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A Road Less Traveled: Taking Your Webcomic to a Traditional Publisher

I thought things were changing. Apparently I was wrong.

When Zuda released its contracts last month, I think they showed that the major comics publishers are more interested in acquiring properties than publishing books. As Gary Tyrrell over at Fleen said about the contracts, "Webcomics can do better and so can you."

Believe that! Contracts like Zuda's play off the insecurities of creators -- you're the harshest critic of your work. Put that aside. If the comics industry refuses to change the way they operate, go to the publishers who will give you a fair deal.

I have a book coming out in January with a small but respected publisher, and receive compensation comparable with others in the prose publishing industry.

I thought things were changing. Apparently I was wrong.

When Zuda released its contracts last month, I think they showed that the major comics publishers are more interested in acquiring properties than publishing books. As Gary Tyrrell over at Fleen said about the contracts, "Webcomics can do better and so can you."

Believe that! Contracts like Zuda's play off the insecurities of creators -- you're the harshest critic of your work. Put that aside. If the comics industry refuses to change the way they operate, go to the publishers who will give you a fair deal.

I have a book coming out in January with a small but respected publisher, and receive compensation comparable with others in the prose publishing industry.

In the coming months, I'll go into detail about my experiences selling my graphic novel to a prose publisher, and then selling it to the public when it comes out in January, 2008.

But for now, here's a summary that’s anything but quick on how to submit your work to traditional publishers:

 

Get Ready

Let's assume you've got your graphic novel done. Congratulations! Seriously, that's the hardest part of the job - step one. You should be proud of yourself - not many people are able to get this far.

But now you're in a different mode - you're selling the novel, step two.

And if you're going the traditional publishing route, there're a few things you need:

  • Query letter. It's only got to be the best one-page letter you'll ever write and it's only got to convince a publisher to publish your novel or an agent to represent you. So, no pressure! Next month I'll go into detail about this and show you a letter my publisher uses during public speaking engagements as the best example of a query letter she's ever received. I was completely surprised to find that it's mine.
  • Synopsis. In as little space as possible, tell a complete stranger what your story is about. Begin with a description of your main character(s) and explain the plot - don't leave out the ending! I won't lie to you - this is dreary work. I mean, you've already finished the story and now you've got to go back and tell it again! And in one or two pages tops! But it's got to be done.
  • 30 pages or a sample chapter. Easy, the novel's already done, right?

 

Get Set

Now that you have the material, you've got to research who to send it to -- publishers or agents. You don't need an agent to get published, but some publishers won't look at anything not submitted by an agent. Some want to see all of it. Some want a query letter only. You've got to send them what they want, in the way they want it.

The best resource for figuring this stuff out, hands down, are the Writers Market books. Make sure you get the latest edition, it'll cost about $20, cheaper if you buy it with their Literary Agent guide at Amazon. You could also check your local library. Just make sure it's the latest edition - people move around and phone numbers change. It looks bad if you're submitting to someone at an agency who left a year ago.

You also need to steer clear of the phonies, scammers and others who want to rip you off. Be sure to stop by the Science Fiction Writers of America Writer Beware site. And check the Preditors & Editors list. Bad guys are out there -- be warned.

 

Go

You've mailed your materials to one or more publishers and agents and now you're waiting - maybe months - for them to get back to you.

Well, you don't have to sit around. There’s a host of writers conferences out there. And the best parts are the pitch meetings.There are writing conferences affiliated with a professional group such as Mystery Writers or Romance Writers. Popular ones will usually be listed on their websites or linked. It'll cost some cash, but these are terrific networking opportunities.

And don't underestimate the importance of associating with other creative people, even if they don’t do comics. Everyone needs to recharge his/her batteries. I find myself looking forward to February each year, when the Love is Murder conference happens here in Chicago.

For your pitch session, dress nicely -- not too conservative but not half naked. Figure out what you're going to say before hand -- you have only a few minutes to describe your book and series. Like the query letter, you have a small window to sell yourself. Bring your materials but don't be surprised if you leave them only your query letter. These people have tons of paper foisted upon them -- judge the situation and hand them only what they need. They'll be grateful and that means they'll remember you.

And that's the short take on it. It's what I did, it's how I got a book deal.

You can do it too. See you next month.

Self Publishing

desireg's picture

I published the first chapter of my graphic novel SPiDERS through three POD sites: Lulu.com, comixpress.com and www.cafepress.com   What I found was that the initial launch got a great response because I had slowly updated and developed my story through the www.webcomiclist.com  forum. The first chapter was only 20 pages and I sold only 22 copies without any advertisement. Of course 22 copies is nothing in comparison but it’s a lot being that I didn’t spend a single dollar on print or distribution. Nor did I make any networking trips to conferences and so forth. The biggest mistake I made was that I let life happen so there has been a span of more than six months of me producing nothing. I even had a fan cus me out in a PM my www.drunckduck.com  account. Consistency seems to be the hardest thing to maintain but the most important factor to a book's success. Now I'm back on track with Chapter two and my plan is to continue to publish each chapter through Lulu and the other PODs I mentioned until the book is finished. I kinda see the POD and webcomic hosting sites as a way to promote the book as it's being made and through that fan base maybe I can gain some respect from mainstream publishers who are watching up and coming graphic novels. I really admire the author and artist Iron Spike. She's a great storywriter and she's a smart promo cookie. Although, I'm not sure that she's ever used a POD publisher but she’s definitely worked the Comic Conference circuit and the “online webcomics” scene pretty well and consistently. Her story is a fun read as well. Another thing I’ve noticed is that some webcomics make it just because they are around for more than three years and they are consistent. To this day I miss the old Mac Hall but I get my fix through Apple Geeks now :) So right now consistency is the priority. Speaking of which I need to get back to working those pages. I'm still in need of advice on how to keep things rollin' in a positive direction so don’t stop the post folks. I'm diggin' this thread. Peace and pineapples, Desire Grover  

Does your life shed light or cast shadows?

Self publishing...

WaterMedia's picture

I appreciate the article. But reading it reminds why I self-publish print.

It can be very easy once you get past the steep learning curve and understand that you won't make money. But I'm doing this with my new mega book because it is so daring no one would take a chance on this. But the irony is people want something unique, even if it is harder to get it in their hands.

Best of luck with the new book!

- Josh
www.WelcometoPixelton.com

Re: A Road Less Traveled

Tim Broderick's picture

Let me add this quote by Dirk Deppey, commenting on the Zuda contracts, from 10/10 Journalista:

"Moral: If you respect your rights as a creator, don’t do business with someone who doesn’t likewise respect those rights. The alternative isn’t self publishing; it’s doing business with a better breed of publisher. Others have successfully held out for better. If your work is good enough, or meaningful enough to you, then you should too."


Re: A Road Less Traveled: Taking Your Webcomic to a Traditional

macnut's picture

But why bother with a traditional publisher at all with so many decent POD (Print-On-Demand) outfits just a few clicks away? Why subject yourself to all those hoops and the arbitrary judgments of an editor or publisher who won't share your love for and belief in your work?

 

The MacNut
Creator/Writer/Artist
The Vanguard

The MacNut
Creator/Writer/Artist
The Vanguard
http://thevanguardhome.com

Re: A Road Less Traveled: Taking Your Webcomic to a Traditional

Tim Broderick's picture

The other replies have touched on what I think, but I wanted to reply too:

I think POD technology is fantastic. But while the technology can be an important part of a business plan, it isn't in itself a business plan.

What you're talking about is being a solo publisher. And that is a valid course of action. Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), for example, has shown that. But she's also demonstrated that it's a full-time job.

Realistically, I have a full-time job and a family that I need to provide for. So my business plan involves having a partner who will share the profits in return for handling aspects of the business - such as printing, distribution, publicity, sales and bookkeeping.

You could say that being a solo publisher is one of those things you attempt when you're young and single rather than married with children - unless you're independently wealthy enough to quit your day job, or you're not worried about this becoming a full-time job.

There's another aspect to going the traditional publishing route that Tom Spurgeon touches on in his recent post about webcomics. POD is a bit like webcomics in that the technology allows anyone to publish their work, but the perception is that doesn't ensure quality.

The analogy breaks down because - unlike POD - I think some of the best comics being created today are found on the web but you get my idea.

But the point is that being published by a third party does open some doors. It makes it easier to get into bookstores - not just on the shelves but in the stores for signing events. It makes it more likely that the book will get reviewed as many reviewers are hesitant to look at POD books. All because you got a third party to decide that your product was worth investing in.

A few years ago, I took my first book and set it up as a POD so I could show potential publishers that it could printed as cheaply as any other book. That was a mistake - when it did get picked up by a small, regional publisher there was a lot of confusion about the editions.

So you really need to choose your business plan with an eye to the future. Neither path - POD or submitting to a publisher - is going to guarantee sales. It's really a matter of what works best for your personal goals and situation.

Re: A Road Less Traveled: Taking Your Webcomic to a Traditional

Greg Carter's picture

That's easy - a publisher with distribution, especially in the book store market, will give you a much greater potential audience. That's true even with a small publisher if they already have the connections. It's all about getting into the channel. The Direct Market is important, but bookstores are becomming the holy grail for graphic novels.

But yes, it's definitely a trade-off.

The great thing about POD is that you can make that choice of not bothering with a publisher and still sell books. It's a matter of scale. The number of people that buy POD books is way smaller than the number of folks in the book trade and DM.

Greg Carter Abandon

Greg Carter - Abandon: First Vampire - Online Graphic Novel

Re: A Road Less Traveled: Taking Your Webcomic to a Traditional

WaterMedia's picture

One big note is that I think we all agree. The larger the audience the larger the sale. But this isn't 1985, and access to distributors are universal.

These are the real guys that get your book in stores. Hook up with one of the few and you are golden. A publisher is just a pretty money front to make the books, but they are owned without making a deal with a distributor.

www.WelcometoPixelton.com

Re: A Road Less Traveled: Taking Your Webcomic to a Traditional

CyberLord's picture

I think you missed another important reason to have a publisher: a respected publisher gives your book more respect. The publisher is proof to Barnes & Noble and others that someone besides the author read the work and LIKED it. This is very important.

It's not absolutely necessary. John Grisham sold his first book out of the back of his car, from what I'm told. (pure rumor. I can't confirm it.)

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort but where he stands at times of challenge and discovery. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.---------CyberLord

Re: A Road Less Traveled: Taking Your Webcomic to a Traditional

Tim Broderick's picture

Thanks Greg. I hope to chronicle my experiences right here at Comixtalk.

Re: A Road Less Traveled: Taking Your Webcomic to a Traditional

Greg Carter's picture

Good luck with the new book!

Great article. Works for prose novels and graphic novels. Pitching is pitching. There's one big don't for comics - don't cold call an editor/publisher at a convention. It's rude and your submission will go in the trash bin before leaving the convention floor. Also especially for comics, go to the publishers website, find the rules, and FOLLOW THEM EXACTLY. Otherwise? Yep, trash bin.

I'm especially interested when you get to how the promotion shakes out - what the publisher does vs how much you need to do. People tend to think once they send the work off to the publisher they are pretty much done with it. Most publishers can't give much support to properties other than lump it in with their usual publicity/marketing and providing review copies. That's a huge help, but there's so much more that can be done.

Greg Carter Abandon

Greg Carter - Abandon: First Vampire - Online Graphic Novel