Nov 09 2009
1. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. The instructions take precedence over everything else. If you fail to meet the guidelines provided by the comic book publisher on its submissions page, you are dead on arrival. For example, you can see Dark Horse’s submissions guidelines here and Image’s here. (By the way, Marvel and DC don’t accept unsolicited submissions– either they call you because they’re impressed by what you have already published, or you start working for them in some other capacity and move laterally)
2. Show that you understand what sort of publisher you’re submitting to. In particular: do they publish other series that have a similar art style to yours? Do they publish series with similar content? For example, some comic book publishers specialize in military action or horror rather than superheroes. Target audience? Issue length? For example, Image and particularly Dark Horse tend to publish series at 32 pages an issue. If the publisher does not publish stories similar to yours, you are probably dead on arrival.
3. Show, don’t tell. Editors don’t really care about your opinion of your series. BAD: “This is a gripping, exciting story about a relatable protagonist.” BETTER: “John is a poisoned teenager who has two days to solve his own murder.” This is much more effective because it gives the editor the evidence to conclude that the story is interesting. It also gives more specific details to distinguish this story from the other 50 submissions the editor has opened today. Remember, your opinion doesn’t matter. You wrote the story– of course you think it’s interesting.
4. Don’t waste time on the mechanics of your story. You have between 1-3 pages (usually closer to 1) to summarize your story. Don’t waste more than a sentence or two on the superpowers. The personality and often the background of the main character(s) tend to be much more important.
5. Differentiate yourself. It’s not good enough to say you’re writing a superhero story. The editor may have read 250 superhero proposals this week. How is your superhero story different? Why should he accept you even though he rejected them? This is one reason why it’s a mistake to focus too much on superpowers rather than personality, character background and mood. Characters can have exactly the same powers but still feel different– for example, see Hellboy, the Thing, and the Hulk. Similarly, a character can have different powers but still feel like a ripoff. (For example, Static Shock is sometimes derided as a Spiderman clone).
6. Less is more, particularly for unpublished authors. Publishers are more receptive to one-shots and sometimes short series by unpublished authors rather than longer series or (God help you) ongoing/indefinite series. A one-shot is only a single issue, so it’s safer for the publisher because 1) it entails less financial commitment on their part and 2) it’ll give you a chance to show that you can meet tough deadlines. If the one-shot turns out nicely and sells well, the publisher will probably be receptive to publishing a longer series.