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February 08, 2010

Inside the Submissions Process at First Second, Part II

See Part I here.

The Three (Personality) Types of Submissions

Basically: we get a lot of submissions.

I generally group them into three categories: 1) agented, 2) unsolicited but known or referred, and 3) entirely unsolicited.

Agented: These submissions get top priority. They're read first, and my responses to them, for better or worse, tend to be the most thoughtful. Agents act as gatekeepers for editors - they filter and fine-tune the stream of submissions coming our way, and honestly, I'm grateful for that. When an agent I've worked with before who understands what First Second is all about sends me a new project, I know it's going to be worth my time to look at it right away.

Unsolicited but referred or known: A lot of cartoonists don't have agents. (These days, more and more cartoonists do, but compared to traditional book publishing, "agented people in comics" is still a fairly small population.) But a referral from a cartoonist I know and trust goes pretty far towards getting my attention. And of course, there's nothing I love more than being randomly approached by someone I've always admired! Submissions in this category, though technically unsolicited, are still more likely to make it into my subway-reading tote bag.

Unsolicited submissions. These are projects that come to us without having been requested, without a query letter first, and (usually) from someone we don't know.

There is no reason an unsolicited submission can't turn out to be a perfect candidate for First Second's list: a project that, for example, shows maturity in the writing and playfulness in the art; a story that's topical but not preachy; a book that will find new readers and change lives.

However, the fact is that it is much less likely that this First-Second-friendly masterwork will arrive entirely unsolicited than as a referral or an agented submission. And for this reason, and because we get such a staggering volume of unsolicited submissions...

FIRST SECOND'S OFFICIAL POLICY IS: WE DO NOT ACCEPT UNSOLICITED SUBMISSIONS.

What this means is that we are under no obligation to look at an unsolicited submission. We are not even under an obligation to return unsolicited submissions. There is nothing standing between an unsolicited submission and...the trash can. And here and there, I'm sorry to say, that's just where they end up. But more often, what happens is this:

~A BRIEF EDITORIAL MELODRAMA~

Calista, here's your mail.

CALISTA
Thanks, Rodney! Gosh, what a big, yellow manila envelope this is. And it's from a name I don't recognize!

MANILA ENVELOPE
I am a 700-page graphic novel about the history of cat breeding in the Ottoman Empire! And I'm illustrated in 1990s superhero style and punctuated with modern-day scenes of ultraviolent gun fights for no reason other than that ultraviolent gun fights are wicked awesome and they didn't have compact submachine guns in the Ottoman Empire, so the fight scenes obviously have to be present-day.

CALISTA
...

MANILA ENVELOPE
Also, I represent four years of unceasing labor and passion on the part of my creator, whom you have never heard of.

CALISTA
You are an unsolicited submission, AND you are totally not a match for the First Second list. Into the trash with you, my friend.

MANILA ENVELOPE
*sad anime eyes*

CALISTA
Aw. Okay, I'll send you back with a form rejection letter.

MANILA ENVELOPE
*sad anime eyes*

CALISTA
And maybe I'll offer some constructive criticism, too. Which means I've got to actually look at you.

MANILA ENVELOPE
*preens*

- 5 HOURS LATER -

CALISTA
Okay, these gun fights *are* wicked awesome. And who knew that the Sultan of Aceh had muscles on his muscles?! Still not a good fit for First Second. But at least now I can offer some useful notes to the creator of this work.

:01 EDITORIAL DIRECTOR MARK SIEGEL
Hey, are those seal-point Himalayan cats with Gatling guns? Cool! So anyway, how's it going with editing the books we actually signed up/writing tip sheets/reviewing marketing plans/writing contract memos/negotiating deals/checking proofs/writing flap cover copy/attending meetings/fact-checking our catalog/reviewing copy edits?

CALISTA
Um.

~FIN~


So you see the issue. If an unsolicited 700-page cat-breeding opus never receives a response, it doesn't mean we didn't want to give it due time and consideration and send it home with praise and constructive suggestions. It's because there simply isn't time.

*

HOWEVER: If you still wish to disregard the stern warning on our website, here are some tips I can offer you that will make our lives easier at First Second, and your unsolicited submission more likely to be read and responded to (I MAKE NO GUARANTEES).

1) Think as objectively as you can about whether your book actually makes sense for First Second. Do your homework. Look at our website. Read our books. Ask your friends. Look into other publishers -- would they be a better fit for this project? I'm going to be much more excited about a project that clearly has been sent to us because of who we are than if I get the feeling it's been indiscriminately sent  to First Second, DC, Oni, Scholastic, Kodansha, Penthouse, and the New Orleans Saints (woot!).

2) Looking for a freelance comic-writing gig on a work-for-hire basis? Look elsewhere. With very few exceptions, we publish only creator-owned work originated by the creators themselves, not us.

3) Don't have a graphic novel to sell, but want to put yourself on our radar as an illustrator? DO: send us a link to your online portfolio. DON'T: send us 10MB attachments. Our inboxes are frail.

4) Written a graphic novel script? Illustrated or no, please include a shortish summary with it.

5) Steel yourself for the very real possibility that you will never hear back from us -- not even a form letter.

6) No, don't give me those sad anime eyes.

...Aw geeze.

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Comments

Would it be possible to replace the trash can with a recycle-able bin instead?

ahhh this is such a random comment, appologies just felt like rambling about it a bit!

*laugh*! this post? was written a year ago (so sorry to randomly reply), but this was an interesting read- I do feel sorry for editors, I find you guys get a lot of hostility with no understanding of how busy you are !!

Although we as artists basically get that fact, it's kinda cool to see how stressed you are in detail ... nah sorry, i don't mean it's 'cool' but i mean, it gives everyone a chance to see the other POV ='D I totally screwed up this comment and i sound like an ass now LOL xD

I wrote you guys an e-mail a while back now- it wasn't a submission, just something to say how awesome your books are- and I got koko be good recently too and loved it :) now seeing just how packed your day is, thanks even moreso for replying so quickly + taking the time to reply to a ..fan letter?! I appreciate it :'D

once again you guys rock, everytime i read bits and bobs from your blogs or catch sight of your books or flick through the 01 stuff of mine, first second is always like the PIXAR of comics to me :)

is it really just two of you working the office?!

oops - sorry about the glitch in my message

Hi Callista,

You rock! I had a great time reading this! I work in film, so I deal with unsolicited submissions very similarly.

Don't worry I'm not sending you anything aside from a big e-hifive!

Cheers,

Oscar

Thanks Calista - funny and insightful stuff.

I hope that you all know how much your company is respected in the comic community. While there may be a lot of inappropriate cold calls, I do hope that the deluge of unsolicited submissions is partly due to the admiration people have for taste and values of :01.

I actually just had a studio visit with a pro who has worked on many seminal books and he mentioned being interested in approaching you guys about a book he is looking to do.

Thanks Calista - funny and insightful stuff.

I hope that you all know how much your company is respected in the comic community. While there may be a lot of inappropriate cold calls, I do hope that the deluge of unsolicited submissions is partly due to the admiration people have for taste and values of :01.

I actually just had a studio visit with a pro who has worked on many seminal books and he mentioned being interested in approaching you guys about a book he is looking to do.

So, no manilla envelopes from me, but here are some links to my work in case you are curious (and have a free second).

Short Comic - http://tinyurl.com/frozendark
Portfolio - http://picasaweb.google.com/michael.lapinski/Portfolio?fgl=true&fgl=true&pli=1#
Blog - http://www.mlapinski.blogspot.com/

Cheers!

I'd like to put myself on your radar as an illustrator. I am Alan Davison, creator of "The Blurtso Chronicles," a webcomic about a good-natured, philosophical donkey with a weakness for pumpkin pies. Blurtso can be found at http://blog.blurtso.com

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