Knowing Is Half The Battle: Jennifer Hayden Gives Advice on the Publishing Industry

You’ve been working on your comic for what probably seems like forever and finally, you feel that you are ready to share it with the world. Of course, you can always go the route of self-publishing, but that carries with it a number of obligations and expectations — printing, shipping, marketing — that you may not have the desire or the knowledge to take on. Thankfully, there are a number of amazing small press comics publishers who are constantly looking to expand their catalog and bring new voices into the world.

Unfortunately, though, as much as there are ethical publishers who want what’s best for the artists they publish, there are also bad actors who prey on the talents of young and new creators.

Part of the goal of Fieldmouse Press, the nonprofit press that publishes SOLRAD, is to advance the comics arts. We see the continued social and economic success of cartoonists as integral to that goal. SOLRAD has devoted and will continue to devote resources to this area of focus.To this end, we are running an ongoing feature at SOLRAD called KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE where we both feature an artist every week and ask for their advice about navigating the world of comics publishing, best practices for the business of comics, and other general advice. Today on KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE we’re featuring tips from JENNIFER HAYDEN.

Photo by Jen Davis

A politically incorrect mother of two, Jennifer Hayden arrived on the comics stage at the age of forty-three, after a skirmish with breast cancer. Formerly a writer, children’s book illustrator, and acclaimed kitchen storyteller, she took to the medium immediately. She shares the heartbreak, joy, and messiness of life with the honesty, wit, and Goddess-infused wisdom of a woman in her prime. Jennifer Hayden writes and draws original graphic novels. Her newest book, The Story of My Tits, is a memoir about her life and her experience with breast cancer. Published in 2015 by IDW/Top Shelf, The Story of My Tits was nominated for an Eisner Award and named one of the best graphic novels of the year by The New York Times, Library Journal, GQ, Comic Book Resources, Paste, Mental Floss, Forbes, and NPR.

The Story of My Tits has been translated into Italian and Spanish. Jennifer has appeared at San Diego and New York Comic Cons, The Miami Book Fair, The Brooklyn Book Festival, and Small Press Expo. She has given talks to students at The Center for Cartoon Studies, as well as Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and New York University, and speaks frequently to breast cancer groups.

Her recent online comix can be found on Spiralbound. She is currently finishing a graphic anti-cookbook for Top Shelf called Where There’s Smoke There’s Dinner, and is distracting herself by also creating a long-form minicomic about her dicey relationship with France.

Jennifer lives in New Jersey with her husband, very old cat, and daughter, a recent college graduate. Their son has grown and flown.

You can find out more about Jennifer’s work by visiting her website, or following her on Twitter or Instagram.

Jennifer Hayden

  • The main thing(s) I expect from a comics publisher is/are…

Creative freedom.  Because of the way I work, which entails very little planning, I need to be given my headspace once I embark on a book.  All I need from my publisher is their trust and support.  And after I hand it in, of course—editing!  IDW/Top Shelf continues to be my publisher because they excel in respecting the artist’s process.

  • My #1 advice for submitting to agents and publishers…

is to get to know them and their lists, which is especially easy at shows (let’s hope we can have these again soon!).  Don’t be upset if the publisher you thought was perfect for you rejects you.  You may be picked up by the publisher you least expect.  Keep showing your work to anyone and everyone and don’t be shy.  You deserve to be published by someone who adores your work.

  • A sneaky red flag or shady thing I would warn new creators to look out for…

is vanity publications, anthologies that are going nowhere, any language that could be restricting your copyright to your own work, overly short or fuzzy contracts.  I have not been ripped off, so I do not know what sort of devilry is out there.  

  • I think it can be worth it to take a lower-paid illustration job in return for ___…

groan…  We all work for different things and have to weigh our rewards.   I’ve had a much worse time working for more money and a lovely time working for free.  Then again, I did one comic for prestige and hated every minute of it.  Make the money you need to make for your stomach, but make the comix you need to make for your heart.

  • If a publisher/offer seemed too good to be true, here’s how I’d check it out…

I’d ask around.  It’s important to have a lot of friends who do this, so you can make use of the grapevine.  In comix it’s so easy to have friends who are creators, editors, publishers, booksellers, with experience across the board.

  • An organization I’d go to for support if I needed advice or if something went wrong…

Again, I’ve been extremely lucky so I’ve never had to do this, but I’d go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

  • My best tip for promoting your work online and at cons…

I hate to be so commercial, but SELL YOUR BRAND.  As a creator, especially if your work is autobiographical like mine, you are your brand.  The cult of personality doesn’t hurt.  Put yourself out there on panels, at a table, with others, sharing your audiences.  A new friend is a new reader.  And also possibly a new favorite author—check out their work and always send fan mail.  This advice, of course, doesn’t work in quarantine.  Now the challenge is to translate your brand instead via your website and social media.  Do this with taste, offering content to help and entertain.  Any posts that are pure nervous ego will not help the cause.

  • To take care of your health / mental health as an artist, I recommend…

silence, solitude, grass, trees, fresh air, exercise, fruits and vegetables, plenty of sleep.  Loved ones.  Realizing you are finite.  You’re only going to get so much work done in your life and it is your legacy.  You have a message to transmit.  Don’t wait!  If you’re vulnerable to anxiety, the rush of modern life, bossy people, do your work in private.  Remember what you’re protecting, which is your soul.

  • I wish someone had told me ___ before I started working in the comics industry…

That it existed!  Jesus Christ, I was forty-three years old before I tuned in, and this fills me with regret.  I have loved everything about this business since I stumbled onto it seventeen years ago.  I remember walking into my first show and thinking: these are going to be my people for a long time to come and for that to happen I am going to have to a) keep my nose clean and b) keep my head above the fray.  I’m here for the love of comix alone, and all who love comix are my friends.

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