Thursday, August 7, 2008

More on Graphic Novel Proposals for the Mainstream Book Market

About six weeks ago I did a presentation at Supanova Sydney on how to submit graphic novel proposals to mainstream book publishers. The first piece of advice given was to meet the publisher's exact submission guidelines, which may vary from company to company, imprint to imprint. The second piece of advice was that comic book publishers often have very different needs to traditional book publishers and that in fact, all the former usually want to see is about five pages of finished sequential art (by finished I mean coloured and lettered) and maybe some cover art and a brief synopsis of the story. Traditional book publishers on the other hand usually want more information than that – they want to know what the genre is, who is the target market and other marketing information, as well as biographical information on the creators behind the project. In terms of the actual graphic novel itself, they usually want it treated in the same way as a picture book submission – a few finished pages and either an outline and sample scripts or a full script – this way if they make a decision to accept the book they can choose a size and format (such as landscape or portrait) and then ask the creators to prepare the rest of the work according to these specifications.

In the last part of the presentation, I went into a lot of detail about the components of a book proposal. This information was gleaned from three different US sources – a literary agent, a publishing consultant, and the submission criteria of a children's publisher to whom I had pitched a property a few years ago (it took me about two weeks to write the proposal based on their criteria). All three I must add don't specialise in graphic novels, since this is quite a recent publishing phenomena in both the US and Australia, and some publishers are still cementing their understanding of what they are actually looking for. However, the reason for this level of detail in the proposal – as was explained by all three of them – is that they want to see that the creators know their market inside and out and make a case for their book, that it helps the agent know which publishers to pitch to and the publisher to decide where to position the book in their list, and it helps in defining the marketing plan. Furthermore, it gives the publisher confidence that the creators can proactively handle publicity and promotion, rather than passively relying on the publicity department which might be working on multiple campaigns at any one time. An author/artist/comics creator's familiarity with marketing also helps ensure the longevity of the book and pushes it to become a strong backlist title if sales are consistent and good. 

The one thing I didn't take into account – which is why I add this blog post as an addendum or codicil to my original presentation – was cultural differences in the publishing world (and this is where I put on my hat as "perpetual student" – see post below). What may be embraced by some in one country or continent, may be too overwhelming in bulk or prescriptive for others around the world, simply because the dedicated staff in many publishing companies have little time, stretched resources, and are coaxing or juggling many projects at any one time through the editing, production and marketing stages. As audience member Tad Pietrzykowski of The Dark Nebula fame so concisely said at the time of the presentation, sometimes "less is more". 

So the original advice still stands – always respond by meeting the submission criteria for each publisher (for some it may brief for others it may be a behemoth). Either way, the act of writing out a comprehensive book proposal even if you don't send it in to all publishers actually helps you understand your own product so you can talk about it coherently to your publisher and your readers.

Ultimately, as Brian Cook, literary agent and publishing consultant of the Manuscript Agency said at the presentation, "content is king"! The graphic novel will be picked up on its quality alone, and the rest is secondary. Having said that, sometimes a good pitch (which meets the submission guidelines and demonstrates your understanding of the creative property and the market) can help nudge your graphic novel over line once it is presented at publishing meetings where editorial, finance and marketing must make the decision together. 

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