Saturday, February 13, 2016

On Submitting to Publishers

Being a publisher, this is something I have to deal with all the time.  I usually try to provide personal responses to submissions because I know in many cases, the person is summoning up their courage and putting themselves on the line and a generic form letter can be rather cold.  But I have to admit, sometimes I get so over-whelmed with them, that I also have to resort to a form letter.  I figure it’s better to at least get a response than none at all.

Most of the time, I find myself pointing out the same problems over and over again so I keep telling myself that I really should just put together something that I can send out to indicate what and why something might have been inappropriate or off-target.  So, that’s what this is…I’ll put it on my blog so that I can just point people there and if anyone stumbles across it before they send out a submission, it may prove to be helpful.

But first off, there is no single way of submitting.  Every company has their nuances and some have very specific procedures.  Although I am trying to make this as generic as possible, obviously, it’s going to hone in on me and Caliber.  However, I’ll try to expand that to others. 

Of course, there are two completely different processes dependent on what you’re trying to accomplish.  If you’re submitting to the major publishers, and for this, I’ll consider those to be Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, and Dark Horse…it’s a whole different set of parameters.  Image fits in to some degree because they do creator owned books whereas IDW and Dark Horse, may do some, but they’re mostly reliant on licenses and the creator owned books they tend to do are well established creators embarking on personal projects.  That’s not absolute, of course, but generally and when you try to do something “in general”, you can’t cover every contingency.

If you’re just submitting a script or pencils or inks…then you have to make sure the company you’re dealing with is looking for those.  Almost all publishers have submission guidelines so check those out.  I want to primarily focus on creator owned projects as that is what most creators are looking for.

Follow the guidelines

This rule is actually fairly simple.  If they have the guidelines, follow them. Explicitly.  You’re not likely to be an exception to the rule so don’t approach it that way.  I know that Image Comics has a very specific guideline for submitting comics.  I forget who said it, someone who was in charge of Image at the time, but they felt if someone could not even bother following the guidelines, what else would they not follow?  That’s a good point.  I have a friend of mine who wanted to submit to Image but since he was already published a few times, he felt like he shouldn’t have to go through the process.  Well, that’s the procedure and you either follow it or you don’t.  So, the number rule is always read the guidelines.  It’s like I tell students in my laboratory courses, read the manual…reading opens up the world for you.  So, read the guidelines.  Emphasis is NOT being over-stated.

Sending in Actual submission

Outside of the specific guidelines, there are some general considerations.  Keep it short and to the point.  A one-page synopsis is more than enough.  No one wants to read a script and just like the comics themselves, it’s better to show than tell.

Indicate how many pages/issues or whether it’s a OGN.  If it is previously published material, be up front about it.  Show what you have and anticipated schedule for the rest if not finished.  I tend to hold off on things that aren’t even close to being finished because if you send me 1 issue out of 6, I have no idea how long it took that one issue to get done.  I know some creators feel that if they have a commitment from a publisher, they’ll work faster and on a tighter schedule, but honestly, I rarely see that actually happening.

Best bet is to send a low res PDF as an attachment OR a dropbox link to where a pdf is.  At this point, I think it is probably better to list what NOT to do.
  • Do NOT send a link to deviant art to see some pages
  • Do NOT send a link to your site or FB so the publisher can “find” it
  • Do NOT send a ton of images separately.
  • Do NOT send super large files so it can be seen at maximum quality
  • Do NOT send via a file sharer that the publisher has to sign up for to retrieve the file
If you’re not going to go through the trouble of putting together a package, you can count on a publisher not being too interested to having search your material out.  I know I won’t.

Know your audience…and your publisher.

Make sure you have an idea of what the publisher actually publishes. Caliber is a pretty diverse company in terms of type of material but not all publishers are.  And even we don’t publish everything.  I tend to be very reluctant on superheroes, manga, martial arts comics, issue long fight scenes, or space operas.  I’m not a big fan of “funny animals” either.  That doesn’t mean it will be an automatic no but it will probably take more convincing to get me on board. And you probably would not believe how many times I’ve heard, “yes, it’s superheroes, but this is really different.”  It’s different because it’s yours, and I understand that.  But I haven’t seen anything even remotely revolutionary come to me in a long, long time.

For Writers!

You’re not going to like this.  It is really hard for writers to break in on their own, after all, comics is a visual medium.  You may have the best idea there is on paper but if it’s not in comic format, it doesn’t really mean anything. I’d say that the most common submission I get in is from writers who have a great idea, a great script, a great novel for adaptation, etc.  It can be frustrating for writers and many just feel if they could just get someone to read their stuff, it would be picked up.  Sorry, no.  I often get film scripts or novelists who send me their project and want us to find artists to do the work, handle the payments, and often times, even break it down to comic script.  In other words, it would be a licensed property but one on something that doesn’t have any awareness built around it.  You have to ask what the publisher would get out of it? 

I know writers have it tough but one thing you do NOT want to do is to put just any artist on it, just to get it visual. If the art is weak, then very few people are going to struggle through to read the story.  In today’s comic world, there is actually a lot more leniency for art than there used to be.  But the artist still has to have something…if they have weak anatomy but good storytelling skills, it might be passable…depends on the reader.  But when you have flat art that’s anatomically off and with six panels grid on every page with either a straight on torso shot or head shot, I don’t care how good the story is, the reader is unlikely to stay long enough to engage.  Don’t assume an artist, any artist, is going to reveal your story enough to cover up the art deficiencies.

Be realistic in length

So many writers present sagas that they will expect to go on for years.  What Dave Sim did with his 300 issues of Cerebus is pretty damn remarkable and not likely to be repeated too often.   If someone presents me with a series that is going to take 24-36 issues to tell the story, well, I’m not interested.  Break it down to smaller chunks and make it more self-contained.  Of course, you can continue it but you have to think about packaging it into graphic novel size increments.  Also, think of the artist.  Often times, the saga is the brainchild of a writer who brings in the artist.  Well, it takes a lot longer for the artist to do the book and if they aren’t making enough money in the long run, you can’t expect them to stay on it.  Most freelance artists are capable of doing something bi-monthly depending on their schedules…and that’s an optimistic outlook.  So, a 24 issue saga is a commitment from an artist for 4-5 years.  Not likely to happen unless the revenues are enough to sustain the artist.  Remember, most of the time, it is the artist that drives the book.  It is what people see, the schedule is dictated by the artist, and usually where the majority of the payment goes…and rightfully so.

Payment and Rights

Most of the publishers you would likely deal with are royalties only which means you get paid a percentage of profits.  Make sure everything is spelled out exactly on what determines profit and what the split is.  I’m not going to go into contract details here but always make sure you are aware on how the payment works.  If you need a page rate, be up front about it.  Some may pay, others can’t or won’t.  But to save everyone’s time, that should be stated up front, not after acceptance.

Also, pay attention to the length of the contract and what rights the publisher has to the material besides just the initial publishing.  Most of them will also want the digital comic rights as that is an extension of publishing.  Most will also want foreign rights of reprinting and you’d likely want them to have that as they’ll have a much better chance of hooking up with foreign publishers as a company than you will as an individual.  I was so frustrated one time when we were packaging a book up for a major publisher and the creator’s lawyer said the publisher could not have the rights to represent for foreign publishing.  It killed the deal.  Now that book deal is completely dead and will likely never be done.  Think about the rights you grant…can you do what a publisher can?  Conversely, it is YOUR property and you don’t want to lose control over it…so make sure everything is spelled out.  But contract situations are another conversation in of itself.

Sort of accepted…

You may get a positive response but with conditions.  A publisher may say, yes, they’re interested but they have a problem with a part of it and request that it be fixed.  I think in most cases, and this is definitely true in my case, that submissions are an all or none situation.  However, there have been times where the submission was really close but had one or two areas that needed to be fixed.  If a publisher comes back to you with that, well, it’s up to you.  On one hand, someone is asking to change something that you’ve done but on the other hand, if a publisher says its wrong---whatever it is for whatever reason---well, you have to evaluate that.  Sometimes it’s a minor thing.  I had this one guy send me a book that I was all prepared to do but when reading it, there was confusion about what the characters were saying due to the writer trying to get too clever with the accents and dialogue. I can accept accents and even bad grammar with certain characters but here, the writer refused to change incorrect grammar and wrong use of words.  He made an ultimatum that I wouldn’t tell him one single word to change, so it was never published by us.  In fact, I don’t think it was ever published but it does explain why this 40-year-old writer still lives with his mom. 

So, look at the criticism and decide if its valid or not and whether you can live with it or not.  It’s always your decision but make sure you’re not going to regret it one way or the other.

So, you get rejected…

Basically…so what?  It happens.  The key thing to remember is that you were rejected…well, that sounds harsh…let’s say you were turned down… by ONE person.  Sometimes a reason is given, sometimes not.  It could be the wrong genre, too similar to another project, just doesn’t fit in, personal preference…whatever.  The obvious response on your end would be too find out.  Most publishers are not going to get into a critique and a conversation about a rejected project.  It’s too time consuming.  Don’t ask to find out what needs to be changed so you can re-submit.  If you did the project the way you wanted it to, don’t change it for one person in hopes of getting it published. Obviously, if it is something that is “close” and a minor change will correct things, that’s different.  But the publisher would probably indicate that to you.  Often times a rejection is because the publisher just didn’t like it that much.  That can be due to quality issues, of course, but sometimes, things just don’t mesh. 

Most importantly, don’t take it personally.  Yeah, when your work is rejected, it can feel like it’s you being rejected and no matter how much your head understands, it can still sting.  Don’t nag the publisher or else they’re likely not to respond in the future as they don’t want to open a dialogue about every submission.

Final thoughts
One thing that might seem disheartening is my constant reminders that publishers do not want to…or will not…spend a lot of time on submissions.  The reason is that it is very time consuming and publishers are in the business of publishing, not evaluating.  For every serious relationship that develops with a submitter, there are dozens that end up eating up time.  For every creator who is actually “close”, there are dozens who are in various states of dreams and delusions.  We don’t have time to read your novel of 372 pages to tell you if it will make a good comic, we don’t have time to go through your 652 page “bible” and find out what the good elements are for the first book, we don’t have time to tell an artist what’s wrong with every single panel on a 40-page comic., we don’t have time to tell you who you should print with, we don’t have time to tell you how to start a publishing company.  And I know those sound like exaggerations but those are all actual requests I have gotten in the last month or so.
Like anything else, there are industry aspects that will reveal themselves as you get more involved.  There are a number of blog sites that can give you tips and quite a few books on getting into the business whether as a writer or an artist.  I can recommend two and yes, they’re ones published by Caliber.  I’ve read these and I know they’re valuable.  Sure, there could be many more out there but I have not read those so I can’t recommend them.  The thing about these two books is they’re completely different.  Steve Jones’ Book on writing comics is a technical look at writing whereas Dirk Manning’s book is understanding many of the aspects of getting and being in the business.  They complement each other well.


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