This is a book about two aliens who've decided their purpose in life is to conquer the galaxy.
The only problem is, they're really bad at it. Really, really, really bad at it. Hilariously bad.
Got a planet that wants to elect them president? Kaput and Zosky will shirk their responsibilities and run away as quickly as possible. Got a planet filled with gamblers? Kaput and Zosky will lose every time, and get addicted in the process. Got a planet inhabited by vampires? Kaput and Zosky will accept a dinner invitation (of course, it turns out that they're the dinner).
How much does incompetance hinder plans to conquer the galaxy? Quite a lot, it turns out!
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:
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.
Ball Peen Hammer isn't the typical First Second book. The first review we got described this book as, "not for gentle readers," and gosh, that's an accurate description.
The story that unfolds in this graphic novel is one of longing and despair and missed connections and death. It's about people trying (and mostly failing) to live in a world that's falling apart.
The writing's by Adam Rapp (an award-wining playwright whose young adult novel Punkzilla won a Printz Honor this year) and the art's by George O'Connor (who'll you'll recognize as the author of First Second's Journey Into Mohawk Country and Zeus: King of the Gods).
It's not the most cheering book for the cold winter days we're having, but it's definitely worth a read.
(Wait until you're in the mood to be depressed.)
This is a picture of my office bookshelf:
I keep copies of all the books we publish on it, so when someone calls to tell me that they need a particular book, right now, there's one on hand we can overnight. It is an excellent bookshelf! But with the amount of books that we're publishing in the coming year (you can see some of those teetering on the edge of the fourth shelf down), I suspect I may have to lobby for a bookshelf expansion.
(Want to see more of the insides of our offices? Here's a piece I wrote for our parent company's blog. There are pictures!)