How to Pitch a Graphic Novel

You ever wonder how to pitch a graphic novel? Lately I’ve been in thinking about how to make the change from thinking about completing a project to actually completing it. Big projects like a graphic novel are daunting; I’ve found it helpful to break a big project into smaller tasks. If you work steadily and simply focus on the task at hand, you can get the project done, rather than flailing about haphazardly.

I have many story ideas. Some are destined for this site as a webcomic, and others are ones that I’d like to see published traditionally or kickstarted. The one I’m focused on right now is one I’d like to see published by a traditional, non-comic publisher. I’d like to get an agent, and eventually an editor who can help fine-tune the story for publication.

Without any research I just assumed that you need a completed script, at minimum, to pitch a graphic novel. Possibly even completed art as well. Both are daunting af. Thankfully I learned on Twitter that pitching a graphic novel is much, much, less daunting, thanks to @danichuatico:

I’ll get to what’s in a pitch packet in a sec – what really caught my attention was this:

Woah – I don’t need to have my story finished to start shopping it? SIGN ME UP!!!

I did some research on how to pitch a graphic novel and below is the list I came up with. There are two important caveats I want to mention:

  1. The list is from research; I have not pitched before. If I’m wrong about something, please let me know.
  2. Every agent & publisher has different requirements; I’ve noted the possible differences as (variable).

Jim Zub made this point in one of his posts on pitching comic ideas to publishers:

A pitch is all about clearly explaining your idea and justifying why you are the right person to see it through.

– Jim Zub, comic writing bad-ass

Before pitching to a specific agent or publisher you MUST find out what their requirements are and fulfill them to the letter! If you don’t, you will immediately give an impression of yourself as careless or unprofessional. Would you want to work with someone who is careless or unprofessional? Think about that before you send your pitch.

How to pitch a graphic novel: what you need

How to Pitch a graphic Novel
Typewriters are cool but I would never write on one these days.

A cover letter (variable)
Some agents & publishers require a cover letter to get a sense of the creator. Why is your story right for them? Who else is on the creative team? If you met the person you are pitching to, the cover letter is a good place to remind them.

An elevator pitch
This is a super short descriptions of your story, limited to 1-2 sentences. It should include: your main characters as well as the story hook & central conflict.

The hook is the Why of the story – what are the stakes & sources of tension? This can often be presented as a problem & solution. You want to condense this all into a single sentence:

A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.

– Randy Ingermanson

If you can condense it into a logline – a one-sentence summary – that’s even better. You can learn more about writing a one-sentence summary of your story here.

Tip: A logline is super useful for a pitch party on Twitter.

An outline or synopsis (variable)
This is an abbreviated version of the story, ranging from a straight up outline of all story beats to a written synopsis (ranging from a few paragraphs to 15 pages)(variable). This should tell the full story from beginning to end, including all beats & spoilers. Include:

  • subject/what it’s about
  • target market (variable)
  • a good, interesting opening
  • stick to the essential details
  • include characters’ feelings & emotions
  • include situations & complications
  • focus on character arcs

A partial script (variable)
Include 1-2 chapters, or roughly the first 20 pages. If you’re a writer submitting without an artist, you may need to submit the whole script.

Your bio
3-5 sentences about you, plus your previous work or history if relevant (ie don’t say you worked at McDonald’s unless that sheds some light on your story). Make sure you includes links to your website or webcomics.

Character designs (variable)
Drawings of notable characters, either sketches or fully rendered character sheets. If you’re Bryan Lee O’Malley, who was known for his art AND was pitching to someone who already knew him, you can get away with just describing characters like he did in his Scott Pilgrim pitch.

Sample comic pages
At least 5-10 pages of pencils, with at least 2 pages fully inked, colored, and lettered. The number of finished pages you need will depend on the agent or publisher. Be sure to bookmark this list of comic publisher submission guidelines and if you’re pitching to agents, ask them what they want to see.

Roll all these into 1-2 pdfs and you’ve got a pitch packet

If you’re like me and looking at traditional publishers instead of a comic publisher like Image or Skybound, you should delve deeper into how agents and publishing work. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators specifically for networking (and because the graphic novel that prompted this post is aimed at middle-grade kids).

There are tons of resources these days on pitching and querying (a one-page pitch aimed at an individual agent). For more traditional publisher specific details, check this post on How to format & submit graphic novels and this post on what some agents look for in graphic novel pitches.

What do you think?

I hope you found this helpful. If you have a question, correction, or response, please leave a comment.

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