(photo ganked from the Smithsonian Institution)
People send us a whole lot of mail. And a lot of e-mail on top of that.
A good amount of that mail is submissions. Here are some quick tips for rising to the top of that submission-related mail stack. (Our Senior Editor, Calista Brill, has written a longer discussion of the submission process here and then here.)
1. Do not do not DO NOT send us things in the wrong format. Look, guys: First Second is a graphic novel publisher. We publish graphic novels. Sometimes the graphic novels we publish are in black and white; sometimes in color. Sometimes they are different sizes and shapes. But the farthest out from the ‘graphic novel category’ that we’ve gotten in our publishing plan is in publishing a textbook on making graphic novels. We’re not going to suddenly fall on our heads and start publishing picture books or novels or memoirs or poetry collections if they’re not in graphic novel form. And we’re not an independent publisher like Soft Skull who can be like, ‘well, if you send us something within our idiom that’s really amazing, we shall publish it whatever format it’s in!’ We’re an imprint of a big publisher, an imprint specifically created to publish graphic novels. You could send us the best picture book in the world, and we’d still — well, we’d probably actually put it in the recycling bin as soon as we looked at it and saw that you were submitting something to us in the wrong format. But if we did take the time to look at it and realize that it was the best picture book in the world, we still wouldn’t be able to publish it. Macmillan has other imprints to do that.
2. Be informative when you’re submitting a project to us. We like quick, breezy e-mails as much as the next overworked publishing employees, but do you know what we’d love to have in the e-mail in which you’re planning to send us a link to read your graphic novel project? We’d love to have some information about that graphic novel you’re sending us. Is it a beginning reader, a graphic novel for kids ages 3 – 6? Is it a nonfiction project? That’s great! We’re actively looking for graphic novels that fall into both those categories. Putting that information into your e-mail has now increased the speed at which your project will be reviewed a hundredfold. Is this graphic novel the story that you’ve always wanted to write, a project that you’re really excited about? Those are also things that make us eager to see what’s on the other end of that link.
3. We’ve got a policy: ‘No Unsolicited Submissions.’
What this doesn’t mean: every single graphic novel we publish, we went out and hunted down the author and kept her imprisoned in an igloo until she signed a contract to make a graphic novel for us.
What this does mean: we often approach talented graphic novelists we admire (directly or through their agents) and ask to keep us on their radar for their future graphic novel projects. We frequently meet talented people at conventions who we ask to keep in touch with us about the books they’re planning. We even go to speak to comics students at schools like SCAD and CCS and SVA, and to conferences like SCBWI, about publishing, and do portfolio reviews there.
But you know what? If haven’t run into us at a convention or an event, and you’re working on a graphic novel that you think specifically might work for us, send us an e-mail about it! It’s not like we’re going to go through our e-mail and be like, ‘look, here’s a nice person who likes our books; he’s able to put together an articulate e-mail and he’s attached some attractive art samples that have intrigued me about his project. Well, we don’t accept unsolicited submissions — this goes in the recycling bin!’ It might take a us a few weeks — a few months, perhaps — for our editor to have the spare time to read your e-mail. But we will read it.
4. Assume that we’re moderately well-informed industry professionals — even if this turns out to be not the case, it’s flattering to our egos. In the specific case of submissions, what this means is: if you’re a writer or illustrator who has produced several graphic novels over the past five to ten years that haven’t been self-published (or, if they have been self-published, have reviewed well or received an award), we’ve probably heard of you. If we’ve met you before (even if it was a few years ago), we’ve almost definitely heard of you. From the submission e-mails we get, I have come to the understanding that publishers are super-intimidating and also that they have had some worm that specifically eats the memories of meeting cartoonists induced into their brains. While the first might be true, the second is not (I hope, as I find brain-worms super creepy). If we’ve met you before or should know who you are, start out your submission with, ‘I’m XX person — I’m the author of XX graphic novel. I met XX First Second staff person at TCAF last year.’ In one fell swoop you establish your writing credentials and your pro-activeness both! And also you probably have made us remember who you are.
5. Hey guys! My name is Gina; I do the marketing and publicity at First Second. You may know me from here on the :01 blog, or from the :01 twitter account. Guess what? I am NOT the person who you should be addressing your submissions to. You may be able to tell from my job description at the beginning of this paragraph that my job isn’t editing — and you’d be surprised to hear how little time doing the marketing and publicity for First Second leaves me for editorial work (which I’m not actually interested in doing anyways). Please consult this strip in Unshelved for a helpful guide to who works in our company’s editorial department, if you couldn’t tell from reading a few pages of our company blog.
Of course there’s a caveat here — if we’ve met before (where met can be understood as, ‘talked for longer than five minutes, or exchanged at least three e-mails,’) yes, it is okay to e-mail me about submissions if your goal is to send your submission to someone who will remember your name. But I’m still in no way the person who’s going to be reading/reviewing/deciding whether or not to buy the piece you submitted.