Making comics is a skill that takes a lot of practice, a lot of effort, and a lot of failure to master. Pitching comics is also a skill, a very different one, but with the same learning curve. It’s also every bit as important, because the single best thing a project can have going for it is a publisher’s confidence that it will sell, and selling a pitch is selling the comic. (Michael Moreci’s recent essay on pitching makes a strong case for the primacy of sales potential in pitching.)
I’ve never pitched a comic I’ve written or drawn, but I have nonetheless made countless pitches. That’s because when an editor likes your pitch they must next pitch it themselves. There are instances where you’re pitching directly to the people who can greenlight something, but if you’re in that position you’ve probably made it past the point where you need the following advice. This pertains largely to pitches for original projects from lesser-known or unknown creators. In most cases the editor you pitch to has some degree of influence but still needs the support of higher-ups to make a pitch happen.
Editors want to say yes. They get paid the same if they edit four series a month or ten, but they love comics and want to make as many of them as possible, and regardless of where they work they put in countless extra hours to fit in those additional series. They have diverse tastes and don’t want to get stuck with one type of project. If they like your pitch, they will fight for it against all reason. Publishers and marketing departments want to say no. They are painfully aware of the cost and risk inherent in each project they approve and have to be realistic about how far resources can be stretched. They are harder to convince than an editor is, and they should be.
So your pitch must serve two purposes: it is both the document that sells your idea to an editor—making the case for why it is at minimum a good read worth paying $4 per issue for and at maximum a game changer in the comics medium—and also a blueprint for an editor to translate their excitement for the project into something that meets the internal guidelines and needs of the publisher where they work—why it will stand out on the shelf and therefore why it will sell. Of course, it is your responsibility to research the output of a publisher and make sure you are pitching the right project to the right place (that is, don’t pitch a mainstream superhero comic to Fantagraphics), but in many cases it will not be your exact pitch document that reaches the top people.
Instead, an editor will take the information in your pitch and tailor it to the tastes of their bosses and, often, the publisher’s marketing department. This may involve a verbal pitch or, at some publishers, fitting the information from the pitch into a standard form. As many pitches as individual editors are inundated with, an editor in chief, managing editor, or publisher gets many more and has even less time to look at them. Accordingly, what is presented to them is stripped down to its essence, with creators’ bibliographies, comparison titles, and unusual selling points emphasized at least as much as story. You have to sell your story well to get an editor’s attention, but those other elements need to be there too so the editor can use them to get their bosses’ attention.
(This is not to say higher-ups never read your pitch. In most cases the original pitch will be a part of the package submitted by an editor to their boss, and if the process is going well, your pitch may be what clinches the deal, since the writer and artists’ voices are ultimately what they are buying, not just an idea.)
So provide those comparison titles. Focus more on what existing series you believe your series will sell like than on what it is narratively similar to, or include both and draw a distinction between the two. Research how the series you want to compare your series to sell and be honest with yourself if your project can really match those numbers. A lot of pitches list series like The Walking Dead or Scott Pilgrim as comparison titles, and marketing departments tend to roll their eyes at those references. Find what makes your comic part of a movement on the upswing rather than too similar to things that are already overfamiliar. Think about how your series will be marketed and suggest some high concepts, some taglines, a target audience, a hook that makes your editor’s boss want to know more and ask followup questions in a meeting where they thought they only had two minutes to spare.
This is always hard advice to give a writer, but comics is a visual medium, and your chances are exponentially better with art. Some editors will help you find an artist, but the truth is that they don’t have much time for pitches to begin with, and unless you already have a relationship with a publisher, finding an artist isn’t something they can take time away from other things for. Once your pitch is being shown to the higher-ups, art is something they can evaluate at a glance, and that coupled with a few key bits of information from the editor go the furthest in helping them feel confidence about your project.
Confidence is the key word. As in any other job, the currency of an editor is their track record, and it can be fortified consistently to make a career from a series of solid projects or saved up to make the pitching of a risky project go smoother. Their credibility is put on the line every time they pitch, and how a pitch is received affects the confidence their publisher has in what they bring to the table next. If you want them to go to bat for your pitch it has to give them the ammunition to face a series of people with every financial incentive to say no to your comic. Research who edits comics that yours will fit alongside and how they sell. The editor who works on comics like yours that sell well is sympathetic to your aesthetic and has the credibility to pitch it. Give them an exciting hook, an accurate and compelling comparison title, a valuable demographic, and some eye-catching artwork, and they will have confidence that your comic is not only a good story but also one that they can pitch, and their bosses will have confidence that you can deliver.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget that I offer consultations on pitches. I can give you feedback from the point of view of an editor who’s received thousands of pitches and help make yours a clear, organized, and compelling showcase for your story. Inquiries go to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to reading your pitch!