Chris Schweizer on Pitching a Graphic Novel

Chris Schweizer is the ridiculously talented cartoonist behind the Crogan Adventure Series from Oni Press and a professor of Sequential Art at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta.  He also has great tips on how to drink for cheap while at conventions.

I attended Chris’s panel on “Pitching a Graphic Novel” at this year’s HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC.  And it was really refreshing to hear from someone like Chris, a professional who has been through the process, share a lot of his wisdom.  He walked us through the process of pitching original graphic novels to publishers.  What follows is based on my notes from the talk, not direct quotes from Chris.

STEP 1: DO YOUR RESEARCH

The first thing you have to figure out is which publisher is right for your project.  There are a lot of publishers out there.  Each one has a specialty.  The key is to read a lot of comics. If you don’t have the cash, your local library is a great place to start.  Which publisher has similar books to yours thematically, aesthetically, and/or tonally?

STEP 2: GET YOUR FEET WET

A great place to start is with short stories or mini-comics.  8-20 page comics, self-contained.  If you’re not an artist, get creative – use stick figures or partner with an artist – but just concentrate on telling the best story possible.

These quick reads are easy, non-threatening ways to introduce people to your work.

STEP 3: MEET PEOPLE

Go to conventions.  Meet editors at publisher booths.  Approach when they are slow.  Introduce yourself.  BUY THEIR BOOKS.  Hand them your mini-comics.  Be nice and professional.  Think of it like a first date, don’t try to sell them on marriage, just make a friend.

Schweizer list of “Best Conventions for Networking”: MOCCA, SPX, Heroes, Emerald City, and Baltimore.

STEP 4: SELF PUBLISH

A great way to get noticed is to just do it yourself.  If you have a story to tell, don’t wait for anyone’s permission.  Put it up on the web.  Build your own audience.  Make the publishers come to you.

STEP 5: THE PITCH

First check with each publisher to see if they accept unsolicited submissions.  Some companies do (and you can find this info on their websites) but a lot don’t.  That is, if they didn’t ask for it, you can’t send it.  That’s why the networking portion of this is so important.  You can get to know these editors so that when you have a pitch ready, it’s a matter of asking a friend if they’d like to read it.

Once you do have permission from the editor, send them an email with a LINK to your pitch.  Attachments often get bogged down in SPAM or overload mailbox size limits.

WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PITCH:

1. Cover Letter (1 page) –

    • Your relationship with the editor – Have you met before?  Where at?  What books of theirs do you connect with?
    • Thank them for requesting. 
    • “Back of the DVD” description – A brief synopsis of your story dwindled down to a few sentences.  Think of it as leaving a movie and someone asking you what it was about.
    • Why the book exists –  Why is it important to you?  Why is it personal?  What’s your emotional connection to the material?
    • Your plans for the book – Page count, color or bw, time frame, series or stand alone, other companies that might have requested your pitch, reviews if you have them.

2. Finished sample pages (3-5 pages) – Sequential pages, in order, but can be from any spot in the book.

3. Outline (5-15 pages).  A tight story outline walking through all the beats of your story including the ending.  Don’t just describe the world, but focus on the character arc.  Hit the emotional beats.

4. Character descriptions (if needed) – If your story has a lot of characters that you think are difficult to keep separated, a character description sheet might be helpful.

Thanks to Chris for the info!

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