Graphic novels are a steadily growing market, which is exciting to see. These days, more publishers are accepting graphic novel submissions. Some publishers have even started imprints that focus on graphic novels; for instance, First Second at Macmillan, and Graphix at Scholastic. And of course, as more traditional houses are publishing graphic novels, there has been an increase in literary agents taking graphic novel queries.
Since the graphic novel market is still relatively small, guidelines for how to submit them are not always clear. But after speaking to editors and agents that specialize in comics, I was able to identify some common elements that a graphic novel pitch should have. If you’ve been thinking about pitching a graphic novel, then this is the post for you!
A bit of vocabulary before we move on. A graphic novel is a comic. For the purpose of this blog post, I’m using the term “graphic novel” to describe perfect-bound comics. Sometimes these are standalone stories, sometimes they are series, but generally they are paperback or hardcover books of 100 pages or more, as opposed to the monthly saddle-stitch issues you might find in a comic book shop. That said, I believe the guidelines below can also be applied if you are interested in pitching a monthly comic series.
Graphic novel queries are a little different from queries for other books. For one thing, you don’t need to have a completed manuscript. Graphic novels are like non-fiction submissions in that way. What you’re submitting is more like a proposal, and you want to send enough to show the editor or agent that you have a clear direction for the story. For another, the formal query letter you might send for a novel is not strictly necessary, even though your submission includes some of the same elements that a query letter might. That said, query letter etiquette is a good rule to follow when constructing your pitch e-mail (i.e. address the agent/editor by their last name).
Always check the agency or publisher guidelines before submitting. Guidelines may vary from place to place, but the following is what you can expect to include in your graphic novel pitch.
This is a short, one- or two-sentence description of your story. It should include your main characters, the hook of the story, and its central conflict; enough to build interest and make the reader want to keep reading. For ideas on how to write one, take a look at Publisher’s Weekly rights reports. Also include the number of pages you expect the graphic novel to be.
Outline or Synopsis
The outline, or synopsis, is an abbreviated telling of the story. It can be anywhere from just a few paragraphs to one or two pages. Unlike the elevator pitch or a summary, the outline/synopsis is not a teaser. It should tell the full story from beginning to end, including all twists and spoilers.
A Partial Script
Include the first one or two chapters, or roughly the first twenty pages of the script. While the outline or synopsis gives an overview of the full story, the partial script will provide a closer look at your storytelling style and the pace of the book. Note: if you are a writer submitting a graphic novel proposal without an artist, you may be required to send the full script.
Don’t forget to tell them who you are! Your bio should be brief—3 to 5 sentences—and should tell a little about you and any previous work or history worth noting. Be sure to also include any links to your website or relevant work that can be found online (for instance, a webcomic). If the book is a collaboration, include bios for everyone involved.
Now, if you’re an artist or you’re a writer who has an artist attached to your graphic novel project, you will also need to include some art. Some editors and agents do accept pitches from writers without having an artist attached beforehand. However, you might encounter editors and agents who prefer that an artist be involved in the project before they consider it. If you have an artist attached, or you plan to write and draw the book yourself, you will also need to include the following.
Include drawings of notable characters that appear in the story. These can be sketches or fully rendered character sheets.
Sample Comic Pages
Finally, you will need a few pages to demonstrate how you envision the final book will look. Include 5-10 pages of pencil art, with at least 1-2 pages in their fully inked, rendered, or colored forms.
I recommend bundling all of these assets into one or two PDF files, compressed at a low but readable resolution. Remember, this is general advice. Be sure to check the agent or editor’s submission guidelines to determine the best way to send your proposal. Now go forth and pitch!