“Octal is first and foremost an industry tool, however, it’s also an entertaining read.” Mike Schneider on Octal Volume 1, the new way to break into comics.
Want to get into comics, but not sure how? Well there’s a new way in thanks to Mike Schneider and his new indie anthology Octal Volume 1! What makes it different from all the other anthologies is that as well as featuring great stories and art, it also works as a collection of ‘pitch packets’ to showcase the comics off to editors and publishers on the lookout for the next big thing. We got in touch with Mike Schneider to find out just how we could break into the world of comics via Octal!
Tell us about the premise for Octal – are we right in thinking it’s an anthology, but for comic book submissions? So which came first, the idea to make an anthology or to find a better way for people to pitch their comics to the wider world?
Mike Schenider: In the fine arts world, there are publications known as ‘artist catalogs’. They are essentially curated directories of sample works, links, bios, artist statements, and/ or show proposals which are sent to a mailing list of galleries, museums, and art centers. Similar publications exist in most visual art fields and it seemed natural to adapt this model to a publishing art field like comics.
Because it isn’t worth the publishers’ dime to critique submissions that are too far off the mark, rejections are often either platitude-laden stock letters or foregone all together. The fact that so few completed pitch packets are available to the public only reinforces this shroud of mystery. When speaking with submission editors about pitching, often their knee-jerk response was a reminder that there is no silver bullet, secret handshake, or special knock. The compulsion to address such things is alarming because mysticism is counter-productive for everyone involved.
Comparing the submission guidelines from a bevy of publishers, I identified the grouping of materials which would satisfy most simultaneously. Pilot stories hit the sweet spot between the publishers who only want sample pages and those who want to read a complete story arc. The fact that Octal reads like an anthology was a happy accident but one which we embraced early in the production.
How did you get the various comic creators involved in the project? And how do you pick which get included?
MS: Because Octal’s primary goal is that of a utility, it was approached with the alpha and beta test model. The first volume was produced through a private facebook group. Members were a mix of creators I had worked with in the past and those they recommended. Some components, like the mock cover and 8-page pilot, were established from the jump. (This is where the series gets its name. Octal ( noun ): a base-8 system ). Other components like the creators page, design page, and one-sheet were developed along the way.
Over 50 packets began production during the alpha test and while some imploded and others rolled over to gun at a subsequent volume, we still needed to establish a standard for the series. A few packets exceeded expectations and were locked in immediately. I then invited those creators to join me in evaluating the other packets. Once we had a draft of volume 1, I floated it past a panel of editors. They offered some notes and after the necessary revisions, volume 1 was finalized.
Now we’re in open beta and the current production group is public. The specs and guidelines have been locked down, the website has launched (so not to exclude non-facebook users ), and volume 1 is available on DriveThru and Comixology. The goals of the beta test are proving the utility and gauging if Octal can be self-sustaining. The standard is set by the previous volume(s) so each subsequent volume will be of equal or greater quality than the ones which came before it. Packets that are par or better get locked in immediately. Packets which don’t make that cut are critiqued and creators are welcome to revise and resubmit.
Have you had any success stories from the first volume so far?
MS: Since Volume 1 just dropped on Comixology last week, it’s too soon to gauge self-sustainability. On the utility end, however, we’ve had submission editors from over two dozen publishers subscribe to receive the catalog and review its featured packets. Multiple Volume 1 creators have had publishers reach out to discuss their proposals further. One of the packets has already locked down a series contract and another is currently in contract negotiations.
What are your long term goals for the project – do you see it becoming a regular anthology or is it more of an industry tool?
MS: Octal is first and foremost an industry tool, however, it’s also an entertaining read. Readers making their voices heard for the stories they like help creators prove the audience ( thus increasing their odds of getting an offer. )
Long term, if we can reach the point where this series is sustainable, I’d like to flesh out the staff, provide more resources to help creators develop their packets, grow the mailing list of comic publishers, and eventually look toward building a second mailing list for book publishers who are open to graphic media.
How do you plan to balance being an industry tool for pitching work and creating an entertaining anthology for readers?
MS: When looking past the rants about comics made by people who aren’t actually reading comics, you realize there is nothing to balance. The reality is simple: it’s easier to build on success than theory. Packets which entertain and engage readers are more likely to launch because publishers want to produce books which entertain and engage readers. If you can’t hold the readers attention for 12 pages, why on earth should anyone support you producing an entire book/ series?
I’m not saying every pitch packet is going to please every reader. That’s neither a realistic goal for an industry tool nor an anthology. Subjectivity plays a huge factor and we have to balance that by casting a wide net for creators and having a diverse group of publishers on our mailing list.
At $3.99 for a 100 page volume ( 64 story pages ), that’s less than the cost of the average issues so even if you don’t like every story, you’re still ahead of the game. By making your voice heard for the stories you like, you also increase the likelihood that there will be more of those stories.
If $3.99 is too steep, we also have a standing offer for anyone to get Octal for free. Post a write-up about Octal and its call for submissions to your blog or website. (If you don’t have a website of your own, there are plenty of sites which accept guest articles – including this one – Ed!) Email that link to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you a review copy of Volume 1. Send a link to that review and we’ll send you a copy of Volume 2. Keep reviewing the volumes and we’ll keep sending you the next one. The coverage brings as much value to the series as a sale would.
If people want to be included in future issues how should they get in touch and do you have any criteria for submissions?
MS: The templates and an instruction manual which covers terms, procedure, and breaks down all of the components with tips and guidelines are available at www.OctalComics.com . If you’re on Facebook, you can join our production group,www.facebook.com/groups/OctalComics for in progress feedback and to check out what other creators are working on. If you have any questions, just email email@example.com.