How to…Submit a Graphic Novel Proposal

A question that has plagued my little mind for some time, here are some answers. Woo hoo!

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A Softer World

I’m not sure what this says about my personality but a friend of mine said she heard the whisper in this comic strip by Joey Comeau and Emily Horne in my voice:

On that note I decided to include a few more favourites from humorously melancholic series A Softer World, and here they are:

Submitting – and writing – a graphic novel

I’m writing a YA graphic novel and I was worrying about structure, whether the artwork needs to be submitted at the same time and a million other things when I came across this article on a website called Let the Words Flow. Here’s the original article and here’s what Hayleigh Bird said:

What do you think of when you hear the term graphic novel? I’m willing to bet that images of Spiderman, Batman, and Wonder Woman pop in to your head. But graphic novels aren’t just for superheroes and villains anymore. The audience for graphic novels has been expanding rapidly over the past few years. These days you can find graphic novels about space cats, political and philosophical issues, circuses, and yes, even vampires. Graphic novels are no longer targeted only at teenage boys. They are being created for boys and girls alike, for kids as young as six, and for adults too.

So why is this trend interesting to you, the writer? Publishers are very hungry for good graphic novels. That’s good news for anyone aspiring to be published, particularly if you have a fondness for art, sketching, and drawing. This post won’t tell you how to create a graphic novel, because there is really no guideline for that. And if you were to follow a guideline, your graphic novel would likely look the same as your next-door neighbor’s graphic novel, and as such not be as stand-out-fantastic as it could be. The best thing you can do if you’re creating a graphic novel is to create straight from your own head, from your own imagination. Different equals interesting, so go for it.

What you may need a little guidance with, however, is how to create a graphic novel submission, and what to include. Most publishers (and agents) do have a section on their website stating the regulations for submitting to them; however very few tell you what to include in a graphic novel submission. And submitting a graphic novel is very different than submitting a novel. For starters, you will submit a proposal rather than a partial.

What do editors and agents want to see in a proposal? You will need to include a document describing the book’s concept and specs. This means a plot summary, character and setting descriptions, proposed extent (how many pages?), trim (what size of pages?), and colours (full colour? Black and white?). This document should also include a biography, listing previous work. This part of your proposal expands on what you might say in a query letter. There are a few reasons that this document is important. First, an editor or agent wants to know that you have a clear idea of what your graphic novel is going to look like. If you don’t know the extent, trim size, etc, it means you haven’t really planned out what you are going to create. That’s not to say that these numbers won’t change as you continue creating – they might. But you should at least have a clear starting point, and plan.

If you are planning to write and illustrate your graphic novel, you will also need to include some sample spreads of finished, typeset artwork. I would suggest including spreads from your opening scene, and a climactic moment. Whatever you choose should be an important part of your plot, as whoever is reviewing your proposal will be most interested to see how you plan to illustrate and create those moments. In addition to the spreads, you also need to include character designs for each of your main characters. This means a couple pages of that character doing different things. You’ll want to portray them in a variety of poses and situations, so that there is a visible and clear sense of who that character is.

It is possible to submit a graphic novel proposal even if you are not an artist. Your chances of having your proposal accepted are likely lower, but if you have a stellar idea for a graphic novel then there are many agents and editors out there who would want to know about it. Your document containing a plot outline, character and setting descriptions, etc, will look the same as a proposal that includes illustrations. Your proposal, however, won’t include sample spreads, or character designs. What you will need to include is a scene of sample script. Again, it is advisable to choose either your opening scene, or your climax. The script should be just that: a script. It would look similar to a play, or screenplay script.

Publishers do not usually accept collaborations (of art and writing) from first time authors. That being said, the arena of graphic novels may be the only exception to this rule. Since most publishers do not have hard and fast submission guidelines for graphic novels, I would say that if you follow the general guideline that I gave you, there is no reason not to submit a collaboration. BUT it will take a lot more time, effort, and work before the submission is ready to send out. The nature of collaboration is that it is a lengthy process, as two people need to agree upon, and harmonize one vision. The revenue split would vary project to project, and publisher to publisher. Those details would get worked out when a contract is drawn up.

The sample spreads should definitely match/reflect the proposed dimensions for the finished book.

Lastly, if you are proposing a series, you should include a series outline, so that the editor or agent can see what the overall narrative arc will look like. They will also want to know how many books are being proposed. It is important to have a clear arc in mind, and not to plan to leave it open ended. Editors and agents want to know how you plan on ending your novel or series, not just how it starts.

If creating a graphic novel is something that interests you, I would definitely suggest giving it a try. The market is hot right now, especially with the appeal that graphic novels have for reluctant readers. Even schools are starting to use graphic novels in their curriculum, and their classrooms. Good luck in your endeavors, and as always, post questions or comments if you have them! I will try to answer all of them.

In answer to the entry above, Victoria Dixon wrote this very useful bit of info:

I’d have to object to the idea that there are not guidelines on how to write a graphic novel. There are at least two good ones I can think of: Scott McLeod’s “Understanding Comics” is the would-be graphic novelist’s bible, and his “Making Comics” is also a must-read. Alan Moore (Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, From Hell) has a How-to out, Will Eisner’s got two How-tos (Eisner did The Spirit comics), and there are others. I’d look through them and see what speaks to you, but DEFINITELY pick up “Understanding Comics” as it will walk you through why and how things work graphically AND in tandem with your brilliant story.”

Plus the writer’s website Litreactor has all of these entries regarding graphic novels and comics. If you’re anything like me though you won’t be doing stuff that costs money. So there you go. Hopefully soon I will know what I’m doing…P.S. Any artists out there? I’m serious…?