(photo ganked from The Library of Congress; I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn our office is not actually full of boxers)
One of the questions that we get pretty frequently is, ‘I want to submit a graphic novel to you. Um . . . how does that work?’ This is a very sensible question, as everyone knows that some publishers require all submissions to be conveyed camel-back across the Great American Desert and presented wrapped in quilted hot pink satin. It is good to discover before submitting if the publisher you’re trying to work with is one of those before accidentally sending your submission off swathed in green satin.
Unfortunately, here at First Second, we don’t generally offer guidelines as specific as camels and colored satin. What we say is:
SUBMIT SOMETHING REPRESENTATIVE OF THE BOOK YOU WANT US TO PUBLISH
Of course this is the vaguest guideline to ever exist! So let me break it down for you a little.
If you are an established writer/artist who is submitting a project to us in a similar vein to your previous work, send us:
- A pitch letter explaining who you are and what your proposed book is about
- A book summary
- Some character and setting sketches
- Copies of your previous work that is in the same vein as this project is
So if you were Hypothetical Ted Naifeh, author of the Courtney Crumrin books, and you wanted to pitch us a middle-grade mad science adventure with a boy protagonist, you might send us a letter like this:
Dear First Second Editor Whose Name I Know Because I Took A Look At Your Website,
My name is Hypothetical Ted Naifeh, and I’m the author of the Courtney Crumrin series, published by Oni Press. I’ve enclosed a copy of these books; they’re middle-grade spooky fantasy stories with a girl protagonist.
I have a new project I’m working on that I wanted to send you; it’s the same age as Courtney Crumrin, and the art has a similar sensibility, but instead of the fantasy and the girl protagonist, it’s full of mad science with a boy protagonist.
HERE IS WHAT THE STORY WILL BE ABOUT IN THREE SENTENCES.
A further plot summary and some sketches of the characters and their middle school science lab are on the next few pages. If you’d like to see more sketches or hear about the story in more detail, just let me know.
I’m excited about this new project; I hope you like what you see!
– Hypothetical Ted Naifeh
This is not to say that established writer/artists cannot submit to us full scripts or complete thumbnail drafts. In fact, this happens with some frequency! But if you are Sara Varon and you are like, ‘First Second, I wish to write another adorable book with animal protagonists,’ probably thumbnailing out the entire 200 pages it not necessary before we’re like, ‘Oh, Sara Varon and animal protagonists! And there’s a plot! I bet this book will be something we have some interest in, who would have thought?’
If you are an established writer/artist who is submitting a project to us that’s very different from your previous work, send us:
- A pitch letter explaining who you are and what your proposed book is about. This letter should include an explanation of how this book is different from your previous books, why you’re creating something different, and why you feel that this new direction can be successful for you creatively.
- A book summary
- Some explanation of any specific credentials you have for this new direction
- Some character and setting sketches
- A chapter or two of sample script or thumbnails
- Copies of your previous work
So if you were Hypothetical R. Kikuo Johnson, author of The Night Fisher and The Shark King, and you wanted to pitch us an adult non-fiction project about Alexander the Great, you might send us a letter like this:
Dear First Second Editor Whose Name I Know Because I Took A Look At Your Website (And We’ve Met Before),
I’d like to submit a project to you; it’s a complete 180 degree change from The Night Fisher and The Shark King — it’s non-fiction, adult, and historical; a graphic novel biography of Alexander the Great.
Alexander the Great has long been my favorite historical figure; I think I’ve read every prose biography of him written at this point! And I’ve been doing research on him at the New York Public Library for the past year — [more explanation of research background on Alex; I don't know anything about him, so I'm just going to stop here]. And I really do believe that his empire-building provides a mirror for the United States in our own time — it’s a fascinating cultural reflection.
This biography would cover X, Y, Z things about Alexander the Great, focusing on A, B, and C. Rather than ending at his death, I’m planning to include a final chapter on the collapse of his empire. [MORE PLOT SUMMARY IN THREE SENTENCES.]
A further outline of this biography and sketches of Alexander and historical Macedon follow in the next few pages. I’ve based my art for this project on historical friezes of the time, but done in [Style X] because of [Reasons]. I’ve also included the first chapter of my script, so you can get a feel for how I’d be telling this story.
I hope my enthusiasm for Alexander the Great is contagious; he’s someone who everyone learns about in grade school, but his life and influence is so much more far-reaching and intriguing than what we’re taught in textbooks! I think this book will show readers the man behind the history — and show that one man has the power to change the world.
– Hypothetical R. Kikuo Johnson
If you’re starting to do something very different from what you’ve done previously — even if it’s not as complicated as researching ancient Macedon — it’s always a good idea to discuss in your pitch letter why you’re making this change and what you’ve done for this new age category/format/genre. Even if it’s just, ‘Here’s a proposal for a young adult book. I know I’ve never written young adult before, but two years ago I read The Hunger Games and got obsessed; since then, I’ve been reading through the teen section of the library. I love what authors are writing for this age category, and I thought, “I want to do that too.”‘
So that’s if you’re an established writer/artist. But what if you’ve never done any professional work before? Well, that’s a little more difficult, because we don’t have anything to look at and say, ‘this person can finish a project, and it looks like this.’ Here are some things to think about doing before submitting to us:
- Start a website that has some of your art on it in an easily accessible way.
- Start a blog or a tumblr that has sketches/what you’re doing now on it. Share your work with the internet!
- Take some classes. CCS even has short summer programs!
- Make some mini-comics and apply to exhibit at a local small press show like the MoCCA Festival, TCAF, APE, SPX, Stumptown, etc. Then sell or give your mini-comics to as many people as possible.
- Contribute to anthologies. Doing short pieces that are included in a larger book is a great way to get on peoples’ radar.
None of these are requirements, of course — you can perfectly reasonably get a book deal without having gone to art school, without ever having made a mini-comic or having been part of Flight. But: doing all these things does show an editor that you’re making an effort to be a professional in this industry, and it does help you make connections. Also, seriously: if you’re a writer or artist and you’re trying to get published, have a website.
A submission letter from a new writer/artist might look something like this:
Dear First Second Editor Whose Name I Know Because I Looked It Up; Also We Met at NYCC When I Stopped By Your Booth,
Hi! I wanted to follow-up after we met briefly at New York Comic-Con.
My name is NewPerson and I graduated from SCAD last year. I’m working on a graphic novel I think might be a match for First Second. I think you guys publish great books, and I think that my project has a sensibility similar to The Unsinkable Walker Bean — one of my favorite books that you’ve published.
SUMMARY GOES HERE.
I’m enclosing some sample finished art, a script, and a thumbnail draft of the book. I’m also putting my last two mini-comics and the anthology I contributed to last year in the envelope, so you can see some of my previous comics.
You can take a look at more of my art on my website here: www.newperson.com.
– Hypothetical NewPerson
What goes in the envelope from a new writer/artist is obviously more variable than from an established creator, but if you have stuff published (even if it’s only a mini-comic that you self-published), do send it! Anything that will help us see what your work is like is a good thing for us to have. And we’re more likely to want something more detailed than just the outline we’d ask of people whose work we know. I know that sucks for new writers and artists — and you might be just as awesome as Gene Luen Yang is, but how will be know that unless you show us? We don’t just need to see that you have a good idea — we also need to see that you have consistently good narration, dialogue, art, and page layouts.
If we don’t know you from Adam, it’s also a good idea for you to tell us why you think that this book specifically will work for our publishing company. Not just, ‘IT’S THE BEST BOOK EVER!’ but let us know that you’ve read books we’ve published before, and tell us it’s like something we’ve done — or even that it’s absolutely different from what we’ve done, and how that should be interesting to us.
(Obviously there are more submission variables here. I will pull together my mental fortitude and think about writing something for writers and artists in the next few weeks.)
* All authors included in this blog post are hypothetical and have in no way submitted these projects to us.