The Interview With Arshad Ahsanuddin at 8 AM Pacific will take place on this post. Arshad will talk with moderator WT Prater about his graphic novel Pact Arcanum, and the process of converting an existing novel to graphic format.
Arshad has set up a Createspace discount code of 63YMAX3C, which gives you a 15% discount ($12.75 instead of $14.99). It’s a beautiful graphic novel – I got to see an advance copy at RC!
Wt Prater Greetings! My name is Wt Prater and I have the pleasure of interviewing Author Arshad Ahsanuddin this morning. Our topic will be “Converting an Existing Novel to Graphic Format” which is exactly what Arshad did with his work Pact Arcanum. Good morning Arshud! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your project!
Arshad Ahsanuddin Sorry I’m late. Computer’s running slow.
Wt Prater No problem! howdy, Arshad!
Arshad Ahsanuddin Hi, there! Where shall we begin?
Wt Prater Tell us a bit about you and your project, please.
Arshad Ahsanuddin I am a hematopathologist by day. That’s a laboratory physician who looks at blood, bone marrow, and lymph node biopsies to diagnose disease.
Arshad Ahsanuddin I started writing in 2009. I write gay scifi/fantasy romance. My first book was a mashup of soft scifi and gay paranormal (vampire) romance – mostly because I didn’t have clue what I was doing. However, I lucked into a decent editor early on who gave detailed feedback, which helped me immensely in developing the book. I edited the book with several freelance editors repeatedly over the course of the next year after the first draft was completed, and finally self-published my first book in February 2011. I published several more books in that series over the course of the next couple of years, finally winding it up in November 2013. I then went on to a new scifi series, publishing the first book in February 2014, ending not so much on a cliffhanger, as a hook for the next book. I published the second book about a year later after a bit of a hiatus. Hopefully, the third book should be ready by early next year.
Wt Prater That’s sound fun!
Arshad Ahsanuddin Pact Arcanum began as a thought experiment based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Postulate 1: Suppose a Slayer was turned, but did not lose her soul? How would her allies react? Postulate 2: What if Slayers and Vampires were killing each other forever, and then they were suddenly exposed tot he world? How would humanity at large react?
Postulate 3: What if there were a cure for vampirism? Could Slayers and vampires work together?
Wt Prater And what made you decide to convert your novel into a comic?
Arshad Ahsanuddin I had previously rendered my books into ebook, print on demand, and audiobook format, so a visual medium seemed like a natural extension, and I always loved comic book, even through college and medical school. However, comic books are a completely different medium, both operationally in producing the work, and socially, in marketing it to an audience. I’m afraid I haven’t been nearly as successful as Alex and Adam in marketing my work or drumming up financial support, but my technical process appears to be similar to theirs.
Wt Prater PS huge Joss Whedon fan here! So, yippee for Buffy reference!
Wt Prater What was the hardest part to convert? The dialogue, the action, the relationships?
Arshad Ahsanuddin As an aside, I kind of thought that the Scoobies all fit into certain elemental categories with their powers: Fire (energy) – Willow, Water (shapeshifting) – Oz, Earth (combat) – Angel, Air (Mind) – Giles. That made the basis for my Vampire slayers.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Hard to say. It’s a visual medium, so your ability to get into the characters’ heads is more difficult.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Dialogue is easier, but you have to pare it down to its most basic elements so you don’t clutter the page.
Wt Prater Now, this question has been posted by a fellow writer: is there a way to figure out if your novella or novel is a good fit for becoming a graphic novel?
Arshad Ahsanuddin Hmmm. That’s a tough one. I suppose, if there’s lots of action and dialogue, it would work better, but that’s not hard and fast. More cerebral comics, like Sandman also do well in this medium.
Wt Prater I love Neil Gaiman!
Wt Prater So, let’s talk the business side for a minute. In general, talk to us about the cost of making a comic.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Depends on whether you can draw as well as write. smile emoticon The Artist’s services are by far the most expensive part of the project.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Comparatively speaking, the costs of printing and distribution are negligible.
Wt Prater And how did you hook up with your artists?
Arshad Ahsanuddin But you are basically employing a creative professional for months at a time. It adds up, unless you go through a press/publisher who absorbs the costs.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Alex mentioned his publisher PRISM Comics posted a list of comic book artists on their site. I would have loved to have that resource at the beginning, but instead focused on freelance artist sites, such as DeviantArt and eLance (now UpWork). Then it was a matter of review the artists’ portfolios and prices. Most American artists quoted me prices on the order of $100-150 per page. Eventually, it came down to a matter of cost, and I went with an artist in India who charged substantially less, but at a disadvantage of the fact that we can’t communicate in real-time because of the time difference, unless one of us wants to stay up really late to meet the other getting up in the morning. If I had to do it over, I would probably try and pitch my idea to a small press publisher, and see what in-house artistic resources they might bring to the table.
Wt Prater That sounds like good advice.
Wt Prater So, I’m guessing that would have been your advice to your younger writing self?
Arshad Ahsanuddin Yes, I probably would have scripted a number of issues and then gone looking for a comic book press to publish my work. But having started in the self-publishing model, I didn’t realize how much cost is associated with farming out the artwork, since with my own books, I could do most it myself.
Wt Prater Who are some of the graphic artists or comic writers that you appreciate?
Arshad Ahsanuddin Now I’m just doing it for enjoyment. I don’t expect to recoup my investment, honestly, unless a miracle happens and hundreds of people suddenly subscribe.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Vertigo, all the way, baby.
Arshad Ahsanuddin I collected Sandman since it came out, and loved a number of the mystically oriented titles being put out by DC.
Arshad Ahsanuddin It replaced my early interest in superhero comics. Allan Moore and Neil Gaiman are my favorites.
Wt Prater I just finished reading the Locke & Key series by Joe Hill
Arshad Ahsanuddin I have not read that one, I’m afraid.
Wt Prater I adored the uncle character who is part
of our GLBT comic family.
Arshad Ahsanuddin YP has interested me again in superhero comics, and I’m taking another look at the current DC lineup.
Arshad Ahsanuddin The Midnighter seems an interesting character, though I’ve only read a few issues so far.
Wt Prater I’ve read Young Protectors, which I loved. and I am following Midnighter and Jupiter’s Circle
Wt Prater And of course, The Walking Dead.
J. Scott Coatsworth Yeah, maybe yours will be a collector’s item one day. smile emoticon
Arshad Ahsanuddin Haven’t read the Walking Dead. Watched a few of the TV episodes, and didn’t see the attraction. Never got into zombies, I guess.
Wt Prater I loved Nightcrawler and Storm, but they both got cancelled.
Wt Prater So, if you could do a monthly, knowing how much work it takes, would you do it?
Arshad Ahsanuddin I used to be a big New Mutants fan, but that was Pre-Sandman. wink emoticon
Arshad Ahsanuddin Hmm. Probably not. I could write one, but my artist would rebel if I asked him for a page a day.
Wt Prater Were there any websites or books you found useful before, during or after your conversion experience?
Arshad Ahsanuddin Definitely, the most useful advice came from the pages Alex previously posted on his webpage. I also corresponded with Greg Fox, who writes Kyle’s B’n’B for his advice on getting started and printing options.
Arshad Ahsanuddin https://www.facebook.com/…/permalink/399480183532265/…
Wt Prater Very cool.
Wt Prater And what about the marketing aspect?
Wt Prater How is the marketing of a graphic novel different from that of a novel?
Arshad Ahsanuddin For me, this is where it all falls down. wink emoticon Like Alex and Adam, I have been posting the finished pages on the web as we’ve been going, but I’ve been financing the whole project out of pocket, since I have not yet been able to drum up many supporters.
Arshad Ahsanuddin I guess it’s similar, but it’s a matter of finding an audience. I took almost a year for my novels to find any traction in the market, and comic book readers are a completely different audience, so it’s like starting from zero.
J. Scott Coatsworth Arshad – have you looked into options like Kickstarter and Patreon?
Wt Prater Gotcha.
Arshad Ahsanuddin I tried a kickstarter, which didn’t get very far, and I have a Patreon Page, but I don’t have the readership base to make the project self-sustaining.
Wt Prater Great question, J. Scott Coatsworth!
Wt Prater Well, hopefully interviews like this will help you broaden your reader base! Lol
Arshad Ahsanuddin https://www.patreon.com/pactarcanum
Support Arshad Ahsanuddin creating the Pact Arcanum Webcomic
Arshad Ahsanuddin We shall see…. wink emoticon
J. Scott Coatsworth You’re right – it does take awhile.
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Wt Prater We are about to hit that hour mark and then we open the floor for anyone to ask anything they want.
J. Scott Coatsworth I’m at that point in my “regular” writing career. The first book rarely becomes a bestseller. tongue emoticon
Wt Prater But before we get there, one more question, Arshad.
Arshad Ahsanuddin If anyone wants to buy a copy of the graphic novel, you can get it at Createspace at a QSF discount (https://www.createspace.com/5609895). For the Createspace store, use the discount code 63YMAX3C, which will give a 15% discount ($12.75 instead of $14.99 for the book).
J. Scott Coatsworth It really is gorgeous, Arshad. I got to see it when you brought the advance copies to Rainbow Con.
Arshad Ahsanuddin The best advertising is to just keep writing, and putting out books. Then as people discover your work, they will discover your backlist as well.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Thanks! smile emoticon
J. Scott Coatsworth Anyone else here thinking of going the graphic novel route?
Wt Prater If you could give one piece of advice to a person considering converting their novel into graphic form… What would that advice be?
Arshad Ahsanuddin The same advice I would give someone starting out writing novels: Educate yourself about the market and the medium before jumping in. Because jumpiing out and starting over is much harder when you’re already drowning.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Also: Don’t take it personally, if no one notices you or cares, and especially not if someone dislikes your work. That way lies madness.
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J. Scott Coatsworth Yeah, you so gotta not read Goodreads reviews. I’ve figured that one out the hard way.
Wt Prater And while we are all a little mad here, nobody needs that.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Unlike many, I do read all of my reviews. Some make me feel good, some bad, but often, they have enough common elements to identify problems with the work which can be corrected sometimes.
Arshad Ahsanuddin The one with the animated GIF of her stabbing herself in the eye after reading my books was annoying, but I eventually saw the humor in it. wink emoticon
Wt Prater Thank you, Arshad for allowing me this time to interview you. I’ve read Issue Zero and Issue One and they are worth reading, trust me.
Arshad Ahsanuddin My pleasure. smile emoticon
J. Scott Coatsworth LOL
Arshad Ahsanuddin Just another five or six hundred to go…
Wt Prater And now we open the floor to anyone asking questions, or if you’re shy, send your questions to me through PM and I will be happy to pose them to Arshad.
J. Scott Coatsworth I find the middleing reviews are best. The raves are great, but give me no real feedback. And the one stars are often just hateful. One of them told me to change my name because Coatsworth was too dignified a name for a writer of my low caliber. smile emoticon
Arshad Ahsanuddin Ah, well. You can’t please everyone. And I specially ignore the reviews of people who say they didn’t bother to finish the book, for the sake of my sanity.
Wt Prater I read all my reviews and I thank every reviewer. I try to understand what I’m suppose to learn from each one, but some reviews just have to be dismissed.
Arshad Ahsanuddin True, dat.
Wt Prater What is Patreon?
J. Scott Coatsworth Have you had any books released on galley review sites before the fact? One of my oubs did that, and there were reviews out two weeks before the book release date. Some rather negative.
Arshad Ahsanuddin No, I’ve never given my books out for pre-review. I did notice a pre-publication negative review on my most recent book, and I emailed him thanking him for the review, and asking where he found his copy.
Brian Barr Looks amazing, Arshad smile emoticon
Arshad Ahsanuddin Thanks! We worked hard on it.
J. Scott Coatsworth Patreon’s like kickstarter, but instead of signing up once to support a singlke project, you pledge an ongoing support (can be like $5 a month) to keep the artist working, and in turn you get perks.
J. Scott Coatsworth Gives authors and artists more of a steady revenue Alex Woolfson uses it.
J. Scott Coatsworth Brian – have you thought about doing a Graphic novel of Carolina Daemonic?
Arshad Ahsanuddin Yeah, but Alex is a Jedi Marketer, where I’m more of a Jar Jar. smile emoticon
Wt Prater Yousa gonna die! Lol
J. Scott Coatsworth LOL… yeah, Alex is pretty amazing. Talented bastard. tongue emoticon
Arshad Ahsanuddin “Have him executed immediately. He’s demoralizing the common soldiery.”
J. Scott Coatsworth LOL
J. Scott Coatsworth But he’s such a sweetheart. smile emoticon
J. Scott Coatsworth I’d love to see one of my stories in graphic novel format but I’d have no idea where to begin.
Wt Prater Excluding Yaoi and Manga conventions, are there cons for just comics and graphic novels?
Arshad Ahsanuddin It starts with a script, stating the basic layout of visual panels, the setting depicted in each panel, and then the action and dialogue to occur in those panels. Then the artist creates a rough interpretation, which is modified, if necessary, to be more in line with the author’s vision. The final artwork is then produced. In my case, I then make further modifications, if necessary to create the finished product in a format that can be translated to both web and print editions. See the PDF here for a sample of how one page goes from script to finished project: https://drive.google.com/…/0B2qWfIX8EQ90ZTFmaFQ…/view…
Wt Prater Awesome!
Arshad Ahsanuddin Yes, there are slews of comic book cons.
J. Scott Coatsworth How long did the whole process take?
Arshad Ahsanuddin Learning to write scripts was a completely new skillset for me, though I have some skill with Photoshop to be able to make minor modifications to the artist’s work after it is completed. Also, though I had worked with a couple of illustrators before on my Pact Arcanum books, this was a major longitudinal project, which would require a long and sustained committment, so I had to hire someone to produce these pages on commission. For that I tried to find a freelance artist using various freelancer sites, finally choosing Jayant Mall from JLabs in India to produce the artwork.
Arshad Ahsanuddin I usually expect a couple of pages every 2-3 weeks.
J. Scott Coatsworth For all the other folks here with us, feel free to jump in with a question or comment. smile emoticon
J. Scott Coatsworth He’s doing a gorgeous job.
J. Scott Coatsworth Brian Barr what’s your interest in graphic novels?
J. Scott Coatsworth Will… have you thought about doing a graphic novel?
Wt Prater I would love to one day. I have a graphic novel plotted out, but I’m a control freak and I want to wait until I have the money to do it exactly the way I see it in my head.
J. Scott Coatsworth You? A control freak? LOL
J. Scott Coatsworth (((Will)))
J. Scott Coatsworth I am too.
Arshad Ahsanuddin That’s another thing. You have to have a contractual relationship between writer and artist which spells out exactly who owns the copyright, otherwise a disagreement can get ugly.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Same for profit sharing. Always formalize the arrangement in a written contract. It saves headaches later.
Wt Prater I can imagine!
Arshad Ahsanuddin I had my laywer draw up a contract for my illustrators to sign, unless the freelancer website I use has their own work-for-hire contract. It made it a lot simpler when registering my copyright.
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Wt Prater Yippee legal stuffs! lol
Arshad Ahsanuddin It’s better than trying to argue a handshake deal in court, honestly. Always better to have clear expectations beforehand.
Arshad Ahsanuddin And the copyright regulations in the USA regarding work-for-hire require a written contract in advance of the work being produced to prove who is the owner of the material. In the end, there can be only one.
Arshad Ahsanuddin Anyway, to recap: the webcomic is visible at http://pactarcanum.net, and the first graphic novel is available from Createspace (https://www.createspace.com/5609895). For the Createspace store, use the discount code 63YMAX3C, which will give a 15% discount ($12.75 instead of $14.99 for the book). Enjoy!
Wt Prater Thank you again for all this great information and for being you!
Arshad Ahsanuddin My pleasure!
Jana Denardo Thanks for this. It looks amazing. I’ll have to go find a copy (I’ve sadly missed most of graphic novel week thanks to having no internet) This is also very helpful. Years ago a friend of mine and I tried to convert a novel to a graphic novel format and you are so right about script writing needing a different skill set.
Alexis Woods Do your graphic novels follow the linear plot-line vs the non-linear style of the books?
Alexis Woods Also, just a note, I’m more apt to donate a single time to friends’ projects via Kickstarter than a continuous payment scedule.