How should I get my graphic novel out to the world?
October 30, 2012 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on a graphic novel. Should I submit it to publishers, or just run it as a webcomic? And if I were to submit it, I have a bunch of secondary questions.

The book, when finished, should run about 70 pages (I have the entire thing plotted, but only the first 3rd is fully scripted, so I don't have an exact page count yet). I've drawn and digitally "inked" the first 10 pages, and am slowly but steadily working my way through.

As far as content goes, it's set in 1960 and is about a pair of brothers in the aviation industry who try to build a replacement for the U-2. While there's some humor in dialog as it goes, the book's basically a straightforward historical drama.

My main question: with a graphic novel project of that length, is it worth my time to try to work with the publishing world? Particularly when my previous comics work has been with webcomics (some of which have gotten modest critical praise, but none of which have set the world on fire with web traffic)? If it's not worth my time, I can easily just run the book serially as a webcomic and be happy with it; but I like the idea of publishing.

Secondary questions: how does the submission process work with graphic novels? I have some experience with prose fiction submissions, but not when there's art involved. Do you generally submit when the art's all done? Or submit a script and some pages of art (to give an idea of what it'll look like), leaving room for the script to change during the editing process? What else should I know? What else should I be thinking of?
posted by COBRA! to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to these guys. They're currently self-publishing a rather engaging comic book, but they've had some experience with the indie publishers too.

As far as publishers go, you'll want to go with a publishing house that does things other than the standard superhero genre. The bigger indie players, i.e., Dark Horse, IDW, Image, BOOM!, etc. aren't strictly superhero stuff, but they do stick pretty closely to the action/sci-fi/fantasy/horror axis. But check out Alternative and Fantagraphics, for instance, as publishers that do some pretty interesting stuff with the medium. The former put out a non-fictional account of emergency responders during 9/11, and the latter has published Joe Sacco's journalistic graphic novels about the Bosnian War. Neither is all that thrilled about unsolicited submissions though, so you may want to contact them--or at least read their submission guidelines closely--before just sending something in.

You might also check out Archaia. They're perhaps best known for Mouse Guard, but they also put out stuff like a romance set against aerial combat in Eastern Front WWII and a fictionalized account of the real-life Great Pacific Garbage Patch, so they're probably at least worth a look.
posted by valkyryn at 11:45 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

A 70-page graphic novel may be a little short, but I think it's still doable. Most of the bigger indie publishes have submission requirements on their sites. In that case, it would just be finding the one that matches your subject matter and style the best (if you want to send me a few pages privately, I can maybe help out a bit there).

Self-publishing is completely viable, though, too, and may be worth it if you want to do the work.

If you really want to get it published, I'd suggest doing some research into publishers that may suit your subject matter but not necessarily do comics. McFarland published Molly Lawless' Hit by Pitch and after finding success with Trickster and District Comics, Fulcrum Publishing has set up a comics division.

(Full disclosure: I know the people who made these books, but they're still good examples.)

Publishing it online may help. At the very least, it's not going to hurt. Any comics publisher that is going to look down on your book being online first isn't worth your time (and First Second has even done that with a lot of the books they've published -- releasing them a page at a time before they come out).
posted by darksong at 11:53 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, right on, that was actually something I meant to include in the secondary questions, the matter of whether putting it up online myself first would DQ it from subsequent publication.

Thanks for the replies!
posted by COBRA! at 11:56 AM on October 30, 2012

I'm in the middle of making a comic. Generally, the more stuff you've completed on it, the better. I'm not going to send the pitch until I finish the script and draw out 5 pages (plus some extra things). But they don't need a completed work.
posted by hellojed at 12:20 PM on October 30, 2012

Publishing it on the web first won't prevent you from collecting it in print later on. Avatar Press have released two series direct to the web with the intention of releasing them in print form later on (Freakangels and Crossed: Wish You Were Here, both NSFW). However, they both have names attached to them, which helps to sell them. Publishing online could help drum up interest for a print edition though; it'll also have the nice sideline of increasing your portfolio if you plan to make other submissions to publishers in the future. (For example, Marvel's current submission policy is invite-only, but they don't overly care whether you're working in print, on the web or in other media, as long as you have a portfolio and track record that interests them.)

If you decide to go self-published on the web (with apologies if this is teaching you to suck eggs), one thing I'd advise is sticking to a definite release schedule, so have a good stock of pages in the can before you start. I'd also leverage Twitter - Andy Diggle proposed the hashtag #creatingcomics which might help you find some co-conspirators or advice about going it alone on the web and increasing traffic to your projects. There are also several examples of people using Kickstarter to get funding for publishing, with varying results.

Good luck, and drop me the link when you get around to publishing :)
posted by peteyjlawson at 12:23 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is actually a very complicated question!

Some thoughts, as someone who has done some professional comics work, has pitched to comics publishers (sometimes successfully) and has spoken extensively with friends who have been successful in webcomics, print comics or both.

- Regarding whether or not it's worth it: that really depends on what you want! Having a publisher means that someone else is taking care of a lot of details and logistics for you, someone else is fronting the cost of your print run, someone else is maintaining and updating the website, someone else is sending copies of your book to stores and conventions and reviewers. If you're at a larger publisher, they'll also have enough money to pay you an advance, organize promotional events, and do some real marketing of you and your title. However, looking for a publisher can be extremely discouraging and take a long time, and months of effort can easily result in basically no payoff at all. It's a gamble, and lots of folks very reasonably decide that the numbers aren't in their favor and the effort isn't worthwhile for them. If you want to read more about the structure and benefits of traditional print publishing (from a slightly biased perspective) I highly recommend checking out the blog at First Second.

- If you would prefer to sign with a publisher and want to explore that option, do so BEFORE you start to serialize your comic online. There's a huge range of attitudes regarding previously published work, and some editors won't want to take on a project that's already online. Not all of them, by any means, but why close those doors prematurely?

- Do a lot of research. Find comics that you think have a similar look and feel to yours, and see who publishes them. Try to be as objective as you can about which publishers seem like they might be a good fit for you. Many publishers these days discourage "simultaneous submissions," so you have to wait for a response before you can move on to the next publisher on your list. Even if you have connections, it often takes two months or more for editors to respond. You want a focused, realistic list because you don't want to waste your own time and patience with publishers who obviously aren't a good fit.

- Submission guidelines vary pretty significantly between publishers. Some editors prefer to be brought on as early as possible -- just sample pages, character descriptions and an outline -- so that they can play a part in shaping the book's style and content. Others are happy to be handed a full manuscript, buy the ones that speak to them, ask for a few corrections and publish your work essentially unchanged from what you submitted to them. (First Second would be an example of the former; Top Shelf, the latter, from what I can tell.) Publishers that take unsolicited submissions will have submission guidelines on their websites, and even those that only unofficially look at the "slush pile" will make note of such on their public facing blogs. Again, this is really just a matter of research -- most folks are pretty clear about what they want from you, once you've narrowed down who it is you want to talk to.

You should basically just sit down, do some reading and some thinking, and figure out what your goals are for this project, and whether print publishers will help you better achieve those goals, and whether you're willing to make the sacrifices of time and effort to try and win a place at one of those publishers.

Best of luck, whatever you decide to do!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:36 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Publishing it online may help. At the very least, it's not going to hurt. Any comics publisher that is going to look down on your book being online first isn't worth your time (and First Second has even done that with a lot of the books they've published -- releasing them a page at a time before they come out).

I don't I said, there seem to be a really wide range of attitudes about this issue.

In the case of the First Second webcomics, it's worth noting that all of those comics were bough by First Second as pitches and completed like any other print comic would have been. Once the book was well underway -- or in some cases, completely finished -- First Second then decided to serialize all or part of those titles themselves on websites they helped to design and maintain, and once the books were released the web serialization was edited down to a shorter preview, instead of the entire book.

But you're right, many publishers are willing to be flexible!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:43 PM on October 30, 2012

IANAC and this obviously isn't one-size-fits-all, but on the completed submission vs. pitch thing, cartoonist Mike Dawson (Freddie & Me) serialized his comic Troop 142 on his website (No longer available, I believe), the comics site Act-I-Vate, and in self-published minicomics, which he sold through publisher/distributor Secret Acres' website emporium, who went on to publish the final collected edition.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:18 PM on October 30, 2012

As a first step, why not pitch it to all the aviation magazines to run on their website?
posted by anon4now at 8:02 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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