With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
Interview with Writer and Cartoonist Marc Tyler Nobleman
Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of more than 70 books for young people of all ages. His picture book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman is out in July 2012. His previous picture book, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, is the first biography in any format for any age on the two young men who dreamed up the world’s first superhero. It received multiple starred reviews, was one of 75 out of a potential 6,000 named a 2009 American Library Association Notable Book, and made the front page of USA Today for a discovery Marc made during his research. He has written extensively for Nickelodeon and is also a cartoonist whose work has appeared in about 100 international publications including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Barron’s, Good Housekeeping, and 94 you’ve never heard of. He’s been invited internationally to speak at conferences, schools, libraries, museums, and even a couple of business lunches. On his blog Noblemania, he reveals the behind-the-scenes stories of his books, from uplifting research moments to unconventional promotional efforts.
1. You are both writer and cartoonist. Which art came first? Is there one you secretly like more?
As it does for most of us, drawing came first. We ALL start off as cartoonists because we all have access to the simple tools needed for it—pencil (or crayon), paper (or wall), and imagination. At most every school visit I do, a student asks which I like better and I openly admit that I spend a lot more time writing than drawing these days. But I will always hold a fondness for both.
2. What were some of the comics you read growing up that gave you inspiration for your own work?
I liked team-up titles. My three favorites were The Brave and Bold (Batman teaming up with a different guest hero each month), DC Comics Presents (same idea but with Superman), and Justice League of America (Superman, Batman, and a bunch of others). I was always fascinated to see how they subdivided to handle a crisis. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was the personalities, not the powers, that made this so fun.
3. Your book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman comes out in July. Can you talk about the route to publication for this book?
Oh, man, it was a long, often bleak, always unmarked route! I conceived, researched, and wrote it after I sold Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (2005) but before it came out (2008). My Boys of Steel editor turned it down—three times starting in 2007. She didn’t feel it had the same fuzziness as the Superman story—and she was exactly right. However, the Superman story is actually dark, believe it or not, and the Batman one—perhaps appropriately—is even darker. Some publishers turned it down for fear of infringement, although we’d already shown we can do it right with Boys of Steel. The offer from Charlesbridge came in 2010.
4. Is there a large market for readers of comic books with superheroes like there used to?
I’m no expert on this but the audience of comics readers must be smaller than ever. There is more competition than ever from other media. Some young kids don’t know that Superman and Batman debuted in comics—for all they know, those characters first appeared in movies, TV, or even video games. Luckily, however, I don’t consider comics readers my only audience for my two superhero books!
5. As the author of more than 70 books, you have obviously created a successful platform. You have a large website, but it also lists a plethora of real-life speaking events. Have you found old-fashioned or new-fashioned author publicity to be more effective?
Great question. I work hard to find and book speaking engagements, and I take the responsibility of giving a presentation (no matter what the makeup of the audience is) very seriously—yet have fun doing it. I go after publicity in any way that makes sense for the speaking engagement. That always involves some form of social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter) and almost always involves me notifying the traditional media as well. The more creative the publicity or the more unusual the story you’re seeking PR for, the better chance you’ll have of coverage. I have found that when the story behind the story is also a good story, the press will pay attention. For example: http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2011/12/edward-is-phoenix-surprise-for-author.html.
6. Your blog focuses largely on the research behind your books. Can you talk a little bit about how you incorporate research into your writing process?
I like to tell stories about people who are not household names even if their accomplishment is famous (i.e. everyone knows Superman but few can name his creators). It makes sense from a marketing perspective (less competition) and it opens up greater possibilities, or so it seems, to stumble upon a meaningful fact that no one else has written about before. That happened multiple times with both my Superman and Batman books. Being a writer means being a detective, and I find the process of hunting for facts exhilarating.
7. You mention having to come to terms with everything going digital. How has that changed what you do and how do you think it will affect your work in the future?
We are already seeing some writers embracing digital. Ultimately, any of us who wants to stay in the business MUST come to terms with the fact that digital WILL substantially diminish the number of print books and bookstores. But whatever the format/medium stories are packaged in is not nearly as important as the quality of the stories themselves. We will always want and need good stories. We as writers may just have to work even harder and get even more creative PR-wise to continue to make enough money from writing.
8. What are your tips to aspiring picture book writers? Cartoonists? Magazine writers?
For aspiring pic book writers: read picture books constantly, read books on the craft of writing, strive to tell stories with vibrant and well-drawn characters, and revise till your fingertips chafe. Do homework before submitting and devote as much energy and cleverness to your queries as to the works themselves. (Similar for magazine writers.)
For aspiring cartoonists, similar: read lots of cartoons in the format you want to pursue (for me, it was gag cartoons) and practice as often as you brush your teeth.
9. What are some of your upcoming events or projects for us to look out for?
Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman is out July 1. At least one tangent project has come out of that, but I can’t say much about it yet; this much I will say: it’s not a print project. I’m shopping around a passion project, a nonfiction picture book on a little-known WWII incident that is nonetheless one of the most riveting true stories I’ve ever heard—and most I tell it to seem to agree. More on that here: http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2011/09/picture-book-for-sale.html. And I have begun another nonfiction picture book that might be considered my first “girl-focused” one.
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope Publishing and Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at katieflanagan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.