One day left in our countdown! The last of our countdown posts comes from Ken Lamug, an author-illustrator who has created award-winning picture books and graphic novels and a member of the KidLit GN team. Growing up in the Philippines, Ken loved making up stories and drawing on leftover scraps of paper from photocopy machines. The grown-ups begged him to stop, but he just kept doodling anyway. He wasn’t the best artist, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
His most recent graphic novels include Mischief and Mayhem #1 Born To Be Bad and Petro and the Flea King which was selected by the Nevada Humanities for the 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival.
Ken also teaches the “Making Graphic Novels” workshop at Storyteller Academy. When Ken is not creating in his secret lab, he’s usually rehearsing A cappella with his two dogs.
The ultimate guide to graphic novel pitching!
So are you ready to submit your magnum-opus graphic novel for queries? Great!
One of the most common questions I get is, “What do I need to have ready when it comes time for queries or submissions?”
First, make sure to check the submission guidelines. Different agents or publishers have different requirements and it’s always a good rule of thumb to follow their instructions.
With that being said, I always revert to my next answer which is to make sure and have your Pitch Pack ready. No, a Pitch Pack is not something I sell for $19.95 (as appealing as that sounds). . .
A Pitch Pack is a series of supporting materials and documents that will have 99% of what you need for querying. The last thing you want is an agent or publisher asking for more information, and you, scrambling to get it together.
So let’s look at what makes a pitch pack:
The pitch (also called an elevator pitch, or logline) is a sentence or two that summarizes the story idea and concept for the purpose of selling it to the audience or reader. Basically, it’s a teaser.
The pitch should feature the “hook” or idea that makes your story different and unique. Make sure that you’re focusing on the central conflict and emphasizing why the readers should care.
Pitches are often written in an active voice which engages the reader. You’ll want to quickly identify the protagonist, antagonist, and what’s at stake.
Using contrasting ideas and situations within the pitch also helps make it more interesting and fun.
And unless absolutely necessary, try to steer away from using character names and focus on adjectives and descriptive information. A story pitch almost never reveals the ending, the agent or publisher gets that when they contact you for more information. *wink* *wink.*
For pitch events (like this awesome one I heard of called KitLitGN), word counts often go beyond a couple of sentences and you’ll have more flexibility to explain your story and go into more detail. So it’s always a good idea to have a few versions of your pitch available for different situations.
Let’s look at examples of pitches from popular movies. You can see how using irony between the characters and situations adds engaging conflict and makes the viewer interested in wanting to know more
“The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.”
“A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.”
The Lion King
“Lion cub and future king Simba searches for his identity. His eagerness to please others and penchant for testing his boundaries sometimes get him into trouble.”
The synopsis is a page (or two) that outlines the entire story from the beginning, middle, and end. In the synopsis, you’re not trying to sell your story, rather you’re describing the general plot points and events as it unfolds. Try avoiding rhetorical questions or open-ended ideas that are often used in pitches.
It’s also important to check the agent or publisher’s submission guidelines and make sure that the synopsis word count does not exceed the requirements. If your plot or story is complex, you might have to focus on the main idea and through line of the story and save the subplots for the full manuscript or story outline.
I recommend that you study movie or book synopsis on IMDb.com or Wikipedia to see how they’re structured/written.
What better way to show the agent or publisher your vision than with some character illustrations.
You’ll want to show your main characters in various poses, a variety of facial expressions, and situations where they’re interacting with other characters.
Agents and publishers are looking at your ability to beautifully render the characters in a consistent way as well as get an idea for your illustration style.
When you’ve piqued the interest of publishers and agents, they will often ask for more. That’s great! So make sure to have actual comic pages rendered and ready for submission.
I try to have at least the first chapter of my book fully illustrated.
There’s no better way to showcase your storytelling and art skills than with sample pages of the story you’re trying to get published.
This is the best time to shine and display your vision for the book.
Believe it or not, there are still creators out there who forget to include basic information about themselves. So this is just a reminder — make sure to include your name, contact information, and a short biography about how awesome you are and why the agents or publishers should snag you up right away.
A write-up about why this story is important to you and how it connects with your life experience also adds another layer to what makes your story unique.
Have these ready in your “Just-in-case” bag:
The Story Outline
In addition to the synopsis, a full story outline is another document that’s great to have on hand.
We include this in our “just-in-case” bag because oftentimes this is something that’s needed or developed along with the editor when you’re further into the acquisition process or if your project is already acquired. (Yay!) But it never hurts to have it ready now.
The outline is basically a detailed breakdown of your story segmented in a chapter by chapter structure or a plot by plot structure.
It’s as simple as describing/summarizing what happens in chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, etc. . .
It can show the pacing of the story and the escalation in the context of the entire book. Also, take into account your books page count. It’s a good idea to know how many pages you’re dedicating to each chapter.
With the outline, you can go into more detail (and subplots) which you were unable to describe in the synopsis.
The manuscript is a page-by-page detailed script of the story. Here you describe every page, panel, and character dialogue. Some editors prefer a script while others prefer thumbnails or sketches. I always think it’s a good exercise to have a full written script to accompany the illustrations.
While there is no strict format to comic scripts (there are quite a few styles in use), I prefer using the screenplay structure used in the software Scrivener. This format is in my opinion the easiest to read in comic scripting.
Remember that oftentimes, publishers will want to make changes to your story, it can be as simple as dialogue tweaks to something as expansive as plot changes. So don’t get too attached. This is also a good reason why you should not fully illustrate your whole book if your goal is to traditionally publish. So the next best option is to have a full script where you can make changes to the story without having to redraw everything.
And that’s about what makes a “Pitch Pack”. The beautiful thing about getting all these materials ready beforehand is that you can re-purpose them for whatever else your potential agent or publisher might ask.
It has almost everything they will need to make a decision about publishing your story. And putting in the work to create a pitch pack shows the preparation and dedication you’ve put into, not just your story, but your publishing career.