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January 27, 2010

Editor tells all! Inside the Submissions Process at First Second, Part I

"Submissions." It's a word that sends a thrill up -- and a chill down -- an editor's spine.

The thrill up: that query email or manilla envelope might be a project you've been dreaming of. It might be a graphic novel that breaks boundaries and says something the world needs to hear. It might be a bestseller, or a dearly loved underground jewel. It might be from someone with a ton of raw potential, who can be encouraged and directed until they're ready to be published. It might be from someone who will become a new friend, a new valued colleague. It might be, in short, awesome.

The chill down: But submissions can also be a bit overwhelming for an editor. There's little time in the day, after dealing with all the books you already signed up, to evaluate the projects you *might* want to sign up. That's what late nights at the office are for. That's what the subway is for. And your couch. And your breakfast table. And your vacation getaway. After all, it doesn't do to keep an agent waiting. (Of course, as I type this there are at least four agents I'm keeping waiting by dint of writing this blog post instead of looking at their submissions. Um! Sorry!)


And then there's the steady stream of unagented submissions, which tend to be a bit more hit-or-miss. Many are worth consideration, many (I'll state plainly) are not. But you won't *know* until you look at them. Sometimes I'm actually sort of perversely grateful when I open an envelope or an email and find a picture book from someone who thinks First Second is a picture book publisher, or a graphic novel that's clearly the ravings of a madman. Those are the easy ones. They don’t require any thinking.

The tough ones are the 200-page scripts where you have to read at least 150 pages (or the whole thing, twice) before you can even decide if it's worth considering or not. Or the projects you read three times and still just can't decide if you should pursue them or not, and weeks go by while they prey on your conscience. (And that's to say nothing of the poor writers and cartoonists who sent them.)

Yes, yes, my life is so hard. I know.

But it's heavy business, people! I'm not sitting on that "maybe yes maybe no" project for six weeks out of spite. I'm sitting on it because it's a decision that carries weight and consequences both for First Second and for the artist or writer who submitted it. And a decision that big takes a little thinking. And ten to forty decisions that big per week, well, let's just say we sleep in our thinking caps around here.

Because as easy as it is to turn down a submission because it's "the ravings of a madman," or (a big step up!) "not right for the First Second list," the inescapable fact is there's a *person* on the other side of every single submission. And a big part of First Second's mandate is enriching and supporting the world of comics in general -- not just our little corner of it. We feel some responsibility to every single cartoonist who sends us their work. Which is why, when I can, I try to include some constructive criticism -- and honest praise -- for the projects I turn down, even if they come from an inmate in a supermax penitentiary in Alaska.

Maybe especially if they come from an inmate in a supermax penitentiary in Alaska.

Tune in soon for "Inside the Submissions Process at First Second, Part II: Three Categories of Submissions, or What Do We Do With An Unsolicited Submission (So Ear-ly in the Mornin')?"


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Thanks for the insight, Calista. As someone who has been pitching for years in both animation and comics it's a refreshing reminder about the thoughts and goings on of the person (ie. you) on the other side of manilla envelope.

I've never pitched to :01 because I know my work is not ready yet. But, I'm enamored with all that you publish and will continue to follow this thread to know what, and what not, to do when I'm ready.

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