An Open Rejection Letter

| April 30, 2012 | 8 Comments

 

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.

Keep going.

Best,

Tyler James

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?

 

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Category: Columns, Comix Counsel

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at [email protected]

Comments (8)

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  1. Nice. I know how hard it is to hear no. Even worse is not hearing anything at all. Anyone getting this response should not look at it as a negative, but as a reason to work harder and make a better product. It’s a clear, definitive answer and you can move on from there.

    Thanks, Tyler

    • Tyler James says:

      Not getting a reply is definitely awful and hard not to take personal.

      “I spent 1000 hours on my masterpiece and you can’t even honor me with a email reply?”

      Thing is though, I know it’s anything but personal.

      Best thing you can do is submit and forget…move onto the next thing or keep going as if of course they’re going to say yes.

  2. Jules Rivera says:

    Over the years, I’ve written stories that aren’t designed for the mainstream direct market. I’ve published those stories digitally and have built an audience and a reputation based on my dedication to reaching outside the direct market. My writing will not likely have a hit with the direct market and I’m okay with that. I’d rather not compromise my stories’ vision and integrity to reach a market my stories were never designed to appeal to in the first place. There’s another audience out there that needs my stories more than the direct market.

    I’ve not given up on breaking into comics as an artist though. My art gets better all the time. And it’s only going to get better.

    • Tyler James says:

      I think it’s important to recognize that the comic shop might not be the best place for a particular work, and to recognize that early. While I think there is actually decent diversity in most good comic shops, and that if you hate capes books you could still spend a good chunk of your paycheck on awesome stuff in other genres, not everything is going to fly there.

      I have projects that I’m interested in pursuing that would definitely be a tough direct market seller…which is why I’d pursue other means of distribution for those.

  3. Scott Dubin says:

    Cool article, Tyler. Out of curiosity, what does this line mean:

    “The art’s okay, mid-level indie, but not quite up to Big Six publishing standards.”

    Is there a “Big Six” in comic publishing? If you mean comics, there’s Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW… and who is number 6?

    I’m curious if you followed up with Image with your books you never got a response with? I’m imagining after a while you could at least get a “go away kid, you’re bothering me” out of them if you keep following up? Or am I wrong?

    • Tyler James says:

      Regarding big six, I don’t really think there is an established Big Six….just king of through that number out there. Really it should be “gets their own front section in Previews” or something like that…there might be 8-10 premium pubs like that.

      Followed up on one of them for a bit, but eventually moved on.

      I’m sure if I was persistent,I could have been honored with a formal no.

  4. Steve Colle says:

    Having been in your position as EIC of my publishing company back in 1993-94, I had to tell a lot of people “No”. My biggest problem was doing it to their faces, because I would schedule meetings with these people to go over their work. Three interesting incidents were as follows:

    1) I had a meeting at the office with an aspiring artist whose work just was not up to par on any level. I told him, politely, that we couldn’t use him at that time for “x” reasons. He threatened our staff and I had to escort him out the front door of the building.

    2) A writer who we tried out on one project had to be heavily edited and didn’t have a very good relationship with his artist. When the artist left him before finishing a second issue, he threatened to sue us and demanded his work back, knowing full well that we now owned the rights to the material, which sucked majorly to begin with. He pretended to be his uncle, a supposed lawyer, who sent us a list of demands. You could automatically tell it wasn’t done by any law professional and I confronted him with a return letter stating our position after consulting with a real lawyer of our own.

    3) I had to tell this writer/artist team that we couldn’t publish their work due to financial restrictions because of the market crash of 1994. The artist: Tim Levins, who went on to publish his work with Marvel. The writer (and my biggest regret)? J. Torres, writer of The Copybook Tales, Teen Titans Go!, and numerous other successful titles for Marvel, DC, IDW, etc. I still want to pull the hair out of my bald head.

    • Tyler James says:

      Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it, Steve!

      I’m going to be mindful that we grow slow and steady, as we have been. I’ve seen a lot of publishing companies feel they need to hit the gas as soon as they get some traction, but I don’t think that’s usually the best idea.

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