After receiving a few dozen submissions for our summer anthology it became clear pretty quickly that there aren’t many guidelines out there for how to submit a comic book pitch. Based on some exemplary pitches I received and some pretty abysmal ones that came in (like a link with nothing else in the email and appeared to be pointing to a Russian virus site. Was it the greatest cartoonist of our generation? I’ll never know, I’m not going to click on it), I thought I’d put up some rough guidelines for how to sell yourself through your submission. I expect I’ll be updating this page as I get more submissions and see more examples of both good and bad.
Above all else, remember a publisher/editor’s time is valuable. Sure, it doesn’t cost you anything to send a submission, but it DOES cost the editor his or her time. OF COURSE it would be cool to see your comic book on the stand at your local comic shop but at the same time, your publisher isn’t interested in doing you a favor, they’re trying to make money (or at least not lose it all) selling comics. So before you click “send” on that pitch, you have to be REALLY honest and ask yourself: would a stranger who doesn’t know me choose my book over the copy Batman or Spider-Man sitting next to it on the shelf? If the answer isn’t yes, spend the time it takes until it is.
“Dear Submissions Editor, my name is…and I have a great comic you may be interested in about…” goes a long way, even if you don’t have professional credits to your name. Remember, this is a resume. Hold your creative endeavors to the same level of professionalism you would for your full-time job. You’re introducing yourself to a complete stranger and whatever quirks or tics are present in your pitch are going to be interpreted as a commentary on your skills and character. Not fair? Then get it right in your submission.
Pick a format! It can be whatever makes sense to you (as long as it’s readable), but don’t bounce back and forth between bullets, paragraphs, and semaphore. Consistency is key, and if you’re scattered in your pitch you’re going to be scattered in your comic.
SPELL-CHECK (AND PROOFREAD)
This shouldn’t be something anyone has to hear after high school, but there you go. Again, your pitch is a an example of how you communicate. If you can’t communicate in a submission you can’t be expected to communicate in a story.
MAKE A CHECKLIST
If you’re sending in a submission — especially to a publisher that is specifically requesting them — make sure you include everything they ask for! That could be contact information, sample art that goes with your pitch, whatever. Make a list and make sure everything they want is included. This is the type of attention to detail that will definitely endear you to an editor. And once that editor is on your side good things start to happen.
SPOIL THE ENDING
Your (potential) editor or publisher IS NOT your audience. Secrets hurt your pitch more than they help. You want to include every cool thing that makes your story special and worth paying attention to! An editor can’t take you at your word because “then something really crazy happens!” isn’t tantalizing in the same way as it is to a reader. You want to lay out the story beats and their significance, and when it comes time the publisher will help you tease it out to your audience.
HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Once you get past the pitch stage and start talking logistics, remember when dealing with a publisher if you accept money you’re giving up some of your rights. That, literally, is what the publisher is buying from you, and you will never, EVER come across a deal where a publisher buys your story, pays (and does the work!) to print and distribute it, and then hands you 100% of the money. There’s a name for that type of deal, and it’s called self-publishing.
Of course, not every publisher wants to own all your characters, the movie rights, and your soul, either. We certainly don’t, we just want to publish great comics. But even so, the publishing rights are a thing you have to relinquish just to get a book printed. Each deal is different, but know going in what you’re willing to part with and what you’re not.
A few other links to some submission tips from comics industry pros that lay down the truth:
– Googling “Marvel Tips and Tweets” brings up terrific advice from CB Cebulski
He also went into great detail on his blog
– Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter knows of what he speaks
– Erik Larsen speaks at length about how the Image contract works, as well as the best way to put a submissions package together. It’s summarized here and gets a little repetitive, but some things just need to be beaten into minds, and sometimes tough love is best.