We’ve got a treat for you today—12 things to look out for to protect yourself from getting cheated as an indie creator. We’ll analyze the story of James Burton, a comics creator and indie film consultant who got royally screwed by his friend, and share some ways you can avoid getting scammed, too!

Listen to the podcast, or read the quick tips below.


Thing 1: People leaving is a red flag.

If no one wants to work with the person you’re starting to work with, there might be a reason. Look out for people dropping out of long-term projects for “no reason.”

Thing 2: Previous litigations

If the person you’re about to work with has a bunch of court cases pending, they might end up getting into one with you. Look into this before you sign a contract. Speaking of which…

Thing 3: Have a written contract.

They say good fences mean good neighbors. Have a written contract for everything you do, before you start working. Refusal is a red flag!

Thing 4:  Clarify right away, even if they’re your friend.

If you thought you would be doing X number of panels for X number of dollars, and your friend says something that indicates they understood otherwise, SPEAK OUT! One of Burton’s biggest regrets is that he didn’t speak up when he first started to notice his expectations were different from his partner’s.

Thing 5: Have an exit clause.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst: work out ahead of time what you’ll do if one of you gets upset at the other. Plan an exit clause to protect yourself!

Thing 6: Educate yourself on what you’re worth.

You’ll be better at negotiating your indie comics or indie film contract if you know what kind of money people usually make for your quality of work. Be realistic. Maybe even have a third party appraise your work!

Thing 7: Have realistic goals

If the person you’re working with has unrealistic goals, you might want to take a step back and evaluate why you want to work with them. Burton says this was one of the main reasons he was overworked: a partner who thinks his work is the next Holy Bible won’t necessarily take feedback from you during the project, and will question your loyalty if you’re not 100% obedient. That could be a problem.

Thing 8: Have an accountant.

Yeah, it costs extra, but a third party can protect you. This might be hard to do when you start out, but over time you’re going to need it to make sure everything both of you do is legal.

Thing 9: Educate yourself on payment structures.

James says to consider asking for token percentage, but beware net percentage contracts vs deferred contracts. We have a long discussion about indie comics vs. indie film, and why we like net percentage for some things. Basically, you can make money off of royalties, off of profit, or get paid up front. Usually, you want to be paid up front, unless you’re going to own some creative rights or have a stake in the business. Don’t work on spec. (Insert foil arms and hog “working for free” clip here). One interesting model for an indie film company might be the acting troupe model, where everyone puts in a percentage of investment in the project, even the actors, and everyone then takes a cut of that in profits.

Thing 11: Say business vs friend.

What’s most important to you: the business you’re about to undertake, or the friendship? Protect both with a solid contract, but realize that you may have to choose. Know what you want in case of a crisis ahead of time and act on it.

Thing 12: Be honest with yourself.

If it smells bad, back away. On the other hand, sometimes it’s good to give something new a chance—just do a lot of honest research, and make sure to get a lot of sleep before making any decisions. Have outsiders evaluate the situation. Honesty and integrity may not immediately give you money, but they will protect your indie film or indie comics career in the long run.

To see more of James Burton’s work, visit his facebook page.

Keep creating!

Jen and Sam


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