So, you wrote a script. And upon re-reading it makes a modicum of sense and you think even folks who aren’t your parents will like it. And you’ve somehow coerced an artist to pencil you some pages, an inker and colorist to add some panache and a letterer to make the whole thing sing. Or, maybe you’re one of those rare and beautiful creatures that can handle all that stuff on your own. Either way, you’ve got at least a handful of honest-to-Mignola comic pages under your belt and in your possession. Don’t get me wrong, everything I just listed is the result of months of labor and buckets of sweat and sometimes tears. I’ll likely find some time to devote a column to all of those things in the future. For today, all of those things have one thing in common: They’re fun! Well, compared to the part that comes next, they are.
Once you’ve got those comic pages in hand a chunk of that fun goes out the window. Now you gotta make some tough choices. Are you content just having a finished product? Are you content self-publishing and using any of a variety of services to make that happen? If you are, be patient. I’ve got a whole column on self-publishing coming up. This is for those of you who aren’t interested in striking out on your own. For those folks, the next step is….THE SUBMISSION PROCESS! Now, I’m no great shakes in the comic business. But I’ve done a fair share of submitting and had a huge amount of rejections show up in my inbox. Through all of that experience, I’ve gotten the opportunity to talk to several editors and publishers and gotten feedback on many aspects of the submitting process. Here’s what I’ve learned and a list of every company I’ve had any personal experience submitting to or dealing with, good and bad. Please remember that a lot of this stuff is anecdotal and represents only my experience.
The first thing to keep in your back pocket is that you’re most likely going to get rejected. It happens to all of us. All the time. Don’t take it personally and don’t get upset. Be happy that an editor even bothered to send you a note at all. Lots don’t. Send them back a brief thank you for their time and that’s it. Don’t plead your case or anything like that. Keep at it and you’ll get to do this:
That’s me doing a signing at my LCS. I had a really good time and my wife brought cookies. You can just see them to the left there….Anyway, enough gratuitous self-congratulating. There’s a few things you should have in hand before you bother starting the submission process. First, write a good cover letter. Here’s an example of one I previously used:
Dear Sir or Madam,
Attached please find a complete copy of “Up The River 2130 #1” for publication consideration. I have also enclosed a brief plot synopsis for the entire limited series. I am planning on 21 full-length issues. The blurb I’ve been using goes something like this:
Syl witnesses his father’s murder and goes on a journey up the Hard Silt River to find out why. The land is ravaged by the machinations of an insane chemist who creates a new world order after unleashing a molecular virus poisoning all the water in the region, killing most people who take a drink and turning others into monsters or worse: Superheroes.
I consider it sort of a Huckleberry Finn-meets-Heart of Darkness-meets-superheroes-meets-good ol’ Joseph Campbell Messiah story. I sent you the entire first issue because I’d already had them made and it seemed like the best way to show folks what I had in mind. I am, of course, completely open to suggestions. This story is written for a mature audience.
I don’t have any non-scientific publications to speak of (and scant few of those) but I do have a fair amount of writing and story-crafting experience and I think this one’s pretty ok. Other things about me: I graduated in 2002 from Western Michigan University with degrees in creative writing and medieval history, specializing in children’s literature and folklore. I’ve been working professionally in various scientific fields (I know, long story) for several years but have recently returned to one of my first loves, comics. I have a great wife, and a 1 year old and another baby on the way. We’re all gingers…so, no souls to worry about! Your time perusing both the comic and this letter is sincerely appreciated!
The beginning is pretty good I think. Right to the point. This is what I’m sending you and why (if you are just starting out, I do NOT recommend pitching a 21-issue series, stick to smaller projects). It then goes into a two sentence blurb about the book. You’ll want to come up with a strong blurb. You’ll use it a lot and it’s very important. Probably the one thing that will make or break your chances. I followed that up with a brief paragraph summing up what I thought about the story and explained why I’d sent an entire issue. It should be noted that most publishers are perfectly happy with 5-8 finished pages. I’m also very clear about the fact that the book was intended for mature audiences. Don’t say “all ages” unless it is truly G-rated. In this letter, I put in a paragraph about myself. It’s something I don’t really do anymore, though I’ve been told that at least one editor thought it was funny. I suppose if you have some publishing credits, go for it. Otherwise, maybe just keep it to the point. Close by thanking the editor for their time. They’re busy people and they slog through a lot of submissions on a weekly basis.
The next thing is a plot synopsis. I usually make up two of them. One is a chapter-by-chapter (or issue-by-issue) breakdown. I generally spend about one paragraph per issue in this. Highlight the major plot points and characters. Don’t leave stuff out. Tell the editors exactly what happens. Keep it simple, but try to hit on all the major beats of your story. Again, submitting smaller projects makes this step easier, and likely increases the likelihood of your proposal getting read. 21-issue series….likely too long.
The second kind of plot synopsis is a “30,000 ft” synopsis. It should be no longer than one, easy-to-read, page. This is what your story looks like from an altitude of 30,000 feet. You can’t make out the details, and the characters look like ants, but you can see the lay of the land. Again, the more convoluted your plot, the more difficult this is to do effectively. Try to keep your plots streamlined. A mistake lots of writers make is coming up with complicated plots and filling them up with cardboard characters. Plot doesn’t move copy folks. Characters do. But that’s a subject for another post.
You can also put together a character list, and come up with logo designs or alternate pieces for cover art. I’ve been asked to do all of those things at least once in my time submitting, but they are definitely not the norm so don’t expend too much energy on them unless the publisher specifically calls for them. Some publishers require a signed submission agreement. Make sure you read carefully to find out if this is the case, as they won’t bother looking at your work unless the submission agreement is in order!
I’m not including any publishers that I’m certain are now defunct. Most of these publishers are still in business and accepting submissions, hopefully. Enjoy and I hope you find it useful!
Dark Horse Comics - The home of Hellboy and one of my personal favorite comics, B.P.R.D, is also one of the few “major” publishers that still accepts unsolicited submissions. Gotta do it by snail mail though, so get thee to the post office and pick up some of those big envelopes. It should go without saying that you never send originals, but if you’re shooting for Dark Horse, I would try to make quality copies. Don’t expect to get a reply from Dark Horse unless they want to work with you either. These guys deal with a huge volume of submissions and they don’t bother responding to stuff they aren’t interested in. That being said, I did once have the opportunity to chat with an editor at Dark Horse for some pointers and they were extremely helpful and nice to me.
Image - The publishers of Sex and Nowhere Men, Image also accepts unsolicited submissions. Image has a slightly different business model from many other publishers in that they don’t actually pay you any page rates or anything like that. You retain ownership of your creation and any money is based on royalties from actual sales. It’s like signing a distribution deal. Image gets your book out there and you split the profits. They also work a lot with imprints, like Shadowline. For the most part, submitting to the main Image hub is the same as submitting to the imprints, so you don’t have to bother submitting to multiple companies. Image is another large company with lots of marquee artists and writers, so if they don’t want your stuff, don’t expect to hear anything from them. Image accepts either email or snail mail submissions.
Ape Entertainment - Ape publishes some fun cartoon-y books like Poison Elves. They deal a lot with established intellectual properties. They publish comics of Fruit Ninja and Pocket Gods so the IP game is a big one for them. You may either choose to submit via email or snail mail, but they don’t like attached files, so you need your work hosted somewhere they can go to look at. I use Dropbox for that sort of thing, but I imagine DeviantArt or the like would also be acceptable. Ape will let you know they don’t want you. It might take 6 months, but they will eventually give you a yes or no. They also don’t seem to mind follow up emails and respond (in my experience) very promptly.
Archaia Entertainment - Have you read Mouse Guard? If the answer is no, you need to do yourself a favor and read it. The art is sublime and the story is fantastic. Remember earlier I mentioned B.P.R.D? And how it was one of my favorites? Well, a genius named Guy Davis does that art, and he does some of the art for Mouse Guard. Not to be missed. However, all that awesome makes Archaia very choosy with submissions. They have a custom form you fill out from their website which isn’t tough to navigate. I’ve never heard a peep back from them, but, oh…how I hope!
Top Shelf - Most famous, to me anyway, for From Hell, Lost Girls, and The Underwater Welder, Top Shelf is a high-end indie publisher churning out the works of such luminaries as Alan Moore. They have a similar submission process as Ape Entertainment, except for the bit at the end about sending out a rejection.
Dynamite - I love The Boys. It’s maybe my favorite ultra-violent, extra-naughty comic to come out in the last decade or so. Dynamite doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions and they want snail mail copies of your stuff. That probably turns away lots of would be funny book creators. Here’s their contact list if you’d like to pick a likely candidate to ask about getting solicited. If you do get permission to submit, they’ll let you know whether or not you’re moving forward.
Avatar - Avatar works with some heavyweight names in the comic industry (Frank Miller, Garth Ennis) but they’ll take a look at anything via snail mail or an emailed link to an online gallery.
IDW Publishing - Locke and Key. Go read that. IDW also publishes lots of IP stuff, like GI Joe, Transformers, Ghostbusters, and many more. If you’re a writer, IDW is probably not a good bet for you, unless you’re an established pro. If you’re an artist of some kind, you might have a shot.
Fantagraphics Books - The best way to describe Fantagraphic is to use a short quote from their own FAQ:
Fantagraphics Books publishes comics for thinking readers – readers who like to put their minds to work, who have a sophisticated understanding of art and culture, and appreciate personal expression unfettered by uncritical use of cliché. Fantagraphics will practically always reject any submissions that fit neatly into (or combine in a gimmicky fashion) the mainstream genres of superhero, vigilante, horror, fantasy, and science fiction.
I like to put my mind to work, but sometimes, being intellectual for the sake of being intellectual is its own kind of cliche. (Someday maybe I’ll write something about how I think Tales From The Black Freighter muddling about in the middle of Watchmen is an example of lazy page-filling rather than an example of meta-storytelling greatness.) All that being said, give Fantagraphics a try. They publish really nice looking books that win a ton of awards. And Love And Rockets is great.
Alternative Comics - Alternative is home to a huge variety of different books with some incredible artists (Jed Alexander’s (Mostly) Wordless) but they don’t really have much in the way of submission guidelines available. What I did was just send General Manager Marc Arsenault an email asking whether he’d take a look at my stuff. He said sure so I snail mailed it off. However, it appears that his email is no longer listed on their website, so…maybe I ruined that for everyone else. I think you could probably shoot them a note through their contact page and ask them if they’d like to take a peek at what you’ve got though.
Valiant Entertainment - Valiant doesn’t appear to be too interested in creator-owned type stuff, but they accept art and writing samples for consideration working on their own titles. You could end up scripting X-O Manowar, which would be pretty cool. You’ll get a canned response from these folks at least, which makes you feel good, and that’s always nice.
Drawn And Quarterly - Probably best known (nowadays, at least) for publishing Daniel Clowes (of “I was ripped off by Shia Lebeouf” fame), Drawn And Quarterly publishes a wide variety of graphic novels from a stunning array of artists. There’s a book called Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan that is pretty good. They accept emailed links or smaller pdfs or jpegs. They respond quickly with at least an automated type of response.
Action Lab Entertainment – The publishers of Princeless only accept submissions of creator-owned projects with complete teams (writer/artist/letters etc). Submissions are done electronically and they are EFFICIENT. Colleen Boyd, the submissions editor, is not only a very nice lady, but the turnaround time is almost superhuman in its speed.
SLG Publishing - Their most well-known title is likely Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, which is a nice looking book. SLG aims to be a somewhat smaller version of Image in that they utilize a similar publishing plan. They look for complete creative teams and accept either electronic or snail mail submissions. Their turnaround time is respectably fast, which is really nice. Incidentally, this is one of the few companies I’ve had ask for a character description, so keep that in mind.
Creator’s Edge Press - A very cool small press that publishes a relatively small number of books. The only one I’ve personally checked out was The Mushroom Murders and it was pretty good. They accept both electronic and snail mail submissions and get back to you fast. Their editor, Travis Bundy, is an extremely helpful guy who even while doling out a rejection offers very useful information on how to improve your work.
Netcomics – Netcomics appears to publish mainly online, though they talk on their submissions page about the possibility of print publication. I sent these guys a submission once, never heard a peep back for months and months. Maybe it was godawful. Or they don’t really exist. Or maybe they’re a little bit shady? Their website has grammatical errors in the text. That’s often a sign that things aren’t exactly what they should be.
MyInk Comics - Story time kids. So I was making the rounds, throwing submissions out and I wasn’t having a ton of luck (which is to say, it was going normally) and I broke a rule I have. I try to read at least one thing from a publisher that I submit to. When you do that, you get an idea of what sort of stuff they’ve picked up and if you might be a good fit. For MyInk, I didn’t do that. They advertise that they only publish electronically, which gave me pause, but not that much. Any port in a storm, eh? Anyway, I send my stuff off. Three days later I get an email from their editor-in-chief that they’d like to offer me a contract. I thought that was cool, so I replied “I’d love to look it over.” I heard nothing back. About a week later, assuming I’d screwed something up (safe assumption), I sent another email asking if they were still interested and expressing that I was interested in working with them and perusing a contract. Crickets. I never heard back. In my opinion, that’s kinda unprofessional, but I let it go. Until I almost immediately started doing some research and found a few threads on “author beware” type websites (like this one) that made me fairly suspicious of this publishers “sister” site, MyInk Books. Anyway, take it for what it’s worth. Could be 100% legit and it was the editor’s precocious preschooler who approved me for a contract and they just decided to ignore me until I went away like Milton. Fun times.
Knockabout Comics - These guys are the UK publishers of a lot of Alan Moore stuff. However, they say they’ll look at anything and that they’ll get back to you. And that they’ll consider previously self-published stuff. I’m not sure why I shot a submission to a UK publisher, but (despite my earlier complaining) I love Alan Moore, so I figured “why not me too?” I never heard back.
Viper Comics – I love these guys. Go read Ichabod Jones Monster Hunter right now. Also, their President Jessie Garza, is a fantastic guy who will make you feel like they really care about your comic. Even if they don’t pick it up.
Emerald Star Comics - Strangely, these fellows don’t seem to be accepting unsolicited submissions anymore. They have some really cool and high quality titles out, including Zombie Ever After. I linked their contact info – I would simply send them a message and ask what’s up for submitting. I found them to be fairly prompt responding, and managing editor Nakia Williams, to be a good guy to work with.
Wayward Raven Media - A small company, with a very cool name, Wayward Raven accepts unsolicited material and they are extremely fast at getting back to you. I’m familiar with one of their titles, The Ascendant, which showed some real promise.
Devil’s Due Entertainment - Publishers of Dirk Manning’s stuff (who’s somewhat well known for Nightmare World and being a bit of a self publishing guru) these guys really seem to be chiefly interested in art, which is fairly common. They also don’t have a formal submissions process which is either a really cool idea or horribly pretentious, depending on where you’re standing.
Z2 Comics - Another example of me breaking my own rule….Yes, I’m ashamed. However, this very small publisher has really cool looking books that I plan on getting my hands on and I hope they make it. So send ‘em good stuff to publish.
Source Point Press - The one small-press publisher I haven’t actually submitted to on the list. I included them because the product they put out is so good. The comics look great, the books look great. The guys who run this press are awesome and extremely customer focused. Check out Jack of Spades and Alter Egos to get a good idea of how good Source Point is. If you are into horror, crime noir, and such, send these folks an email and get them to look at your stuff. Plus, they’re from Michigan, and I’m a homer at heart.
A few points in closing: Read stuff from publishers you submit to. Not only will you be supporting the very business you hope to break into, but you’ll glean valuable insight into how best to approach your publisher of choice. And start buying-small press stuff if you don’t. And no, Image doesn’t count as small-press. Neither does IDW. Both are great companies, and you should be reading their titles, don’t get me wrong, but lots of folks think picking up Locke and Key and Sex Criminals makes them an indie reader. Those books are phenomenal, but look deeper. Keep reading. And when some of you inevitably make it big, put in a good word for me?
Comment below with publishers I missed (there are likely a few hundred) and with your own experiences. Help each other out!
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