New York Comic Con didn't officially start until 3pm, but while throngs of fans waited upstairs, anxious to grab some free Hi-Chew, professionals were downstairs having a pre-Con of their own. With focuses on everything from licensing product and beyond, one of the big focuses, of course, was: how do you pitch your comic book to the big guys? Enter the standing room only "Pitching for Professionals" panel, featuring Marvel Editor Nick Lowe, Editor in Chief of Legendary Bob Schreck, and comics writer Paul Allor, all moderated by Comics Experience’s Andy Schmidt.
Things started off, appropriately, about where you want to start with pitching, presented by Schmidt. Since most comics publishers suggest not sending unsolicited work, Schmidt recommended just asking people in person about sending it pitches or work, and that most Editors will say, “Sure!”
Next up is networking - not just with Editors, but also with other writers and artists, as well as fans. “That’s probably more valuable than just networking with Editors,” said Schmidt, noting that the barriers with the Editor get broken down when someone introduces you, rather than cold-calling or bothering yourself.
If you do manage to get in and pitch, there’s two types of pitches: verbal and written. The first tip for verbal pitching? “Relax,” said Schmidt, and then keep it simple. At a Con, you probably won’t be able to do a full pitch, so get the important points out, and get their contact info... And keep good notes wherever possible. Also, try to make notes about whatever you talked about. Schmidt added that talking about things other than comics at a Comic-Con is good... Because no one will remember the hundreds of convos about comics, but they will remember the one about sky-diving.
Additionally, be able to adapt your pitch on the fly. “If you see someone getting bored, move it along,” said Schmidt. And also thank the pitch-ee for their time, which comes down to basic, “Being polite.”
Next up, Schmidt talked about written pitching. Here, you’ll need the title, your contact info. He also said he always wants to know, “What’s the hook? That’s often the premise. Tell the story. Be brief... That means if it’s a five issue mini-series? Tell it in a page.” Also check for clarity, as well possibly some brief character bios. However, you don’t need to add in marketing advice; though you might want to add in any artist info, if they’re attached. On the art note, “Only include professional level art,” said Schmidt.
Then it was over to Q&A! Here’s some of the highlights:
Asked about things they look for in pitches, Schreck said he looks for brevity, but also, “Whether I can glean the writers voice. It’s so hard to get a pitch to work, but if I can get the voice in there. Oh, and if you end your pitch with, ‘And then it goes on from there...’ It doesn’t.” Lowe chimed in on the writer’s voice, noting that Joss Whedon’s panel descriptions channel his voice. “I want to feel something,” continued Lowe, continuing that it can be through the character bios, or not, but he wants to see how he can relate to the story. “The human side is way more important,” added Lowe.
Allor chimed in saying that he tries to show the journey the character will go on, as the plot mechanics might change, but the emotional journey can stay consistent. He also added that not only do you need to knock people’s socks off, but also show the company you’re trying to work for that you will work for them well, too - just like on a job interview.
Asked about pitches they regret giving up, Schreck said Concrete, because it didn’t work out on the business side. Lowe said there were no particular projects, but there are times a writer will pitch a good story, but some other books are telling an opposite story - so it can’t be told. Schmidt said there was an Invaders book when he was at Marvel that everyone liked, but didn’t run because another Invaders book had recently tanked.
Then an audience member asked about self-publishing, and whether it was important. “It worked for me!” said Allor to laughter, continuing that you shouldn’t worry about the format so much as, “Building up your craft.” Allor actually wrote comics for years he never left anyone see, until he felt he was ready for self-publishing. He also added that you have to self-publish a lot of comics before you’re going to start getting professional work.
“It’s important for getting work in front of people, but also working out the kinks,” noted Lowe, saying that you’ll think your first comic is really good... But it may not be. But you should take the lessons you learn, and apply them to the next project, getting better all the time.
Asked about what stage you need to be at to pitch, Schreck said you need to be at least verbally able to pitch, though the written document is always key. He also likes character looks in art, and maybe a splash page or two. He also said that you can’t wait until your opus is finished, you need to keep heading out to as many cons as possible, mingle, and chat.
A writer then asked about, if they have seven or eight arcs planned, how many you should pitch. “None,” said Schreck. “You want to get your main idea down to two pages maximum. If you have threads that want to go further, great. But you need a beginning, middle, and end.”
The discussion then turned to pitching the same idea to two companies at the same time, which Lowe and Schreck both said for freelancers is totally fine... As long as you’re open and honest about where things are going.
Similarly, asked whether they would read a spec story, Lowe flat out said he doesn’t like it. Both legally, and quality wise, he’d rather read an original story of a writer’s own creation, than a story about a character he’s already working on. “When I’m reading a script, I’m editing it, so I don’t really do that for pleasure,” said Lowe to laughter.
Asked whether you could build a website for a pitch, Schmidt said it was fine, but that some Editors would get concerned about clicking on an outside link. Instead, a physical document presented in person will always form a better relationship.
Schreck then told a story about a writer sending an intriguing looking package, which made him nervous at first... But as they opened up it, revealing first a custom paperweight, and then a piece of origami that revealed bits of the story, he found that he HAD to read more.
Asked about anthologies, the panel all agreed that they worked great, because they’re shorter to read - and show you can tell the story in a short amount of time. Lowe said he picked up a few anthologies from a writer in Canada who he’s talking to about writing for Marvel now. “Sales indicate the only people reading or buying anthologies are Editors,” joked Schmidt.
And that was it! Everybody got their comics published, and was rich forever. We’ll see you at the next panel!