About six years ago, I submitted the book I was working on at the time, Super Seed, to Image Comics. About three months later, I received a two sentence rejection email from Image’s E-I-C. It read something like:
“Thanks for submitting to Image, but we’re not interested in publishing your comic. I don’t have the time to explain why, but good luck.”
Thing was, I was actually kind of thrilled just to get this rejection. The fanboy in me was happy to receive a direct email from the then E-I-C, an Image founder, and I guy whose stuff I had read since I was 14.
Since then, I’ve submitted another two or three pitches Images’ way over the years, and to this day, the Super Seed one was the only pitch that I’ve ever even gotten a response to. I’m sure current E-I-C Eric Stephenson is deluged with pitches on a daily basis, and I don’t think my experience of getting no reply is that uncommon. (Unless you are Mr. Justin Jordan, who got a “Yes” reply email 30 minutes after cold-submitting last year. THAT, my friends, is the real Legend of Luther Strode!)
Pitching is an awkward, nerve-wracking, and often frustrating part of being a comic creator. It’s the comic book equivalent of asking someone you like if they think you’re pretty and want to date. And much like courtship, rejection is a huge part of the process. And, as awful as it is to be rejected, let’s not pretend it’s not hard on the rejector, either. I remember losing sleep trying to figure out the best way to tell Stella Gagney I didn’t want to go to the Junior Prom with her. Telling someone you’re not interested is no fun.
Given the recent developments with ComixTribe over the past few months, I now find myself in the interesting position of receiving submissions from other creators.
A lot of submissions.
I explained ComixTribe‘s current “submissions policy” or lack thereof, a few months back, and that is still pretty much where we’re at as an imprint. I look at EVERYTHING that gets sent to me, and I will reply (eventually) to everything, but the fact that ComixTribe now has a small foothold in with Diamond and the opportunity to play on the big boy stage, does not mean that we have any secret sauce.
We are only as good as the books that we publish.
So, here are a few hard truths and canned responses to folks who might be thinking of sending books or inquiries my way…
Hey, Tyler, Diamond rejected our book. Can we jump onto ComixTribe’s distribution network?
ComixTribe is not a distributor, and we really do not have a distribution set up that people can easily “jump on.” What we have established is a small network of stores receptive to our work, that we have earned one at a time by giving them books they can actually sell to their customers.
That last part is really important.
As soon as we ship a book that doesn’t sell at all, our emails will go unreturned, and shops will start passing on our books. Because of this, we’re very, very careful to make sure that projects that go through this channel are ones that are tailor made for the direct market.
It sucks that they rejected your book, but in all brutal honesty, they rejected it because they and their review board of seasoned comic book retailers determined that you’d have a really tough time selling more than 600-1000 copies to their customers (the retailers). While some great material definitely slips through the cracks, I generally think the folks at Diamond have a pretty good idea of what’s going to sell and what is not. (It’s their job.)
Here’s my pitch and a PDF of my series? Are you interested in publishing it?
Note: If Image HAD responded with more than a two sentence rejection six years ago, I’m pretty sure this all would be applicable.
Thanks for submitting your pitch. Unfortunately, we’re not interested in publishing your book at this time.
As independent creators, we face an uphill battle in a very competitive market. To have a chance at success in the direct market we need:
- Great Art.
- A simple, undeniably strong premise/hook.
- Very strong writing.
- World beating covers.
- A name-creator with a track record of sales attached to the project.
Now, you don’t necessarily need all of those things, but you better have 4 out of 5 to have a legitimate shot at making it to the shelves.
I hate casting judgement on art and creative folks, but since I have my publisher’s hat on and you’re clearly serious about this and likely have a long and strong future in comics, I think you can take it.
Unfortunately, I don’t think you have any of the elements above that would lead me to believe this is a viable direct market product.
The art’s okay, mid-level indie, but not quite up to Big Six publishing standards. It’s rough around the edges, there are anatomy issues and underdeveloped backgrounds, and it could use a lot more polish. Also, the lettering screams amateur job, and takes me away from the story.
The premise is decent, but doesn’t seem terribly original. I need a hook to grab me by the throat, yours is gently tugging at my sleeve.
The covers especially don’t meet the “world beating status” and simply won’t stand out on the shelves.
The writing is okay, but could use some polishing. You’re not working with an editor, are you?
And unfortunately, because no one on the team has much of a sales track record with retailers or the comic buying public, the sales prospects on this book just can’t warrant the significant amount of time and capital investment it takes to launch a series in this market.
Thanks for your submission, and your interest in our publishing company. We wish you the best with this project.
Okay, you won’t publish it. Neither will anyone else. What should I do?
What I would do were I in your shoes is this:
- Consider serializing the story online as a webcomic to get eyeballs, build contacts and readers, and a platform to launch your future (better) projects.
- Continue to work the con circuit, learn to sell your work to strangers, and start building a following.
- Approach local stores to carry your book, do signings, etc. See if they can sell the book. If they can, get them to help push it, and use that to attract more stores. If they can’t well, Diamond was probably right, and you should be thinking about how your next project can be more successful.
- Speaking of your next project, consider working with an editor, or at the very least, get into a good writer’s group. Check out ComixTribe’s The Proving Grounds, to see the kind of value an editor can bring.
- When you’ve got a sound project and a very tight script, considering upgrading your art talent. 90% of the YESes or NOs you’ll get from editors, retailers, distributors and ultimately the buying public is based on the art. Cut corners there, and you’ve limited the viability of the project from the outset. It’s just the way it is.
I know how much work it takes to bring an idea to life, and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished thus far. At the same time, it’s REALLY REALLY REALLY hard to make something that is viable in an uber-competitive marketplace, so more work on your part is going to be required to get to the next level. The only question is…
Are you up for it?