Friends With Boys - Page 188

Oh man you guys, we are getting so close to the end.

So today we’re going to talk about Making a Successful Graphic Novel Pitch. I’ve made a couple that were successful, and I’ve made many that were not successful. Pitching is … well, it’s the worst. I do not enjoy it at all. Creating a story I quite like. Story outlines are tough, but they’re also great fun to assemble, slowly putting in one plot piece after another, like a giant overly complicated puzzle of a landscape (the sky is the hardest part. In this metaphor, the sky is the middle). But anyway, pitching.

Let me start this post by saying once again I am only speaking from personal experience. I’m not an expert on What Makes an Excellent Graphic Novel Pitch, and every time I sit down to write one, I feel like I’m back at square one, without any experience whatsoever.  They’re tough to do, because you’re trying to convey a lot through the shortest and most succinct language possible, and you’re also trying to do it in a way that is 1) enthusiastic (“you really want to buy this comic, publisher!”) and 2) clear eyed and cool (“I believe in this project, but I am not acting like it is the second coming of Star Wars because that’s obnoxious and people can see through that hucksterism”).

So to get things started, here is some of the Friends With Boys pitch. It’s not all of it, because the outline contains spoilers for the end, and I wouldn’t want to do that to you. ;) I’m going to put it all behind a cut.

There’s the basic pitch, in a sentence. Girl has messed up family, is haunted. Wants to fix things. It’s the Friends With Boys elevator pitch.

Here’s the rest of the story outline: Page 2 / Page 3 / Page 4 / There is one more page, but it won’t be posted because spoilers. ;)

And that’s the FWB story outline! It’s not super detailed (and you can see where it’s changed from the first version of FWB to the current version), but it shows I have a good idea of what kind of story I want to tell, and the publisher I’m pitching to can judge whether or not it’s the kind of story they want to publish.

I also did character outlines for Friends With Boys: Page 1 / Page 2 / Page 3 / Page 4. These were to flesh out the characters and story a little bit beyond the storyline, which is quite short.  Anyway. UGH MY OLD ARTWORK. I did this pitch back in 2008, and wow, do I hate how it looks. Ew, those giant Powerpuff Girls style eyes. Not cool. It’s not a style I look back on fondly at all.

Based on this very short pitch, First Second Books bought Friends With Boys. And let me stress, it was VERY UNEXPECTED. At the time, I was drawing Brain Camp (so I had a relationship with First Second; they knew me and were working with me), but I wasn’t thinking about the comic I wanted to draw afterwards. Friends With Boys was a Minx pitch, and I still kind of hoped that maybe Minx would pick it up. I’d newly signed up with my agent, Bernadette Baker-Baughman and mentioned I had this pitch lying around. She wanted to pitch it to First Second, which I was certainly up for, even though I hadn’t finished drawing Brain Camp, and couldn’t really see past working on that book (I was really young and innocent back then! Now I know to start hustling for your next comic gig years in advance, because it can take ages for a book to get picked up). A month after First Second first saw the pitch, they bought it, much to my surprise. It happened really really fast, I think in about the span of a couple days.

Originally, we (my agent and I) were planning to spend more time on the pitch, and put together sequentials (a couple of sampled comic pages from the pitch to show to the publisher, so they’d get an idea of what the comic would look like), but Friends With Boys sold so fast we didn’t need to do that. It was a really crazy, awesome moment, picking up the phone and hearing Bernadette say “First Second has made an offer on Friends With Boys” and me being all “What does that mean?”

So, to recap, A Successful Comic Pitch (Faith Hicks style), has a few solid elements:

1) A clear, concise storyline with a beginning, middle and end. Show you know where your story is going and what’s going to happen along the way.
2) Character bios. Show who these people are, their character arcs, successes and failures.
3) Attractive artwork showing how the comic will look. Sometimes this is sequential work, sometime it’s just spot illustration, as seen in the FWB pitch. I think this depends on whether or not you are pitching to a publisher who knows you verses one who doesn’t. Pitches to publishers who don’t know you (I think) would probably benefit from sequentials. I tend to think about 10 pages of sequentials (I did 15 pages for Zombies Calling, which was published by SLG), in with character, setting and storyline are clearly indicated, is best.

I’ve noticed if you search literary and agent blogs, you can find many sites that offer advice (and some of them are very good) on putting together a good pitch, especially writing summaries and selling your story in a few well thought out words. I recommend reading those sites, as they are very helpful. There’s another element to this that … well, it’s more of a personal suspicion, so you may take it with a grain of salt: I think it’s important to be flexible with your pitches, and not to be overly attached to them.

I think it’s very important to want to create comics that you are personally invested in, rather than doing some ridiculous cash grab (as if such a thing exists in comics! There is no money in comics … maybe Watchmen 2?), but I also think it’s important to be aware of what kind of comics work well in this market, and what might be appealing to the publisher you want to work with. I actually have a variety of pitches I keep tucked away on my computer, ready to spring out at a moments notice. Some of them have been rejected by various publishers, but they’re all projects I like, and I like to keep them ready, because you never know when they might be the right project for another publisher. Basically, if one pitch is rejected, be ready with another one. After all, originally Friends With Boys was created specifically for DC Comics’ Minx line. That didn’t happen, so I modified the pitch and First Second picked it up, and I think they’re a much better home for this book.

So that is pitching! I feel maybe I have left some stuff out … if there are any questions please send them my way via the comments and I’ll try to get back to you.

Oh, one other thing I want to address, as a couple people asked about it: Some folks wanted to know about drawing a comic for a publisher, especially when you have a fulltime job or school, and aren’t able to commit to the comic full time. I think it’s very important for you to be upfront with your publisher about your schedules, and to be realistic with yourself about how many pages you can actually do a month. I drew both Zombies Calling and The War at Ellsmere when I was working a fulltime job, so I drew about 10 pages a month, and finished both those comics in about 9 months. Publishers expect you to have jobs other than drawing comics; it’s rare this will be your fulltime job, and I’ve yet to meet one that isn’t flexible, as long as you are honest with them. If you get a book deal to draw a comic, and can only do 10 pages a month, make sure that’s clear to your publisher, so they can schedule accordingly. If 10 pages a month is too much, tell your publisher and they should be willing to work with you. I’ve yet to work with a publisher who acted like a dick about schedules. Once I made comics my fulltime job, my relationship with publishers changed, because I relied on them to pay my rent, but when I was working in animation and doing comics on the side, as long as I was producing a few pages a month and inching towards the finish line, my publishers were happy.

It’s something to remember: Publishers (unless they are horrible, and I have never worked with a horrible publisher) are on your side. It pays to have an honest, symbiotic relationship with them and produce the best, most salable comics you can. Because then you both make money and can make even more comics together! Yay!


28 Responses

  1. trevor says:

    Really enjoying the series, and especially the commentary afterwards. Can’t wait to pick this up at my favorite local comic haunt.

  2. Aden Scott says:


  3. SeraphL says:

    Oh. Ohhhhhhhh! Maggie, that’s lovely. You’re a sweetheart.

  4. Arabia says:

    Hang on… something in my eye…. *snf *

    Oh Maggie…..

    And I’ve never commented on this aspect before, because I didn’t want to accidentally start an argument about commitment vs freedom or something, but….. I’ve been kinda pissed off at Maggie’s mom for leaving ever since that scene with Maggie and her dad right after his haircut. Remember, he tells her that her mother still loves her….. apparently she just got tired of it all and wanted to do something else. I wanted to yell at her.

    • Warren says:

      Dunno. I kind of have a feeling Dad is telling only part of the story. He might be covering up his own role in Mom’s disappearance, or he might be trying to protect his kids from a truth he’s afraid they can’t handle. He might still be thinking of them as young, innocent, and fragile, not quite aware just yet of how resilient they are – and how much they need to know the whole story.

      Or, you know, maybe Mom just wigged out…

      • Faith Erin Hicks says:

        He’s definitely treating his children with kid gloves in relation to actually coming out and discussing the fact that their mom has left, but I don’t think he’s covering for anything. Sometimes couples who’ve been together a long time (and seem really good for each other) break up. It’s terrifying when it happens (“if THEY can’t make it work, how could I ever?”), but it does. And it’s always sad.

        • Jessie says:

          Hahaha I like how you say “I don’t think he’s covering for anything” like you don’t know… but you do know, being the creator and all :)

          • Faith Erin Hicks says:

            Heh, yeah. ;) I guess I don’t want to discourage people speculating about plots and character, because it entertains me.

  5. Sean says:

    These insights into your profession are just fascinating. I really can’t say how much I appreciate your letting us see into your life like this.

  6. Tara says:

    This is awesome! I love the art that goes along with the summary. I would have never thought to do that, but it really adds something. I like this process of pitching, I think it’s really effective.
    I’ve been doing a lot of unsolicited pitches for companies that accept them and some have better guidelines than others–some are really strict, like the full story summary on one page! That was a huge struggle because I felt like I was leaving out so much. Oh, pitches. :) Thanks for posting this, as always it’s super helpful!

  7. Jg says:

    I’d really be interested in learning about your experience landing an agent. I spent years dealing with agents from a novelist’s perspective, but as I move into comics, I’d love to hear how you found an agent who represents comics creators, and how you made that connection.

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Okay, agents!

      First off, here’s a list of literary agents who represent cartoonists (those who do graphic novels):
      Very helpful!

      Less helpful is my experience finding an agent. I talked to exactly two agents, and the first one was not remotely interested in me, and the second one (my agent Bernadette), was interested and came recommended by people I trust. It literally went like this:
      Me: (email agent) So I’m drawing a book for First Second (Brain Camp), and I think I need an agent because I have no idea how to read contracts or do any of that stuff. Will you be my agent?
      Bern: Okay! (but said professionally)
      Me: SOLD.

      Seriously, it was kind of dumb, now that I think back on it. XD And it could’ve gone horribly wrong if it’d ended up that Bernadette and I hadn’t seen eye to eye, or any other disasters. But it worked out. She’s interested in the genres I want to work in, has a good relationship with First Second, and really likes graphic novels.

      It’s worth pointing out that I had two indie books (my SLG comics, Zombies Calling and The War at Ellsmere) under my belt as well as a job drawing a book for First Second before I signed up with an agent. I wasn’t sure if I needed one for the longest time, but yeah, I totally do. I have no idea how to read a contract to make sure my rights are protected, or how to negotiate to get paid more money to draw comics. Bernadette does all that, and definitely earns her 15%.

      I think it’s a really good idea to get an agent if you are a cartoonist, especially if you want to work for a book publisher and do graphic novels. I don’t even know how you’d go about attracting the attention of a book publisher if you didn’t have an agent, although sometimes they do troll the internet looking for talent … but that’s a complete shot in the dark.

      So anyway, agents = good. Finding the right one … well, it’s probably best to pursue an agent who represents the kind of creator you want to be. That’s probably the best advice I can offer.

  8. P.R. Scholtz says:

    Awesome essay, very encouraging to someone with a fulltime job already

    I’ve been following your work since Demonology, and it makes my day that your able to make a job you enjoy doable as a fulltime gig, albeit with much effort.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Loved the character descriptions! Specially Zander being into Kerouac (I didn’t really notice that before), he even wears huaraches/sandals just like Kerouac’s self description in “on the road”, very clever!

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yeah, he talks about On the Road at the beginning of Friends With Boys (when he and Maggie are walking through the graveyard after her first day of school), but the reference is probably a little obtuse.

  10. Johnny Vu says:

    Thanks for the tips, I loved seeing the process you went through. Although I must ask, how did you get people to even hear your pitch? Was it as simple as contacting multiple publishers and telling them you are making something or was it through the help of an agency that you were able to set it up? Would you say that publishers frown upon getting random e-mails from amateurs asking to give them a chance? It seems to be highly recommended that you get an agent, but would you say that there are still opportunities for people in this business without one?

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Honestly, I don’t know if a publisher would read a cold email/pitch from someone they didn’t know. I get the feeling most publishers don’t, and only look at work submitted by agents. But I’m speaking of book publishers, not comic book publishers. If you do a search, I’m sure you can come up with a list of comic publishers’ submission guidelines. I know I’ve seen a couple of those lists kicking around …

      Anyway, I was able to pitch FWB to First Second because I already had a relationship with them (I was drawing Brain Camp), so I wasn’t some stranger trying to sell them a graphic novel. And they approached me to draw Brain Camp (well, they asked me to try out to draw it, and I was picked for the job), completely out of the blue.

      I feel like the first step to getting published is just doing your own work and putting it out there for the world to see. So that’s why I recommend putting your comics online, perfecting your craft, and then seeing what comes of it. You’d be surprised where you end up.

  11. C. Ellis says:

    I would also like to hear about your experience in getting and working with an agent, if it’s at all ok to talk about. :) Is it worth it to have one? Is it necessary? How do you know if the relationship will be a good one? Et al…

    In any case, thank you so much, Faith, for taking the time to write all this out and show everyone the kinds of things you go through when making comics. It really REALLY helps. :)

  12. Carla Speed McNeil says:

    OH MY GOD, SHE’S GONNA LOSE IT or else I am. Nice.

  13. pseudonym says:

    wow! that is so nice! cuz i mean, usually publisher=buisnessman buisinessman=mean,and greedy. but it is so true! one cannot do things on their own you need help :D

  14. Onoki says:

    I’m one of the people that was introduced though comicbookresources article. I have to say great Comic! I actully heard of you before with Brain Camp. From just this comic you’ve sold me on any comic you’ll make in the future. You’ve given alot of info with almost each page with what kinda feels like it’s a narrative with the comic which is cool. I guess I can give you some info too. Billy Bat by Naoki Urasawa. Freak Squeele by Florent Maudoux. Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida. The first two is in japanese and french. Dorohedoro is in english and is done by a lady Manga Artist. Also here’s one that will surprise you by Hiromu Arakawa. Gin no Saji I think means Silver Spoon. It’s a Farming school manga. I’m one of those People that buy’s the japanese version of manga and literally sit there with a dictionary. Yeah weird me. Haven’t done that in a long time though. (The website I included is not mine but I cool guy that does cool music.)

  15. […] Erin Hicks continues her glimpses into the life of a freelancer by telling you how to pitch a graphic novel to a publisher. Or how she did it, anyway. As she says, They’re tough to do, because you’re […]

  16. mfisherart says:

    Wow. Dang. Thank you for posting that. You really helped me.

  17. Tara Tallan says:

    Oh, this was great! I thought I already knew lots of stuff about pitching, but here you answered some questions I didn’t even know to ask. Thanks for this!

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Friends With Boys, webcomic edition!

Hello readers, new ones just discovering the comic and those who’ve been with it since the beginning. Friends With Boys is now complete online. You may read it in its entirety, all 200+ pages, for free, for the next eight days. Then the image files of the comic (except for a short preview) will be taken down. While the comic was being serialized online, I blogged a lot about my comic making process. I did write ups about how I make comics, what my opinions on what makes a good comic are, and pointed out various Easter eggs throughout Friends With Boys. That stuff will all remain up, so if you buy a hard copy of Friends With Boys, you can still read along with my thought process.

And now (today!), Friends With Boys is a published book! Yay! I hope that if you’ve read the web version and liked it, and want to support me as a creator, you’ll consider buying the book.

I’ve really enjoyed serializing Friends With Boys online. If you’re new to my work, I started out making comics online before moving into print. I posted the very first page of my very first online comic on my very first website back in August, 1999, and wow, was that page ugly. Here it is! Notice a weird similarity to the first page of Friends With Boys? Yeah, that was not deliberate, I promise. But look how much your drawing skills can improve if you draw thousands of pages of comics over a ten year period! Anyway, I’m really thrilled my wonderful publisher First Second Books has allowed me to return to my roots and put Friends With Boys online as a lead up to its publication. As a reader and purchaser of comics, I have bought quite a few hard copy versions of online comics, because I enjoy the reading experience of having the whole thing collected, and I want to support the author. I hope you will too. :)

Otherwise, there are a few upcoming events I hope to see some readers at:
Book signing! At my local comics shop Strange Adventures, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, March 3rd (Saturday), 2-4pm (EDITING TO ADD: The book launch has been moved to the following Saturday due to the books not shipping to Strange Adventures on time. The launch will now be March 10th from 2-4pm. Go here for info).
Comic convention! I’ll have a table at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 6th-7th. There are a few other conventions I am trying to attend, but everything else is up in the air at the moment. For updates, please follow my twitter or join my Facebook fan page.  I’m pretty good about updating those two spots.

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