How to … Submit a Graphic Novel Proposal!

26 Oct

A Guest Post by Hayleigh Bird

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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.

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. 😀

~~~

Hayleigh Bird is a children’s book fanatic and enthusiast. She works in the children’s publishing arena as a Sales Assistant at Kids Can Press, and is currently working on several manuscripts for children and young adults. You can find her on Twitter and on her comedic blog, Peculiar Amusement.

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27 Responses to “How to … Submit a Graphic Novel Proposal!”

  1. Victoria Dixon October 26, 2010 at 12:11 AM #

    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. Good luck, true believers! ;D

    • Hayleigh October 26, 2010 at 2:53 PM #

      Hey Victoria,

      Thanks for commenting! What I should have said is that there is no guideline that MUST be followed. The more “out of the box” a submission is, the more likely it is to attract attention, is really what my point was. There are certainly lots of how-to books, articles, and suggested guidelines out there. Actually, Kids Can Press just put one out, that helps young kids create their own graphic Novel (Lila and Ecco’s Do It Yourself Comics Club). I’ve heard of both the ones you mentioned, and have heard they are great. What I meant was that a submission that doesn’t follow any “how to” or guideline is just as likely to get picked up as one that does.

      😀 Hayleigh

    • Caitlin October 29, 2010 at 7:32 PM #

      Victoria you are officially awesome for pointing these out. I love Understanding Comics so much and actually reference it all the time in my film classes (specifically the concept of the space between the frames being as important as what’s in the frames themselves and how it relates to editing and montage.

  2. Julie Eshbaugh October 26, 2010 at 9:11 AM #

    Hey Hayleigh! What a GREAT post! Thank you so much for this info. I doubt there are many writers of YA who haven’t imagined their ideas as graphic novels at some point, so I appreciate the timeliness and thoroughness of your advice here!
    I have two Qs! Although I can draw, it’s a (very) undeveloped skill of mine. However, I have an acquaintance who is just the kind of artist that would be perfect for graphic novels. Do publishers like collaborations, and if such a collaboration were to be sold to a publisher, what’s the typical revenue split between author and visual artist?
    Second Q – when you talk about a “sample spread,” what dimensions are you referring to? Should the samples match the dimensions for the finished book mentioned in the proposal?
    Thanks again for this excellent guest post! ❤

    • Hayleigh October 26, 2010 at 2:58 PM #

      Hi Julie! I am glad you liked the post. To answer your questions:

      1) 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.

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

      -Hayleigh

  3. savannahjfoley October 26, 2010 at 10:03 AM #

    Hi Hayleigh! Thanks for stopping by and sharing all this great info!

    • Hayleigh October 26, 2010 at 2:58 PM #

      😀 Anytime.

  4. Sarah J. Maas October 26, 2010 at 2:12 PM #

    FANTASTIC post, Hayleigh! I know NOTHING about how graphic novels get published, so this was really interesting!

    Have you read PERSEPOLIS? One of the most amazing graphic novels EVER.

    Thanks so much for guest posting today!!! 😀

    • Hayleigh October 26, 2010 at 3:00 PM #

      Thanks Sarah! I have not read Persepolis, but I just looked it up and it looks fantastic. That is definitely going on my “to-read” list.

  5. sdennard October 26, 2010 at 2:41 PM #

    Such a cool post, Hayleigh! Thanks! I’ve been wondering about this exact thing because I see graphic novels everywhere these days (even here in Germany).

    P.S. You have a very cool name. I’ve never seen it before. 🙂

    • Hayleigh October 26, 2010 at 3:01 PM #

      Thanks! I have my dad to thank for the unique spelling of my name 🙂

  6. Vanessa Di Gregorio October 26, 2010 at 4:24 PM #

    LOVED this post, Hayleigh!!! 😀 I’m so glad you were able to guest post here again!

    I may try to solicit more guest posts from you in the future ;P

    • Hayleigh October 26, 2010 at 8:34 PM #

      Thanks V

  7. Kat Zhang October 26, 2010 at 5:20 PM #

    This is really interesting, Hayleigh! I wish I were good enough of an artist to manage a graphic novel 😀

    • Hayleigh October 26, 2010 at 8:35 PM #

      As do I Kat, as do I! Unfortunately even my stick men don’t manage to look how they are supposed to 😦

  8. Caitlin October 29, 2010 at 7:29 PM #

    Thanks for sharing Hayleigh. I think it’s significant that Graphic novels have popularized the comic art form outside of the circles it typically is a part of, although ppl in those circles may know what’s up when it comes to submitting those with a new interest in the form don’t. Thanks for sharing with us.

  9. Diane Pascual August 27, 2011 at 3:12 PM #

    Hi Hayleigh! I really like your article about submitting a proposal! I’m also in the process of submitting my story to a few different publishers and I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog! Very insightful and just what I was looking for! I would love to get your feedback on a story I wrote and made into a graphic novel, would you be interested?

    thanks,
    Diane

  10. Madeleine Swann January 9, 2012 at 2:40 PM #

    This entry, and Victoria’s rwading suggestions underneath, are genius. Thanks loads for the help, I feel slightly less wobbly about attempting a graphic novel now. The only thing that concerns me is the artwork, I’m not an artist but I do know a good one, I’m guessing its better if the art is complete along with the story before submission?

    • Madeleine Swann January 9, 2012 at 2:40 PM #

      Dammit I meant reading suggestions

    • Madeleine Swann January 9, 2012 at 2:44 PM #

      Just read one of the comments, so I suppose its possible to just send a script? That would be even better as the artist I know, as they all are, is very busy

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    Thank you for sharing!

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  13. timlyonjr October 31, 2013 at 12:55 AM #

    Hello,

    I don’t know if this post is even active still, but I am willing to try it out. I am currently a new writer to the graphic novel world. I am looking to propose a series and I am confused on how some people say books and and others chapters. Are books a certain number of pages? Are chapters like issues, I was curious to how that all worked.
    Thank you for your time.

  14. ji March 18, 2014 at 10:10 PM #

    I have a question to ask.

    My cousin used be a famous comic illustrator in korea. he had love calls from marvel, dc, and other japanese publishers in the past ( for marvels and dc they asked him to draw spiderman and superman). He had sold millions of his book in the past. He was in this field for 25years.

    He immigrated to canada because of his family and to study amerian cultures for his work. He has studied for 7 years for his comic work in america

    He wants to show his gifted abilities in america.

    He is preparing for his art for his american devue.

    I am going to help him out with submission and other work.

    He writes his own script, colors, pencils and more.

    He also has his own team who have followed him for more than 20 years.

    We are planning to visit america in summer time.

    I am curious to know if there are faster ways to show his work that he is preparing now for his american devue. ( for example, meeting with the editor directly).

    We want to make schedule before we visit to america.

    Thank you so much

  15. Michelle July 9, 2014 at 6:15 PM #

    Hello, I’m working on a graphic novel submission right now, but there is one problem: I’m still in school. Once a submission has been accepted, how quickly in general are you expected to finish the whole book and all the pages?

    I understand that generally you aren’t supposed to finish and then submit because they’ll probably want things changed, but then I’m worried I’ll be too slow to accommodate them.

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