers collective, and organizer of the Free-e-day Festival. He is currently writing The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes online and interactively in a Facebook group of the same name. His novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is available as a paperback or as a free download. He writes a regular column on UK Indie music for The Indie Handbook.

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