View Full Version : Submissions, Rejection, and the Comic Industry

Steve Colle
10-06-2018, 12:06 AM

It's a word that strikes fear before it happens and ultimate defeat afterwards. It tears at our very soul as a personal attack on our value.

Unfortunately, a different reaction is also common to occur. Our pride in what we accomplish and produce becomes so high, we shut the door to any potential growth that will create true success.

In the publishing industry, and from the perspective of someone who has been both the recipient of rejection as a writer and the bearer of such as an editor, I've known a lot of it in my 30+ years of work in the comic industry.

The purpose of this thread is to share some ideas on how, as creators, you can take some control over rejection in your submissions to publishers and editors.

1) Be proactive.

Proactivity is in your researching and learning specifically what the publishers you are submitting to are looking for AND expecting from what you give them. No two publishers will have the exact same guidelines and expectations. No two publishers or their editors will view your project or your work in the same way. This is due to many factors, including the level of quality of the work or project, the potential it has for their specific market, the allowances made in each company's willingness to publish you at your current level (such as Image Comics vs. Action Lab), and so on.

By designing your submission package with their specific requirements in mind (and not creating a general package that may not fit any), you take control over one step of your potential success.

2) Be aware that editors and their publishers are both objective AND subjective.

Objectivity occurs in a company when they have specific goals, mandates, and visions for what they will publish. Subjectivity manifests when each person (and we're all guilty of this) has their own opinion of what they see. Editor A and Editor B at SUPER-MEGA-AWESOME COMICS will have different opinions of your work or project, with one seeing no value and the other seeing huge potential.

(There's another aspect to this point: In larger publishing houses, the editor who sees the potential may be asked if they'd be willing to work with the creators to reach it. Behind the scenes, editors who risk and help create success in a creator or project are given more opportunities for advancement than those editors who don't.)

Understanding that certain editors and/or publishers appreciate or prefer certain styles, genres, audiences, etc. helps you pinpoint who you can have the greater chance with.

3) Be open to the following: Criticism, compliments, and most of all, failure.

Criticism can be both constructive and destructive. Look for the value in what you can learn from both. Part of this is in realizing the person giving the critique may be knowledgeable (or not), helpful (or not), in a bad mood (or not), and so forth.

Compliments are great, but assess their value in what you can learn from them vs. what you don't. Just as your mother or best friend may compliment you and your work, they are not the people who will be making the decision to work with you. Looking at it from a self-publishing standpoint, your mother and best friend probably don't reflect your audience. And most of all, compliments will tell you what you've done right, but take the opportunity to ask what could be better if given the chance.

Finally, success breeds comfort, but failure creates a chance for greater motivation and growth. Failure has been experienced by everyone in some way or another, but in publishing, some great names lived and grew from these experiences. Jim Lee rose from letter after letter of rejection to become not only the hottest commodity in comics, but shares these experiences with creators and readers alike. Outside of comics, Stephen King received over 100 rejection letters before his wife took one manuscript out of the garbage can and mailed it out. That story, Carrie, became his first published work of horror. And here's a little tidbit for consideration: Even popular creators don't always get the green light. JM DeMatteis wrote the ultimate Spider-Man story with "Kraven's Last Hunt", but has shared his own story of how he had proposed the concept to various editors multiple times at both Marvel and DC, featuring other character combinations, before finally getting the blessing to create this six-issue masterpiece.

4) Be aware of how the industry works, including its limitations.

Major publishing companies have departments that focus on submissions, but even they don't have the time to respond to everyone given the number of packages they receive. From this comes three forms of response: The letter identifying areas for improvement, the personalized letter with no guidance, and the general form letter. Most creators won't even receive one of these, instead receiving no response whatsoever. This is why publishers will specify in guidelines that if you haven't heard from them within a certain time frame, they weren't interested.

Sending proposals and samples to specific editors who work on monthly books also has its own problem. Multiple times, editors have shared stories of how their daily workload doesn't allow time to look over submissions, so they may take them home to look through during their commute, after their families have gone to bed, or other time they aren't being paid for. After hours are personal hours, even in the comic industry.

In smaller companies, most don't have a single person on submissions, so their editor(s) may look through them when they have the chance. Others still only have the publisher themselves to assess and make the decision.

Back up to major corporations like Macmillan Publishing, which owns First Second Books (https://firstsecondbooks.com), there is a process of bringing the submission up from one level to the next and from department to department. Editorial may see potential, but Sales and Marketing may point out limitations of the product, while Finance presents the pros and cons of costs vs. revenue, etc.

What it all comes down to is this:

Sometimes rejection is about not being quite there yet, with a little (or a lot) still to learn and grow in. However, there is a lot more going on in the grand scheme of things that comes into play.

Be patient. Be humble. Don't create expectations that can't be fulfilled. And above all else, don't take rejection either personally or as a door closing. If you work at it, there is a door that will open up... even if it's your own.