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Finding Work

Sara Linsley edited this page Nov 11, 2022 · 24 revisions

Outline:


Finding Work

Getting an assignment as a freelance letterer is mostly luck, as there are so many things going on internally at every publisher that you have no control over.

It will be much easier if you follow these few rules:

  1. Be nice. To fans, to other people in the industry, to yourself. Just be nice.
  2. Leave a good impression. In your application, in your work, in your emails.
  3. Be patient when you have no work, and be kind to yourself when you have too much.
  4. Be nice.

Keep in mind that some clients hire freelancers specifically just to retouch art, so if you don't want to fiddle with fonts, that might be a good option for you.

Finding Work as a Beginner

Research

Read manga, even if it's just the free preview pages. Find letterers whose style you admire, and look up what else they've worked on. Find publishers who are publishing the kinds of things you want to work on. Find the differences between each publisher's house style.

With some exceptions, whichever publishers are announcing the most licenses and releasing the most books will be easier to find work with.

Lettering Test

Most publishers and agencies have a lettering test that they will send you to determine whether or not you would be a good fit. It will contain art files (or an InDesign file with the art already placed), a script, and a style guide. The style guide or instructions should explain exactly what they're looking for, but here are some of the skills that they may be testing you on:

If you have any questions or the instructions are unclear, don't be afraid to ask for clarification. The test is also gauging your communication skills, and it's very possible they accidentally left some things out.

Portfolio

You can find resources on how to build a portfolio elsewhere on the internet, so instead here are some areas of expertise that it would be good to highlight in your portfolio:

  • publishing
  • comics
  • graphic design
  • drawing/illustration
  • anything involving InDesign, Photoshop, and CSP

You do not need to show manga pages in your portfolio, so if you have prior work in scanlations, do not use them. This is a really sensitive topic in the industry, and you want to put your best foot forward. Show your capability in the skills listed above by other means. You will likely have to take a lettering test, anyway.

Practice Files

I occasionally run lettering challenges on Twitter. I made these images, and anyone is free to use them for practicing. Also feel free to put them in your portfolio if you'd like.

Additionally, here are some of the raw files used in my Retouching guide that you can practice with:

I also run lettering challenges, and you can find the files here:

Social Media

Make a professional account and follow the publishers you'd like to work with on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Some smaller publishers semi-frequently post lettering openings, and letterers often retweet them.

Visit publishers’ websites, and look for instructions for prospective letterers. Most of them have an email address you can contact. Do note that it can take months to get a response, and even more months to get an assignment, because of the cyclical nature and long lead time with publishing.

Here are some manga publishers' websites and twitter accounts, as of May 2022:

(* actively posts freelance openings on their social media / website)

Agencies

Publishers frequently look to agencies to hire letterers and translators. As with any industry, working through an agency means you will be paid less in return for work. Agencies can help you build a body of work, as well as providing you with a constant stream of work, so they can be ideal for new letterers.

Beware that some agencies pay very, very low. If you are unsure about whether or not a rate is fair, reach out privately to other manga letterers for advice.

The industry is constantly changing, so check out the copyright page of manga you enjoy reading to build a list of agencies and publishers to contact.

Do's and Don't's

Do make friends! Comics is a rough industry, and everyone who works in it genuinely loves comic books. There are lots of really cool people.

Do not feel like you need prior experience in manga to get work. New folks get in all the time, and you do not need to have experience in lettering manga by any means. Refer to the section on lettering tests for more info.

Do not beg for work from people who work at publishers on their personal social media accounts. They're probably not in charge of hiring, and this is extremely unprofessional.

Do not compare an illegal version you worked on to the official version as a way to show your skill. Telling a potential client that their work is bad in an unsolicited manner is extremely unprofessional.

Do not feel like you have to accept a sub-livable wage to break into the industry. It drives down wages for everyone, and manga lettering is an expensive job to work.

Finding Work as an Experienced Letterer

Whether you have dozens of titles under your belt or only a few, at some point you might find yourself in need of more work. Here's an ordered list of tactics:

  1. Email your contacts to let them know that you have additional availability, and be as specific as you'd like. There might be a rush project next week that you'd be perfect for, or you might just put yourself on that person's radar for when they assign work for the upcoming months.
  2. Find publishers you'd like to work with, and contact them for work. Refer to the beginner's section of this guide for more info. Note that publishers that are releasing a ton of books and announcing even more will be good candidates to try to find work with.
  3. Ask people in your network for a referral and advice. Someone might be willing to advocate for the quality of your work, or they might have tailored advice on how to get work with specific clients.

Expenses Breakdown

Lettering work has many expenses that the freelancer is expected to cover, and you should consider all of these when calculating your page rate. Here are some common expenses and their estimated costs. Please keep in mind that all prices are in USD as of 2022 and may vary by region.

Item Cost (Est.)
High Speed Internet $50 - $100 per month
Computer with a Powerful GPU $700 - $2500
High Resolution Display $300 - 500
Adobe Creative Cloud $52 - $80 per month
Drawing Tablet $50 - $2000
Fonts $20 - $200 per year

Expect to spend $2,300 - $5,000 in your first year on equipment. You may be able to save money if you are a student, or you already have a decent computer and monitor. However, you will have to replace or repair equipment eventually, and you should be saving towards that.

Some additional expenses to consider as a freelancer are:

  • An ergonomic desk, keyboard, and mouse
  • Tax preparation and accounting
  • 30% of all income put aside for taxes*
  • Health insurance and medical care
  • Retirement savings
  • Inflation
  • Research material (comics, etc)
  • Additional software, like Microsoft Office, Clip Studio Paint, and Lazy Nezumi / Hej Stylus

(* this is just an estimate and you should consult a tax professional for advice)