Thursday, September 3, 2009

Breaking the Fourth Wall: Episode 6

Yesterday I discussed some strategies for developing properties and pitches. Which is great, but by now you’re probably wondering if I've actually been doing any of these things or if I'm just talking out my ass. Get to the point already, Mr. Writer Guy! God.

Very well then. As I mentioned yesterday, Antarctic Press is one of those companies I have identified that accepts writing proposals; there are a few others, but many of them have guidelines that require significantly more work that a standard proposal. To start out with, then, I’m going to focus on those three companies I’ve identified whose guidelines I find the simplest and most direct: Antarctic Press, Dark Horse Comics and Insomnia Publications.

One thing that is helping me is that, prior to the beginning of my research, I brainstormed about a dozen concepts for stories which could work either as finite or ongoing series. Once I identified my target publishers, then, it became a matter of figuring out which ideas suited each publisher best based on my research and then developing an appropriate pitch targeting that company.

For Antarctic, I actually had a pitch that I had originally developed some time ago that fit them perfectly. Not only was the subject matter similar to what they usually specialize in – i.e. manga and anime influenced adventure – the series itself was structured to being with a two-issue stand alone story. This is important because as I mentioned yesterday, Antarctic prefers to publish short tryout series before considering ongoing properties. So in order to tailor this existing pitch to Antarctic, basically I just had to write it up according to their guidelines and lop off everything except that first story; instead of a pitch for a series, it became a pitch for a two issue tryout. As we follow the progress of my various submissions, we’ll call this the Manga pitch and, like the other pitches I’m about to describe, I submitted it back on August 20.

The second publisher is Insomnia Publications. This one I had a little more trouble with, partially because I wasn’t familiar with their titles prior to beginning my research but also because of their formatting. As an independent British publisher, Insomnia targets the secondary market – i.e., they don’t put out monthly issues like most U. S. companies but instead specialize in graphic novels and book-size, complete stories. The problem I faced here is that, once I took a look at their library of titles, I realized that the story that was best suited for them from a content standpoint wasn’t one I could fit into their publication format; it was a finite story, but no matter how I finessed it, it was just too long. In the end I compromised and sent them a pitch for a series of graphic novels, as I think I could squeeze the entire story start to finish into 4 or 5 trades. It’s not optimal, and I’m working on another pitch for them that better fits what they want in total, but we’ll call this pitch the Dystopian pitch. One other side note about Insomnia: they accept submissions online, via email, which doesn’t necessarily cut down on the turnaround time but makes it a lot easier from my standpoint as someone submitting. So that’s a plus.

Lastly, we have Dark Horse. Dark Horse is, of course, one of the largest and most respected comic publishers. While their sales distantly trail Marvel and DC, Dark Horse has become kind of the HBO of comics, offering high quality alternative programming in a number of genres other than straight superheroics. They also have a fairly comprehensive set of submission guidelines, which is good; the more information you have about what the publisher wants, the easier it is to craft a presentation that will appeal to them. Overall, of the companies I have researched so far, I like Dark Horse’s format the best, as it encompasses most of the major details of a pitch without being ridiculously time consuming.

In general terms, they ask that you send in a series overview along with a plot summary for the first several issues (if it is an ongoing) and an eight page script sample that covers the beginning of the first issue (again, for ongoing series; they have different guidelines for other formats). While I spoke yesterday about the importance of crafting not just your pitch but the story itself for the specific publisher you are targeting, another viable option would be to craft your pitches as though they were going to Dark Horse and then alter it to fit different publishers. The reasons for this are that a) Dark Horse publishes a wide variety of genres, so whatever the story is they would be a reasonable destination and b) their submission guidelines are broad enough that they eclipse what most other companies require, meaning you can edit down from Dark Horse to meet other guidelines rather than having to add material. This may sound like it runs counter to my statement at the beginning that other publishers ask for more work than these three, but in most of those cases it’s in one specific area (for example, one publisher asks that you script the entire story before submitting it rather than just sending the beginning as a sample; the chances of them actually reading the entire script if they don’t like the beginning is exactly zero, so I’m not sure why this is necessary).

As I tend to prefer larger scale, ongoing stories rather than either mini-series or one shot graphic novels, I have to say that the pitch I sent to Dark Horse is my favorite of the three I submitted in August. It also is right in their wheelhouse in terms of the type of non-superhero adventure books they like to publish, so we’ll just call this one the Adventure pitch. One drawback of Dark Horse’s current submission policy is that they only respond to your pitch if they are going to buy it; they don’t send out rejection letters or anything else. This makes it a bit difficult to know when they have reviewed it, which is important for the purposes of submitting it to other publishers. I personally don’t like doing simultaneous submissions and I know most companies also frown on this, so this could potentially lead to problems. That would only happen if Dark Horse and a second publisher both wanted to buy the project, though, so in those terms the problems would be only positive in nature and I guess I’ll be happy to deal with that if it happens.

To recap, then: so far I've sent out three full scale submissions, one each to Dark Horse, Antarctic and Insomnia, which we'll refer to in the future as the Adventure pitch, the Manga pitch and the Dystopian pitch. My plan going forward is to continue developing new pitches to submit to these and other publishers; and if any of these get rejected, I'll simply reformat the pitch and submit it to one of the other publishers. The idea is to get as many plates spinning as possible and as soon as I hear back on any of these, you'll be the first to know, so feel free to play along at home. After all, we're in this together.

Next time: So, we’ve sent out our submissions. Now what? Well, there are some companies that take submissions from writers only after they’ve reviewed a writing sample. Next time we’ll discuss some of these publishers and just what goes into crafting a writing sample as opposed to a full pitch.

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