The Three (Personality) Types of Submissions
Basically: we get a lot of submissions.
I generally group them into three categories: 1) agented, 2) unsolicited but known or referred, and 3) entirely unsolicited.
Agented: These submissions get top priority. They're read first, and my responses to them, for better or worse, tend to be the most thoughtful. Agents act as gatekeepers for editors – they filter and fine-tune the stream of submissions coming our way, and honestly, I'm grateful for that. When an agent I've worked with before who understands what First Second is all about sends me a new project, I know it's going to be worth my time to look at it right away.
Unsolicited but referred or known: A lot of cartoonists don't have agents. (These days, more and more cartoonists do, but compared to traditional book publishing, "agented people in comics" is still a fairly small population.) But a referral from a cartoonist I know and trust goes pretty far towards getting my attention. And of course, there's nothing I love more than being randomly approached by someone I've always admired! Submissions in this category, though technically unsolicited, are still more likely to make it into my subway-reading tote bag.
Unsolicited submissions. These are projects that come to us without having been requested, without a query letter first, and (usually) from someone we don't know.
There is no reason an unsolicited submission can't turn out to be a perfect candidate for First Second's list: a project that, for example, shows maturity in the writing and playfulness in the art; a story that's topical but not preachy; a book that will find new readers and change lives.
However, the fact is that it is much less likely that this First-Second-friendly masterwork will arrive entirely unsolicited than as a referral or an agented submission. And for this reason, and because we get such a staggering volume of unsolicited submissions…
FIRST SECOND'S OFFICIAL POLICY IS: WE DO NOT ACCEPT UNSOLICITED SUBMISSIONS.
What this means is that we are under no obligation to look at an unsolicited submission. We are not even under an obligation to return unsolicited submissions. There is nothing standing between an unsolicited submission and…the trash can. And here and there, I'm sorry to say, that's just where they end up. But more often, what happens is this:
Also, I represent four years of unceasing labor and passion on the part of my creator, whom you have never heard of.
You are an unsolicited submission, AND you are totally not a match for the First Second list. Into the trash with you, my friend.
*sad anime eyes*
Aw. Okay, I'll send you back with a form rejection letter.
*sad anime eyes*
And maybe I'll offer some constructive criticism, too. Which means I've got to actually look at you.
– 5 HOURS LATER –
Okay, these gun fights *are* wicked awesome. And who knew that the Sultan of Aceh had muscles on his muscles?! Still not a good fit for First Second. But at least now I can offer some useful notes to the creator of this work.
:01 EDITORIAL DIRECTOR MARK SIEGEL
Hey, are those seal-point Himalayan cats with Gatling guns? Cool! So anyway, how's it going with editing the books we actually signed up/writing tip sheets/reviewing marketing plans/writing contract memos/negotiating deals/checking proofs/writing flap cover copy/attending meetings/fact-checking our catalog/reviewing copy edits?
So you see the issue. If an unsolicited 700-page cat-breeding opus never receives a response, it doesn't mean we didn't want to give it due time and consideration and send it home with praise and constructive suggestions. It's because there simply isn't time.
HOWEVER: If you still wish to disregard the stern warning on our website, here are some tips I can offer you that will make our lives easier at First Second, and your unsolicited submission more likely to be read and responded to (I MAKE NO GUARANTEES).
1) Think as objectively as you can about whether your book actually makes sense for First Second. Do your homework. Look at our website. Read our books. Ask your friends. Look into other publishers — would they be a better fit for this project? I'm going to be much more excited about a project that clearly has been sent to us because of who we are than if I get the feeling it's been indiscriminately sent to First Second, DC, Oni, Scholastic, Kodansha, Penthouse, and the New Orleans Saints (woot!).
2) Looking for a freelance comic-writing gig on a work-for-hire basis? Look elsewhere. With very few exceptions, we publish only creator-owned work originated by the creators themselves, not us.
3) Don't have a graphic novel to sell, but want to put yourself on our radar as an illustrator? DO: send us a link to your online portfolio. DON'T: send us 10MB attachments. Our inboxes are frail.
4) Written a graphic novel script? Illustrated or no, please include a shortish summary with it.
5) Steel yourself for the very real possibility that you will never hear back from us — not even a form letter.
6) No, don't give me those sad anime eyes.