The Road Less Traveled: REJECTED!

So you’ve sent your materials to a publisher or agent, you’ve waited politely for the prescribed amount of time, and finally a letter from them shows up in your mailbox.

Chances are you’ve been rejected.

So now what?

So, you’ve sent your materials to a publisher or agent, you’ve waited politely for the prescribed amount of time, and finally a letter from them shows up in your mailbox.

Chances are you’ve been rejected.

You will feel many emotions, but I’m too heartless a bastard to discuss them now. Seriously, I could care less — this is a business not a birthday party. So when you’ve calmed down, there are two things you need to do:

  1. If it’s basically a form letter, or a letter saying "we don’t publish graphic novels," toss it. Or frame it. Doesn’t matter – they didn’t take the time to tell you why they rejected you, don’t waste time trying to figure it out. Pick out the next agent or publisher on your list, update your query letter and send off your materials again.
  2. If you’re really lucky, they will include feedback. Maybe it’ll be a handwritten note on a form letter – whatever it is, that’s gold baby. That’s a pro telling you what they think.


Doesn’t mean they’re right, but it does mean you should listen to what they told you and seriously consider it. Here’s a few of the things you might run into…


Too derivative.

Quite a few writers are inspired to start because they’re fans of a particular genre or story. And that’s fine. But if they want to sell their story, they need to make sure that the inspiration doesn’t overwhelm uniqueness. I can’t believe I’m going to reference it, but the judges on American Idol will occasionally lecture a singer during an audition for singing a song just like the original artist. The performer’s got the tone and inflections of that professional singer down so well that their own voice is lost. They’ve become a mimic. Do you see too much of other people’s ideas in your work? Don’t be a mimic. Examine what you bring to the story that’s unique: it could be the way you handle the characters, it could be a twist in the plot – it could be anything. But it’s got to be more than superficial details – this isn’t just your personal daydream or fan fiction.



Do your characters speak for themselves? When you read back their dialogue, do you hear a unique voice with different accents or inflection? Or do they all sound like you? Dialogue is such an important component in comics, and it’s a very difficult thing to pull off. If you don’t, it’s like a droning voice in a reader’s head, monotonous and unfullfilling. Go rent some movies where dialogue is a key part of the films’ success. Every once in a while, close your eyes and listen – don’t watch. You’ll be surprised at how entertaining just the voices can be.

The art isn’t … something.

This is a tough one because you don’t know where the editor is coming from. Could be they grew up as an X-men fan. Maybe they have a refrigerator full of Cathy cartoons. Maybe they swear by Tezuka. There’s nothing you can really do about meeting their expectations if your art doesn’t match their preconceived notions.

But remember, we’re submitting to prose publishers — it could be that they’re trying to tell you something but don’t have the words to express it. It could be they’re saying that they know you’ve never taken a real art class in your life. You need to make sure that’s not the case. If you’re still in college, go take figure drawing and life drawing classes. Go to an art museum — take a notebook and try and sketch the statues or parts of the paintings. Man, just talking about it makes me want to go back and take classes again. I LOVED them then and I think I’d appreciate them now even more. When it comes to art, you never stop learning.


The story needs work.

Author Michael Allen Dymmoch is really the inspiration for this whole column. She pointed out this to me:

Comics have to first tell a good story (even commercials have to tell a story), so you might recommend the following books to your readers: Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, Robert McKee, Regan Books/Harper Collins, 1997. The Writer¹s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler, Michael Wiese Productions, 1998. and Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Rust Hills, Houghton Mifflin, 1997. They’re old, but they’re classics.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s a theme to this column: If you were rejected, you have to be open to the idea that there actually might be something about your story or your art or dialogue that needs to be fixed. You may need to take some time, improve your skills, gain experience and develop a critical eye toward your own work.

There’s nothing wrong with that, as a matter of fact having a critical eye will help you improve in the long run. Ideally, you want to have all these things working before you submit to publishers, but I’m told most unsuccessful writers don’t start taking a hard look at their work until after they’ve been rejected. Sometimes several times. For years.

So if you get rejected, it could be their loss — or it could be you need to make some changes. Only you can judge which.


NEXT MONTH: Adventures in marketing!

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.

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