In last week’s installment of Comic Revolt, I offered up tips on creating a plan of action to make your comic ideas a reality. This week, we look at how to get your completed story and script ready for the submission process. Again, the focus is on writers for this segment because of the major differences in policy and execution for submissions in the comic book industry.
Submissions are tricky for a few reasons. For starters, not many comic book companies are actively seeking submissions from writers. We will cover the ones still accepting submissions. However, let’s start with the most crucial part of the submission process – the pitch.
The typical advice on pitches is to keep them short and sweet. Your pitch should be able to grab somebody’s attention from the first word and make them want to keep reading your pitch. Sounds simple, right?
For first-timers, that means nothing and does little to provide any direction. Chances are, your story has so many details that are important to you that you can’t boil the story down to just one short and concise sentence that captures the essence of your story.
My first piece of advice after talking with a number of published writers starts with this — develop a log line, which is that short concise sentence explaining your story, before you have fully written out your story outline or synopsis. It will help you focus on the most crucial aspects of what made your story interesting to begin with. In fact, you may want to start with a tagline first, which is your story in a few words.
One of the most famous pitches done as a tagline is for the movie Speed, which was “Die Hard on a Bus.” It’s a brilliant tagline and really conveyed the core idea of the story the writer wanted to tell. Then the log line cuts to the heart of the story by saying, “A young cop must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph.”
That is the heart of the story despite many other elements and components to the story. It covers the five W’s of who, what, where, when, and why while saving the how for those bold enough to read on. A little taste is given to the flavor of the story leaving you wanting more.
And yes, you’re wondering why I’m using a movie example instead of a comic book example. That’s because the Speed pitch gets to the point of the story with (no pun intended) a quickness. On top of that, there are not a lot of comic book pitches out there for public consumption.
You will occasionally find one published in the back of a collector’s edition of a comic book like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight deluxe edition or Garth Ennis‘ The Punisher: Born, but these are almost always from great writers tapping into existing properties. Familiarity works in their favor.
What you can get out of these examples, if you have the chance to look at them, is how they connect the dots with their ideas for the structure of the story told in their synopsis. I’ll give you an example from the Punisher proposal starting with the premise of the story.
[quote]Our story is set in 1972, at Firebase Valley Forge deep in the boonies of Vietnam. The Marine garrison there are tasked with keeping an eye on V.C. and N.V.A. movement in and out of Cambodia, particularly any major enemy attempts to infiltrate large forces into friendly territory and therefore threaten other U.S. positions. In charge is an alcoholic, largely ineffectual Colonel. One of his subordinates is 22-year-old Captain Frank Castle, up to his eyeballs in hell and never more at home than there.[/quote]
Ennis wraps this premise up in a total of three paragraphs that are lean, descriptive, and clearly convey the approach to the story. Proposed as a 4-issue mini-series, he provides a one-paragraph synopsis for each issue that uses the same writing style of lean, descriptive, economy to say exactly what will happen in each issue.
Circumstances for your submission are going to vary depending on who you submit your story to and what you have in mind for your story. Will it be a one-shot, mini-series, ongoing series, or a graphic novel? Adjust your synopsis accordingly, and make sure you carefully examine the submission guidelines for each publishers you are interested in submitting to.
Image Comics wants your pitch, premise and synopsis in no more than a page. In fact, they would prefer you do it all in a paragraph. Boil your ideas down to the basic essence. They will also want a fully drawn, inked, colored, and lettered sample of your story covering at least five pages. If you wrote a strong beginning that shows them what kind of story you’re going to tell ranging from 5-8 pages, you’re in good shape.
Dark Horse Comics will take submissions without artwork if you don’t have the luxury of knowing or being able to afford an artist. Make sure you script is easy to follow when you send it to them, but increase your odds by sending them a fully rendered story the same way Image Comics wants to see. Also, know who edits stories like the one you want to tell so you can mark your submission to their attention. If you have stories you like by either publisher that are in the same genre or style as your story, look at who the editor in those issues is to get an idea of who you want to send your submission to.
There are more publishers out there like Avatar Press or 215 Ink that accept submissions. Do your research and see who is out there. Get out to the smaller conventions where you can put your finished work in front of someone’s face. You will not get the time of day from most publishers at the big box conventions, so look at what’s going in your area where they will be involved.
Follow editors on Facebook and Twitter like Dark Horse Comics’ Scott Allie, who maintains a blog that offers many rich insights into what he looks for in a comic book, how he wants to see it in terms of submissions, and basic etiquette for approaching him or another editor at a convention.
Most importantly, being a writer is not enough. You must be your strongest advocate for your story. Do your research, network in the industry, and keep your eyes peeled for any opportunities. A friend of mine used to say that there was no such thing as luck — chance favors the prepared mind. Be actively involved in your success as a writer.
Check back in next week as Comic Revolt offers up advice on finding an artist for your project next week.
Keep the conversation going with me on Twitter by following @DavidGillette1 or leaving a comment below.