Oh man you guys, we are getting so close to the end.
So today we’re going to talk about Making a Successful Graphic Novel Pitch. I’ve made a couple that were successful, and I’ve made many that were not successful. Pitching is … well, it’s the worst. I do not enjoy it at all. Creating a story I quite like. Story outlines are tough, but they’re also great fun to assemble, slowly putting in one plot piece after another, like a giant overly complicated puzzle of a landscape (the sky is the hardest part. In this metaphor, the sky is the middle). But anyway, pitching.
Let me start this post by saying once again I am only speaking from personal experience. I’m not an expert on What Makes an Excellent Graphic Novel Pitch, and every time I sit down to write one, I feel like I’m back at square one, without any experience whatsoever. They’re tough to do, because you’re trying to convey a lot through the shortest and most succinct language possible, and you’re also trying to do it in a way that is 1) enthusiastic (“you really want to buy this comic, publisher!”) and 2) clear eyed and cool (“I believe in this project, but I am not acting like it is the second coming of Star Wars because that’s obnoxious and people can see through that hucksterism”).
So to get things started, here is some of the Friends With Boys pitch. It’s not all of it, because the outline contains spoilers for the end, and I wouldn’t want to do that to you. ;) I’m going to put it all behind a cut.
There’s the basic pitch, in a sentence. Girl has messed up family, is haunted. Wants to fix things. It’s the Friends With Boys elevator pitch.
And that’s the FWB story outline! It’s not super detailed (and you can see where it’s changed from the first version of FWB to the current version), but it shows I have a good idea of what kind of story I want to tell, and the publisher I’m pitching to can judge whether or not it’s the kind of story they want to publish.
I also did character outlines for Friends With Boys: Page 1 / Page 2 / Page 3 / Page 4. These were to flesh out the characters and story a little bit beyond the storyline, which is quite short. Anyway. UGH MY OLD ARTWORK. I did this pitch back in 2008, and wow, do I hate how it looks. Ew, those giant Powerpuff Girls style eyes. Not cool. It’s not a style I look back on fondly at all.
Based on this very short pitch, First Second Books bought Friends With Boys. And let me stress, it was VERY UNEXPECTED. At the time, I was drawing Brain Camp (so I had a relationship with First Second; they knew me and were working with me), but I wasn’t thinking about the comic I wanted to draw afterwards. Friends With Boys was a Minx pitch, and I still kind of hoped that maybe Minx would pick it up. I’d newly signed up with my agent, Bernadette Baker-Baughman and mentioned I had this pitch lying around. She wanted to pitch it to First Second, which I was certainly up for, even though I hadn’t finished drawing Brain Camp, and couldn’t really see past working on that book (I was really young and innocent back then! Now I know to start hustling for your next comic gig years in advance, because it can take ages for a book to get picked up). A month after First Second first saw the pitch, they bought it, much to my surprise. It happened really really fast, I think in about the span of a couple days.
Originally, we (my agent and I) were planning to spend more time on the pitch, and put together sequentials (a couple of sampled comic pages from the pitch to show to the publisher, so they’d get an idea of what the comic would look like), but Friends With Boys sold so fast we didn’t need to do that. It was a really crazy, awesome moment, picking up the phone and hearing Bernadette say “First Second has made an offer on Friends With Boys” and me being all “What does that mean?”
So, to recap, A Successful Comic Pitch (Faith Hicks style), has a few solid elements:
1) A clear, concise storyline with a beginning, middle and end. Show you know where your story is going and what’s going to happen along the way.
2) Character bios. Show who these people are, their character arcs, successes and failures.
3) Attractive artwork showing how the comic will look. Sometimes this is sequential work, sometime it’s just spot illustration, as seen in the FWB pitch. I think this depends on whether or not you are pitching to a publisher who knows you verses one who doesn’t. Pitches to publishers who don’t know you (I think) would probably benefit from sequentials. I tend to think about 10 pages of sequentials (I did 15 pages for Zombies Calling, which was published by SLG), in with character, setting and storyline are clearly indicated, is best.
I’ve noticed if you search literary and agent blogs, you can find many sites that offer advice (and some of them are very good) on putting together a good pitch, especially writing summaries and selling your story in a few well thought out words. I recommend reading those sites, as they are very helpful. There’s another element to this that … well, it’s more of a personal suspicion, so you may take it with a grain of salt: I think it’s important to be flexible with your pitches, and not to be overly attached to them.
I think it’s very important to want to create comics that you are personally invested in, rather than doing some ridiculous cash grab (as if such a thing exists in comics! There is no money in comics … maybe Watchmen 2?), but I also think it’s important to be aware of what kind of comics work well in this market, and what might be appealing to the publisher you want to work with. I actually have a variety of pitches I keep tucked away on my computer, ready to spring out at a moments notice. Some of them have been rejected by various publishers, but they’re all projects I like, and I like to keep them ready, because you never know when they might be the right project for another publisher. Basically, if one pitch is rejected, be ready with another one. After all, originally Friends With Boys was created specifically for DC Comics’ Minx line. That didn’t happen, so I modified the pitch and First Second picked it up, and I think they’re a much better home for this book.
So that is pitching! I feel maybe I have left some stuff out … if there are any questions please send them my way via the comments and I’ll try to get back to you.
Oh, one other thing I want to address, as a couple people asked about it: Some folks wanted to know about drawing a comic for a publisher, especially when you have a fulltime job or school, and aren’t able to commit to the comic full time. I think it’s very important for you to be upfront with your publisher about your schedules, and to be realistic with yourself about how many pages you can actually do a month. I drew both Zombies Calling and The War at Ellsmere when I was working a fulltime job, so I drew about 10 pages a month, and finished both those comics in about 9 months. Publishers expect you to have jobs other than drawing comics; it’s rare this will be your fulltime job, and I’ve yet to meet one that isn’t flexible, as long as you are honest with them. If you get a book deal to draw a comic, and can only do 10 pages a month, make sure that’s clear to your publisher, so they can schedule accordingly. If 10 pages a month is too much, tell your publisher and they should be willing to work with you. I’ve yet to work with a publisher who acted like a dick about schedules. Once I made comics my fulltime job, my relationship with publishers changed, because I relied on them to pay my rent, but when I was working in animation and doing comics on the side, as long as I was producing a few pages a month and inching towards the finish line, my publishers were happy.
It’s something to remember: Publishers (unless they are horrible, and I have never worked with a horrible publisher) are on your side. It pays to have an honest, symbiotic relationship with them and produce the best, most salable comics you can. Because then you both make money and can make even more comics together! Yay!