Meet the Industry – Calum Laird of Commando Comics

Calum Laird, Commando comics
Callum is editor at DC Thomson’s Commando. Commando is currently one of the longest running comic books in the world, having clocked up more than 4400 issues in the last fifty years – an impressive achievement by anyone’s standards! Callum manages the worldwide team of talent who combine to make Commando what it is. From the very start, Commando has been exported worldwide and translated into numerous languages. Commando is published eight times a month by DC Thomson and are always on the look out for new talented writers to join their team. If you’re keen to give it a go – Click for details.

What sort of books do you love?

I like well-written books, fact or fiction, text or comics. The quality is the thing.

Have you ever opened a new manuscript, read a single page, and thought ‘I’m going to end up making an offer on this’? What was it about that page which excited you?

Most of the initial pitches that I open are around 1500 words so knowing by the end of the first page is quite common. It has happened, though, that the first page was pretty dull, the second equally so, and then the author has rescued the whole thing with a fabulous twist on the final sheet.

What’s your pet peeve on covering letters?

There are probably too many to mention…High up there is a letter which tells me what my publication is about and why this submission is ideal. This almost universally means the submission will be based on an erroneous assumption of what my publication is about and therefore the submission couldn’t be more unsuitable. Another is a letter stating clearly that although the submission attached is on a subject which my publication doesn’t cover, it should cover it.

Are you most drawn to beautiful writing? Or a wonderful plot? Or a stunning premise? Or what?

The plot and the premise are the things. A killer premise and a compelling plot can overcome a clunky style, beautiful writing with no substance cannot.

Tell us how you like writers to submit work to you. And how you’d like them not to submit work.

I like them to conform to our guidelines. Anything else is a nuisance in a busy office.

Where do most of your authors come from? The slushpile? Personal recommendation? Or what?

Some I’ve inherited from the previous editor, the rest have volunteered themselves.

Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors?

Without a doubt. It doesn’t mean you have to meet them for coffee every morning but you must be available to discuss thing with them — relating to work and to broader aspects of life. What’s more you should be approachable enough that they know they can discuss these things with you whilst at the same time respecting your professional judgement.

What’s the most important part of your job? Is it editing/shaping the manuscript? Selling the manuscript? Or supervising the publication process?

All of the above except selling the manuscript. I buy the manuscript and try to sell the finished product to thousands of others with the help of a large team, but I have to shape the work and bring all the disparate elements together to give the team something to work with.

Do you get involved in shaping an author’s career?

No. I might pass on a contact or a rumour but then it’s up to the author.

If you had one bit of advice to give to new writers, what would it be?

When submitting to a publication, make sure you really know what that publication’s needs are and make sure you know what format it is acceptable to submit your work in. No point in working out a 10,000 word comic script, typing it, and not having it read because a 1,000 word synopsis is all that’s needed and all that an editorial team have time to look at.

Are e-books going to bring about fundamental changes to the publishing industry? What would you say if one of your authors wanted to e-publish their next book, cutting out conventional publishers altogether?

E-books are going to fundamentally change publishing, it’s already started. There is a huge opportunity for the democratisation of publishing by removing the need to convince an industry and its representatives of the worth of any work.  Any writer can go straight to the audience. That said, if a writer wanted to e-publish I’d still advise them to try to interest a publisher in their material. The World Wide Web is a big place and unless you are a one-woman or man publicity machine you book is likely to end up seen by only a few friends and family.

Have you enjoyed reading more since starting your job? Or are there times it feels like a chore?

I’ve never stopped enjoying reading. The furthest I get from it is voice radio.

The grim stats: how many submissions do you get per week (or year)? And how many new authors do you take on?

Because of my publication schedule, I have to buy a minimum of one new manuscript every week. I probably get two pitches for that gap. Unfortunately life doesn’t run regularly, so one week I could get 10 pitches. It’s my judgement to work out how many of them I need to tide me over the fallow fortnights.

Do you like your authors to tweet & blog & Facebook … or do you really not care?

Authors can do what they like in this respect, after all, they are individual businesses in their own right and need to advertise. As the editor of a publication with a confirmed publishing schedule, though, I prefer them to keep quiet about the details of stories until close to issue date. Anything else is fair game.

Which is most important: the editor, the publisher or the advance?

Plainly I’m going to say the editor because I am one. But I work for a publisher and they pay the bills. For me, the most important thing is the plot, I don’t care who or where it comes from, as long as it comes and it’s a winner.

Do you secretly have a book in you? And if so, tell us more …

Yes, and I’ll write it when I retire. You have but nine years to wait.

Calum is appearing at this year’s Festival of Writing. Don’t miss your chance to attend his workshop or book a one-to-one session with him.

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