B&N Week 137: 5 Pages & A Cover?

| August 6, 2013


It’s another wonderful Tuesday! Wonderful, I say! Wonderful! Just one of those days where you look at it and everything is fine. I love Tuesdays. I’m here, you’re here what’s not to love?

This week, I want to take a look at something a lot of us do. I want to look at it, examine it, understand the reasons behind it, and then see where we go from there. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the five pages plus a cover standard that has been adopted.

It’s generally accepted that Image started this standard, which allows the publisher the ability to look at the writing, the art, the logo, and decide whether or not they want to publish it. They often say not to send in more than that, because very often they’ll ask for a change in the logo, or give some editorial tips that might drive the comic in a different direction. That’s what they tell you, if they tell you anything at all.

Generally, you’re going to hear a bunch of silence from them. You’re going to hear a bunch of silence from a lot of publishers, but we’ll come to that in a little while. If publisher is going to accept creator-owned work, a lot of them will tell you to send in five pages and a cover. I’m telling you right now, a great portion of you are failing at this, because you refuse to do one simple thing: understand what competent talent looks like, so you can hire them to work on your book. See? Simple.

Instead of understanding what competent talent looks like, you’re hiring anything that you believe looks good, and then you’re trying to get them hooked on the fabled five pages and a cover plan. This is what this plan looks like.

Let’s say you want to produce a book about jellyfish. This isn’t any ordinary jellyfish, though. It’s a universal jellyfish that floats on the currents of time, and it is being threatened by oceanic ocelots from null-space. Interesting, right? That book will sell a fabillion copies! What do you want to do with it, though?

You want to submit it to Image Comics so that they’ll publish it. However, you’re just a writer. You need to find an artist to bring this to life. Not even an artist—you need an entire creative team! And to make matters worse, you don’t have a lot of money to throw around. You do know, however, that Image will take this as soon as they see it. So you go to their website and confirm what you’ve heard many times before: they only want five pages and a cover. Surely you can scrape up enough money to cover that, right?

And here’s where you start to go off the rails. You don’t even write an entire issue. You only write five pages of the story, and then you try to fill out a team that will work on the submission. Since you don’t have a lot of money, you try to make it worth their while with promises. They sound something like this: Work on this for less than your regular pay, and what I’ll do is make this up to you on the back end, once Image picks it up. You’ll get the amount equal to a page rate. What I’m going to need, though, are assurances that you’ll stay onboard after Image picks it up. Let’s get this done! Hollywood will surely be calling!

Sound familiar? If you haven’t posted something similar, you’ve more than likely read it. Somehow or another, you get the work done [and the work isn’t bad; it isn’t good enough to go on the shelves, but it isn’t bad], you send it off to Image, and then you wait.

This is what Image sees: an [hopefully] original idea, that needs dire help in execution. The writing is sub par; the artist is still at least a year away from being able to produce really solid work; the inks are muddy and do not complement the pencils; the colors are highly saturated and do not have a consistent light source, and have lens flares all over the place; the letters are inconsistent with crossbar I’s, bad choices for balloon placement, and balloon tails that do not point to characters mouths. It’s a hot, steaming pile of crap, and they don’t lower themselves to answer you.

Then, you start shopping around. You waited long enough for Image, heard nothing back, and now you’re on the hunt. Someone’s got to take this, right? It’s called Man o’ War, for goodness sake! It’s meta!

You work your way down and down the list of companies that accept creator-owned work. No one bites. You do get a helpful few notes from some editors, though. They go like this: Hire a better team. Get an editor onboard to help this to shine. Continue to work on your craft. That doesn’t sound helpful, but in actuality, it is. You’re just doing the stubborn thing and are refusing to understand what they’re saying.

You need to have a phenomenal creative team. Your book has to look polished. It has to read like you know exactly what story you want to tell, you know how to tell it, and the look to the art is intentional. There have to be signs of quality all throughout the book. You’re not going to get anywhere without all of this in place.

Now, Image is the bastion of creator-owned material. This means they aren’t telling you how to tell your story. What you bring to them is generally what they put out. There are no editors to help you polish the story. Again, what they’re looking for is to see if they can sell the book. If you haven’t created something with quality, how are they supposed to sell it?

There is a second reason why Image doesn’t want you to create an entire book if your sole purpose is to pitch to them: they don’t want you to waste your money on something they don’t think they can sell. Remember, although it is relatively cheap to produce a comic, it is also relatively expensive to do when you’re broke. Not everyone can afford to put down $4k for the production of an entire comic. This money-saving gesture is there because that is exactly what the overwhelming majority are doing: you’re wasting money in creating an entire comic, because it won’t sell. Not well enough to break even. [And remember, your break-even point is when your sales equal your production and print costs. Never forget the print costs.]

Now, all of that is conventional wisdom, and it generally works. There is a subset of you, however, that should go against conventional wisdom. This part is for you. [And hopefully, after reading this, there will be more of you.]

Going against conventional wisdom means creating a full comic for their perusal.

This is a much riskier road to travel, but it shows a few things. But first, a caveat: everything has to be done right. If things are off, then you’re wasting your money and your time. [Well, that’s not true. I wouldn’t call it a waste. What I would call it, though, is a very expensive lesson to learn.]

The first thing you do is you come up with a damned good story. One that can be sold, and does not follow a market trend or that can easily be seen as something else. Then, you hire an editor to make it even better. After that, you hire a phenomenal creative team. No, merely competent will not do. This team has to be both great and professional. [This means you have to be professional, too.] Together, you create a polished book with a fun story to read. What do you do with that book?

You send it in to Image Comics. A damned good story that can be sold, with a phenomenal, polished look to it? Yes, you’ve gone way out of bounds of the submission guidelines [and I’m going against my own advice in not following them to the letter, but there are reasons for that], but this is what it will show Image two things: that you are passionate about the book in order to go through the trouble and expense of creating an entire book. That passion should show through in the story and art, and that you know how to make a quality book. These are two important things.

Now, if Image were to pass on this, you have a greater chance of getting a reason why. [Remember, this is a story that is damned good, original, and polished. This is a book of quality.] Do they owe you a reason? Not at all. Never think that for one moment. But you’re giving yourself a greater chance of getting a reason as to why if they were to turn it down.

What do you do with that completed book? You have a few options. Of course, you can shop it around and see if anyone will bite. That will always be an option. You might even get somewhere with it. [And likely, you should, if you hit the right publisher at the right time.]

For those who have the vision and the doggedness to pursue this course, doing five pages and a cover is a waste of time, plain and simple. I know I sound like a broken record, but repetition is needed, because some of you just do not get it: in order for you to get away with not doing five pages and a cover, then you have to have a quality book with a solid, original story. This is not an option. Most of you think quality is an option, but really, it isn’t. Not if you want sales.

If more of you came at this from a perspective of knowing you had to have a quality book before even approaching a publisher, then it would be a race for attention, to see which project either stands out above the rest or catches the attention of the publisher, rather than having a growing pile of crap and trying to see which publisher is willing to get its hands dirty in trying to get the story out to the public.

Really, one way or the other, five pages and a cover is a waste of time. If you’ve got a bad book, you’re not going to be published. If you’ve got a good book, then you’ve got something to publish. Either a publisher will pick it up, or you could self-publish it.

Now, I’ve said all of that. I’ve contradicted myself from an earlier article. However, at the end of the day, I’m still going to tell you this: follow the publisher’s submission policy to the letter. It’s there for a reason.

And that’s all there is for this week. Homework: look at various publisher’s submission policies. Bookmark those pages. See if they have any similarities. Write those down. Make a list of which publishers you want to submit to. See if they are publishing material similar to the story you want to tell. Target them. Craft your stories toward them.

That’s all. See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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