Part of being a comic book writer is developing pitches. Now I do a reasonable amount of these (I actually have a couple out in the wild at the moment) but I figured I’d take a moment to share one that didn’t go anywhere, as well as a few thoughts on the pitching process.

Fair warning though this might get a little wanky. Ok, a lot wanky.

Still here? Good. Let’s go.

All things considered there’s a lot of stuff I still really like in here. The relationship between Nate and Simon (page 21-22) is sweet, if a little hokey. And I think the cold open works well (and eventually ties back into the ending nicely).

Francesco’s art is stellar all the way through, and he really nails the grotty grimy feel that I was going for. I love his character designs – especially the one for Hogan, I mean just look at that moustache.

And while I’m talking about the art team Rachel’s lettering and logo design is on point as usual. Incidentally, the credits page is something that I worked up retrospectively. I don’t want anyone thinking that Rachel did such clumsy design work.

That all said, there’s a reason this didn’t get picked up. I think part of the problem was just simple inexperience. I’d written a bunch of scripts – the first arc of a thirty plus issue fantasy book, the first two of a sci-fi horror vampire thing, two issues of a crime book that was basically just a cover version of Aja and Fraction’s Hawkeye set in the UK but without the charm or the craft – but this was the first full length project that I finished. The second book that I’d got drawn, and the first full length mini I’d pitched…

If I was going to rework it there’s a bunch that I’d change. For starters there’s only two female characters in the whole book, neither of whom appear in the first issue.  Nor do they have any significant impact on the plot. I did have reasons for this, after all the comic is set in a male prison that limits my options from the off, especially as I didn’t want the only female characters to be either corrupt or incompetent.

I suppose I could have made Nate a woman but then that makes the relationship with Simon even more problematic. But it’s not like I didn’t write the damn thing, I’m sure with enough creative wrangling I could have done something. No excuses – I’ll do better next time.

I do have another comic, one that’ll hopefully be released sometime next year, that has a similar paucity of female characters but that is deliberate. It’s about toxic masculinity in the media and all the junk that goes along with that.  Plus it has a super small cast and… damn it I’m making excuses again. I guess the point is that if you’re going to have an entirely male cast you’d best make sure that you’re doing it for a reason and a good one at that. And in this case I didn’t.

But putting aside content for a moment, if I was going to do it again, I’d definitely make it a lot shorter. I just had a glance over the pitch document and it’s over 8000 words long. As a writer I like to think that I lean towards the concise, at least in my comics work. Then again this is already running at over fifteen hundred words so maybe I’m talking out of my ass.

The character bios alone ran over 3500 words. Admittedly a lot of it was stuff I had to work through to get to the story but it wasn’t what Francesco actually needed to draw the book. It makes me cringe to think that I inflicted that on him. Don’t get me wrong I still write these big documents but nowadays I tend to highlight the pertinent information before I send them to an artist.

Actually thinking about it, reducing the volume of characters would go a long way to improving the book. After all I had four prison gangs (each with a couple of named characters) and about five staff members.  Add in all the unaffiliated prisoners, our protag, the local police and the villain and I think you’ll start to see the problem.

I was trying to go for something kind of like The Wire meets Twin Peaks but I didn’t take into account the fact that I was working with limited space. I forgot that comics aren’t TV, you can’t just transplant ideas from one medium to the next without seriously examining them.

But if the bios ran long then the breakdown really got away from me. It was over a page, single spaced, per issue (nowadays I try to keep the entire breakdown less than a page). At the time though it all felt like important, vital stuff. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t have cut it from the book but it was all detail. When pitching you need to deal with broad strokes.

Also the amount of subplots confused the narrative, making it super difficult to summarize. Part of the reason why the pitch for this one ran so long was because I had so many side stories running concurrently. It meant that my break down had a bunch of sentences which were basically just and then this happens and then this happens which isn’t interesting to read.

Anyway, I promised you some unsolicited advice on pitching from someone that’s never had a book picked up. You’re welcome.

Here goes.

Shorter is better. For many people this seems counter intuitive but it’s about respecting people’s time. After all, editors are busy folk and the longer you go on the more chance an editor has to get bored and stop reading.

Proof like a motherfucker. People are just looking for an excuse not to give you a chance. Don’t give them one.

Lay your pitch out smartly. Put the good stuff at the beginning. Use clear titles, really anything to make it easier for an editor to read and reread.

Get some art work. Comics are a visual medium and most publishers (Image, Dark Horse) ask you to supply finished pages but even places that take scripts will take more time to read your pitch if you’ve got artwork. Oh and for god sake pay your artist. I know you don’t want to hear this but, if you can’t draw, making comics is going to be expensive. Maybe you’ve got a friend that can draw your book or you’ve found someone that’ll work for free. Great but just be aware they’re probably going to let you down. At the very least they’re going to be fitting your book in around other paying work. Also if you send someone an email asking them to work for exposure or a back end deal they’re just going to think you’re a dick. And you don’t want to be a dick do you?

Get feedback. I don’t mean from your friends and family. I’m sure they’re great and all but you can’t trust them. They have to like your shit.  Hit up some writing forums and subreddits (I’ve used r/comic_crits in the past) and give feedback on other people’s work. Not only will it make people more likely to give you feedback but it’ll also help you learn. Oh and if you’ve got some money I’d suggest signing up for one of Alex Segura’s Splash Page class – getting feedback from an real working editor is invaluable.

Don’t be precious. This won’t be the only idea you have. If it isn’t working dump it. If it really was a good idea you can always come back to it later.

Tell the goddamn story. I’ve seen a bunch of pitches where the writer plays coy with the plot. Either to tease the readers or to protect themselves. Knock that shit on the head. Nobody wants to steal your ideas.  You’re dealing with professional people here. They want to know that you can tell a story.

Don’t be too ambitious. Publishing a new creative team is a risk. More than likely your first book is going to struggle to break even. If by some miracle your sixty issue magnum opus gets a greenlight it’s probably going to get cancelled before the first trade hits. So save that monster for after you’ve found your audience.  Start with a small four issue mini and build from there.

Don’t play it too safe. I know that sounds contradictory but the worst thing you can do is put out average run of the mill work. Try and make the book that only you can make. Don’t pitch a book that’s like Saga. Be outrageous, be bold and be ridiculous. But most of all be good.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Hope you found it at little bit helpful. At the very least it pissed you off enough that you’re gonna go write up a 600 issue monster just to prove me wrong. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got another pitch I’ve got to finish off.