The idea of compiling a graphic novel “pitch” for agents and editors might feel overwhelming. You probably have plenty of questions, and you might be worried that you’ll run afoul of some little rule or requirement that automatically sends your pitch into the rejection pile.
Well, never fear! This handy guide is intended to walk you through everything you need to know about how to pitch your graphic novel.
And the bright side of this situation is that there are no rules.
I’m going to give you plenty of guidelines and examples below, but keep in mind that the goal of your pitch is to convince a potential agent or editor that your project:
1) is a compelling story
2) has a clear audience
3) will sell
The point of your pitch is to clearly convey those three things. So you can follow the tips below to construct your pitch, or you can do it your own way — as long as your pitch conveys the three elements above, you are in great shape!
Here is what this blog post is going to cover:
Table of Contents
Important Questions to Ask Yourself
When you’re beginning to think about putting your pitch together, it’s important to look at it from the perspective of agents and editors. They probably have a slightly different point of view than you do.
When they review a pitch, for example, they’re probably asking themselves things like, does this project have a place in the market? Is it going to be easy to sell? Is it likely to get multiple offers? Are my sales & marketing colleagues going to be as excited about it as I am?
Taking into account the perspective of agents and editors, you need to ask the following questions first before worrying about anything else – we’ll get into the nitty-gritty later.
1. Who is your audience?
Having a clear picture of your audience is an essential step when it comes to creating or pitching your graphic novel or any piece of content. Focus on the following areas:
There is a big difference between creating something for early readers, middle graders, or teens. Be sure you’re clear in your head about the age level of your audience. Try to be as specific as possible.
For instance, if you’re aiming at middle grade, decide whether your project is more “early middle grade” or “upper middle grade.” While early middle grade readers would be about 7 to 9 years old, upper-middle grade readers would be about 9 to 12, roughly speaking.
Make sure you’ve read tons of graphic novels in the same age category that you’re focusing on. Pay attention to things like page count, number of panels on the page, vocabulary level, amount of dialogue, and sophistication of themes.
You should feel confident that the content and format of your book is well-suited to the target age level.
What’s the genre of your graphic novel? Is it informational nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, humor, action-adventure, fantasy, slice-of-life, mystery, sci-fi, romance, or something else?
Your graphic novel can be a mashup as well. In fact, editors and publishers usually love genre mashups.
What are other graphic novels that are similar to yours?
“Comp titles” – also known as “comparison titles” or “competitive titles” – are books similar to yours in age level, genre, tone, and/or style.
It’s important not only to list your comp titles, but also to be able to explain how your book is similar to and different from those comp titles. As creator David Rickert put it to me, “I like the idea of a comp title as: ‘my book is like this one, but it’s different because…’.”
But keep in mind that you might focus on different comp titles during different parts of your book development process.
When you’re still developing your story (ie, before you’re pitching it), you want to focus on “mentor texts” – ie, comp titles that inspire you personally. You may love the creators’ storytelling or feel that the books are particularly effective in one way or another that you can learn from.
Once you’re ready to pitch your project, though, you want to be a bit more strategic in picking your comp titles. You want to make sure that the comp titles you list for agents and editors are:
- Published fairly recently (ie, within the past three years or so)
- Sold pretty well or quite well (you don’t want to compare your project to a sleepy title that sold less than 1000 copies)
- Realistic comparisons to your work (for example, as a debut creator, you shouldn’t compare your project to a gigantic bestseller because it’s unlikely your book will perform that well right out of the gate)
One of the biggest factors that distinguishes children’s book publishing from adult book publishing is the importance of gatekeepers. When you’re creating a book for kids, you’re actually aiming at two audiences: the kids who’ll be reading it, and the adults who purchase it for them.
It’s extremely helpful to spend some time thinking about the adults who’ll enjoy your book as much as the kids. Be able to articulate:
- Why parents would appreciate your book. Does your book have special appeal for certain types of kids?
- Why teachers would appreciate your book. Could your book tie into any curriculum areas?
- Why librarians would appreciate your book. Would your book qualify for certain awards or book lists?
2. What makes your story compelling?
What is your story’s hook? Take the time to hone your logline and synopsis because you want to quickly grab potential agents’ or editors’ attention and help them understand what you’re pitching as succinctly as possible.
Your logline is a one or two sentence description of your book. For example, if a friend asks you what your book is about, what would you say to sum it up?
A short synopsis, on the other hand, is a little longer, perhaps 1-3 paragraphs. Its purpose is to give agents/editors a clear idea of how your book begins, continues, and ends. Your logline and short synopsis should be written in an engaging, clear way that makes the reader think, “oh, this sounds great, I want to read the whole book!”
Many people ask whether they need a detailed synopsis, a full manuscript, or a partial manuscript. We’ll talk about this later.
3. Why should an agent/publisher take a chance on you?
This is an important question. Why should an agent/publisher consider your graphic novel? Who are you? What’s special about you?
One of the mistakes some people make is focusing exclusively on the story and not providing enough information about who they are as an artist or a writer.
You don’t have to say a lot in your pitch: just enough to give agents a little taste of your personality and background. Tell them if you have any published books. Tell them a bit about how your career or life experience gave you the inspiration for your story. Anything that piques an agent or editor’s interest and makes them curious to learn more.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Try to write your bio in a tone that matches your manuscript.
- Definitely mention any past experience, skills, or connections that support your project.
- Make sure your online presence is effective. Google yourself and see what comes up in the search results.
4. Why is your book going to sell?
Why will people want to buy your book?
This is the fundamental question that agents and editors will focus on. Unfortunately, thousands and thousands of books are published every month, and only a tiny handful will sell reasonably well.
Your pitch will need to have a section that shows you’ve thought about this, and have some concrete ideas on how to answer it:
- Does your book address a gap in the market? Is it similar in some ways to certain books that are selling well, but different in some interesting way?
- Do you have personal connections or belong to a community that could help you promote your book?
- Do you have a plan for expanding your network and online presence?
- Do you have any creative, outside-the-box ideas for promoting your book?
- Will you create a dedicated website with some special features?
Spend some time to answer these questions. Find people who can help you if you need brainstorming partners.
Factors That Can Impact an Agent or Editor’s Decision to Work With a Creator
As an agent, I sometimes come across projects that are great stories, have a clear audience, and have a highly motivated and engaged creator, but are still unlikely to get picked by publishers. Since, as an agent, my income is 100% dependent upon being able to sell a project to a publisher, if I love the story but think it will be very challenging to sell to a publisher, I’m usually going to turn it down.
Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m always right — the publishing industry is extraordinarily, notoriously subjective!
Here are some of the factors other than the quality of your pitch that can affect agents or publishers’ decisions to work with you:
Editors and agents care about how their colleagues see them. They love working on books that win awards and get great reviews by finicky book reviewers. It can sometimes be easier to predict books that might win awards versus books that will sell really well. So people take the path of least resistance – picking the books that might win awards.
When something becomes popular, everyone starts following it. This is human nature. So, if your project doesn’t quite fit the bandwagon, things can get tricky.
We all have biases, whether we’re aware of them or not. Again, it’s human nature. And the publishing industry has historically been a very centralized industry, highly concentrated in New York City, filled with professionals who grew up in “certain places” and went to “certain schools.”
This homogeneity means that there are a lot of blindspots in the industry.
Don’t let rejections based on these biases discourage you. One of the most important qualities you can work on, as a creator, is believing in yourself.
Always keep tweaking and improving your work, and be open to the many different paths to publication that exist in this day and age. Luckily, you’re not limited to being “chosen” by a traditional publisher. If the traditional publishing path ends up not working out for you, you can chart your own course.
But if you want to give your best shot at getting a traditional publishing deal, below is a recipe for putting a graphic novel pitch together.
What to Include in a Graphic Novel Pitch + Pitch Examples
Your “pitch” is a package of materials, including both finished elements (like a complete script) and unfinished elements (like a small selection of sample pages), that gives agents and editors a solid sense of what your final book will be like.
Here is what you can consider including in your graphic novel pitch package:
1. Cover page
Add a super-attractive cover page to your pitch. Why? Because when you send an email with your PDF pitch attached, the cover image will show as a thumbnail at the bottom of your email. You want to pique the editor or agent’s attention and get them to read your whole email.
Keep your cover page simple. Just a strong image, title, and author name.
2. Project Summary Page
I personally like the cover page to be followed by a summary page that includes the logline, a few pieces of basic information about the project’s format, and the short synopsis. But you don’t have to follow this sequence. You could also start with the sample art and have the synopsis at the end of the proposal.
Logline: The logline is a really short (1-2 sentences) summary of your graphic novel. It takes some work to summarize your book effectively in a sentence or two. Show your logline to several trusted people and revise it several times to get it right.
Format and target audience info: List key specs such as the genre, age level, page count, and possibly trim size and/or whether it’s black-and-white, full color, limited palette, etc
Short synopsis: Your short synopsis is about one to three paragraphs, summarizing your book and helping agents/editors understand the plot and how it unfolds. The difference between a synopsis and a jacket blurb is that when you’re pitching an agent or an editor, you don’t want to hold back on the ending.
3. Sample Art
Putting together a strong selection of sample pages is essential if you’re the artist or part of a creative team. I recommend including anywhere from 3-5 pages of final color art and 6-25 pages of pencils or inks. But I sometimes see artists including perhaps 10 pages of final art and no pencils/inks.
In terms of the quantity of sample art, there is no right or wrong number of pages to include. You just have to ask yourself, “what feels like the right amount of art that will adequately convey how this story will read, as well as my storytelling abilities and style?”
I usually recommend including at least a handful of pages from the beginning of the story, because you want agents and editors to get a really good feel for how your book will grab readers’ attention from the beginning. Often, I think it’s nice to also include a few sequential pages from a later scene in the book, particularly if it’s a climactic or visually dramatic moment.
4. Detailed Synopsis or Manuscript
Your pitch should also include either a detailed synopsis, full manuscript, or partial manuscript:
- Usually, if you’re a debut creator, you’ll need to include a full, polished manuscript. This means you’ve written and revised the complete script with feedback from multiple trustworthy people, such as critique group partners, a freelance editor, and/or beta readers.
- If you’ve already been published and have a track record, you might not need a full manuscript. A partial script along with your short synopsis could be enough.
- If you tend to develop your stories in thumbnails rather than script format, a detailed synopsis can stand in for a manuscript. A detailed synopsis is a multi-page document (anywhere from 2 to 50 pages or more) that describes the complete storyline in detail.
5. Author bio(s)
In the author bio section, introduce yourself in a couple of paragraphs. The author bio can be written in any style you want. It could be more simple and formal, or it could be breezy and funny. Write it in whatever style feels most authentic to yourself.
You should also add your website portfolio link and/or social media links so agents can learn more about you.
6. Comp Title Info
Comp titles are a critical part of your graphic novel pitch. Make it easy for agents and editors to understand where your book belongs in the market, and why the success of other similar books indicates that your book will succeed, as well. See the section on comp titles above for a bit more information.
7. Any Relevant Marketing Ideas or Info
I think it’s a good idea to include a specific section about how you’ll promote the book. Mention any personal connections or communities you belong to that will help you get the word out. If you have any other creative marketing ideas, list them.
You definitely want agents and editors to have the sense that you understand the importance of marketing and will be actively involved in promoting the book.
Another thing you can do to convey your passion is to include an “Author Statement,” where you explain in personal terms why you are creating this particular book. This often helps agents and editors get a sense for how you’ll connect with readers.
8. How to Organize Your Pitch
There is no right or wrong way to organize your proposal. I recommend that you organize your proposal in order of impact; in other words, show your best, most impressive stuff first. For example, if your sample art rocks, start with the sample art. If you think your detailed synopsis is a masterpiece, start your presentation with the synopsis.
It’s up to you whether you want to compile everything mentioned above in one pdf document, or send the manuscript, sample art, and proposal as individual files.
If your manuscript is lengthy, you probably want to send it separately from the proposal and sample art. But if your whole pitch is under 40 or 50 pages, it might be better to create a single pdf.
Regardless of how you format your pitch, make sure to keep your documents under 20 MB so they don’t overload people’s inboxes or hard drives.
Some people will probably want you to send the file(s) as an email attachment, and others might ask you to upload the pitch on Google Drive or Dropbox and share the link. Research individual agents’ and publishers’ requirements and submit your pitch according to their guidelines.
Frequently Asked Questions + Answers
What is the least amount of pitch material agents want to see?
I would say, at a minimum, you need a great story synopsis, at least a chapter or two sample script, and a handful of excellent sample art pages. If you’re a writer only, you most likely need a full, polished manuscript.
You can sometimes get away with a more bare bones pitch if you have a robust online presence, or if a publisher has approached you with a specific request. But if you don’t have a fair amount of experience or an existing platform, you’re going to need to make your pitch more comprehensive.
Is it acceptable to pitch more than one project at a time?
Most likely you’ll want to start with one project to catch the interest of an agent or publisher. If the agent sets up a call to get to know you and your work, feel free to show them more projects. But at the query stage you probably don’t want to overwhelm them with multiple proposals (unless they’ve specifically asked you to show them a variety of ideas).
I heard some agents expect a completely finished inked and colored graphic novel for any first-timer. Thoughts?
NO! You shouldn’t start with a finished, inked and colored graphic novel if you’re a newcomer!
Why? Because your agent or editor might think that you’re unable to take on editorial feedback. This would most likely be a deal breaker.
What’s the difference between an outline and a synopsis and what should go into my synopsis?
People often use the word ‘outline’ and ‘synopsis’ interchangeably. However, there’s a difference between an outline and a synopsis. An outline is something you develop before writing and drawing your graphic novel — it’s something you create to organize your content for yourself.
On the other hand, a synopsis is a summary of your book intended for other readers. It’s carefully crafted to give them a complete picture of the storyline and tone. The “short synopsis” is usually several paragraphs or about one page long, and is intended to give the agent/editor a quick overview of the story. A “detailed synopsis” is almost like a stand-in for the manuscript – it describes the whole story chapter by chapter. A detailed synopsis could be several pages long, or it could be about the same length as a complete manuscript.
Should I include the ending or descriptions of characters or leave it out?
In a pitch, you should always include the ending because agents and editors want to understand the full story.
How many pages of synopsis, script, and finished artwork is normal to submit?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. The detailed synopsis or script might be a handful of pages if your book is aimed at young readers and is relatively short. Or it might be 30 to 200 pages if you’re working on a full-length middle grade or YA graphic novel.
Same goes for the finished artwork. It might be 5 to 6 pages if that’s enough to convey a strong sense of your project, or it might be 20 to 30 pages if you feel it’s helpful to show more.
I definitely recommend showing your pitch to several trusted friends or advisors (like members of your critique group or a freelance editor) to see if they think the amount of content you’re including is sufficient to give outside readers a solid understanding of what your final book will be like.
Should I also submit additional sketched-out pages in addition to the finished ones?
Most of the time, the pitches I send publishers on behalf of my clients include a small handful of finished color art, and a batch of “tight pencils” or inked pages as well. That way, you don’t have to expend the effort to fully render lots of final art, but you are giving them a good chunk of pages to get a solid sense of your storytelling capabilities.
Do the pages that you submit have to include the beginning of the story or can it be from another part?
I personally recommend that creators include sample art from the first few pages of the book when submitting to a publisher, mainly because publishers want to understand how readers might react when they open up your book and read the first few pages. But you can also include a few pages from another part of the story if there’s a visually striking section that you want publishers to see.
Should you include character descriptions? Worldbuilding info? Research?
Yes, if you have “fun extras,” you should include them! Character lineups, worldbuilding sketches, and information about your research process are all compelling elements to add to your pitch. Try to incorporate these “extras” into your proposal in an interesting way.
If you believe your story has series potential, should you have a synopsis prepared for at least one more book in the series?
Yes, if you want to pitch a series, you should include short synopses for other potential books in your pitch packet. You can include a section labeled “Future Books in the Series” or “Potential Additional Titles” or something like that. These synopses might be just a paragraph or two long.
Are there any guidelines that make for a standout cover (or at least one that doesn’t stand out for the wrong reasons)?
Your pitch cover should be simple and striking. It should be a piece of art designed to attract attention at a glance. And it should be easy to read at thumbnail size.
Is there a good universal format for pitching to multiple sources?
Unfortunately, no. Agents have different requests in terms of submission guidelines. In some cases, they want you to email with an attachment. Some of them don’t want attachments, they want you to send a link. Some use QueryTracker, others don’t.
The one universal rule of thumb is: personalize your submission based on the person you’re sending it to.
How good does the resolution of the images in the pdf need to be? Some agents only accept a very small file size.
Most of the time, I recommend exporting your pitch as big and sharp as possible under 20 megabytes.
Do I have to build up a separate portfolio of self-directed work, collabs, zines, etc. to show that I have some sort of “technical know-how”?
If you’re just starting your career as a graphic novel creator, the more you can show completed work – including self-directed work, zines, webcomics, etc – the more convincing it is that you’ll be able to complete your book from start to finish. Having an extensive portfolio isn’t necessary, but it definitely helps.
Does seeing an MFA in someone’s bio make a difference when considering their work?
I wouldn’t say that an MFA can make or break things for you, but it will definitely show that you take the craft seriously and you’re passionate about growing as a writer or artist.
I hope this blog post helps you in your publishing journey. Just remember, this is a business that rewards persistence and dedication. It’s certainly not an easy path, or likely to bring you a “slam dunk” on your first try.
As Barbara Kingsolver said:
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor [or agent] who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”
If you’d like to embark on a deep dive into how to break into publishing and build your creative career, consider Kids Comics Unite’s “Publishing, Marketing, and Business Intensive,” which opens for enrollment on May 11, 2022.
For a sneak peak into the course come on by and attend our FREE Masterclass “How to Build a Successful Career as a Creator,” on the same day!
And we’d love to hear from you! What part of the pitching process is most confusing to you? Could you share any pitching success stories with us? Leave your comments below.