on may 28th, i sat in on bluestocking co-op's Querying Your Comic/Graphic Novel and Getting an Agent webinar for their digital comics fest! i took some notes like it was a class, because as an emerging artist who went to a fine arts program as opposed to a comics/GN-focused program, i don't really know a lot about the business side of publishing. hopefully these notes are useful! i wrote my own notes very point-form but i've tried to make this version understandable to people who didn't attend. i took notes from the POV of an artist/author/comic maker because that's what i am, but agents could very much benefit from this webinar as well!
the main faces of the webinar were Jas Perry as the agenting side, Nadia Shammas as the artist/writer side, and the webinar was moderated by bluestockings' own Joan Zahra Dark!
what do agents look for in clients and vice versa?
- looking for agents as an animator/comics maker is somewhat different than agenting for traditional publishing
- what does a pitch package/query letter for a comic/graphic novel look like?
- bio: who are you? where are you coming from? why are you suited to tell this story?
- short explainer/elevator pitch, 3 sentences.
- FULL plot/story breakdown. no holding back spoilers, no cliffhangers. you want to show that you know where you're going with this.
- art samples!! your agent is going to want to know what the full finished project will look like. jas recommends 5 full pages, although more wouldn't hurt. just keep in mind that if your manuscript gets edited, it will take a lot more work to edit/redo your art than prose writers would need to do if their manuscripts get edited (not that prose writers don't work hard in the first place xoxo)
- if relevant, character and worldbuilding breakdown. who are the main players? what kind of world are they reacting to?
- comp. titles: what other media is like yours? doesn't have to be limited to other comic books, but your agent/agent-to-be/publisher wants to know if there's a spot in the market for your work
- your agent will (hopefully) try to fight for your work to be published, but sometimes they might tell you it needs to be shelved for now because there's not a great chance it will get picked up. in that scenario they might want to continue working with you, just on a different project
- you don't necessarily need to personalize your query letter to your agent-to-be with deep research, but if you have a good hook (such as: your work is a lot like something they LOVE to post about on twitter) then go for it!
- jas' own process involves skimming the prospective client's full pitch, reading their sample, and then going back and reading auxillary information like their bio
- jas says that she looks for an inspiring, passionate voice, but also wants to see a unique voice that plays to the client's strengths
- above all, the sample should be the strongest piece of your pitch package because the art strongly drives the project
- querying agents can feel very personal at times because you're looking for someone to develop a business relationship with
- shop around and query multiple agents, do NOT just settle for the first person who accepts your work
- consider your work style -- do you want someone who will guide you through the creation, editing, and publishing process closely, or do you want a more hands-off approach?
- what experience does your potential agent have? keep in mind that if they are a very busy, big agent, then they might not have the time to work one-on-one with you and are less likely to give your work the attention it needs
- non-agenting expereince to take into account: internships, fellowships, related work experience in agenting-adjacent jobs
- who do they publish to? there's two sides to this "who": "who" as in what publishers have they gotten their clients to publish in, and "who" as in what age groups and genres their clients publish in
- if you're a marginalized artist (i.e. person of colour, lgbtq+, disabled, etc.), what kind of non-publishing work do they do to support people like you? are you going to have to be constantly educating your agent about your needs, or do they already get it?
- please do not take rejection personally. 9 times out of 10, it's not about the quality of your work, but about the fit of your work with the agent in question. agents have specialities in genres, mediums, etc. just like artists!
- when you are researching agents, try to see who else they have represented in the past. if you can't find a list online, email them! if they won't divulge that information, THAT IS A RED FLAG!!!
- on working unagented: it's definitely a valid choice, especially if you want to self-publish, but if a publisher pressures you to sign unagented then THAT IS A RED FLAG!!!
you've got an agent -- now what?
- an agent is there to help you deal with the business side of publishing, including getting paid. generally speaking you do not want to be accepting the publisher's first offer of payment.
- agents should be trying to get you fair payment -- if someone (anyone) says that there's "no money in publishing", then they're a liar. there IS money in publishing, creators usually just don't see that money.
- be open and honest with your agent. they want to look out for your physical and mental health
- your agent might suggest moving, removing, or pushing back some deadlines if you have too many. the books won't get up and walk away, they'll still be there for you to work on later
- your agent might also suggest delegating tasks -- that is, making sure you don't have too much on your plate and taking on things that are stressing you out or eating up your writing/drawing/art time
- let your agent/client know how you best communicate. is that email? zoom calls? texting at 2 am because you let time slip and oh fuck, you forgot to eat dinner and go to the bathroom and it's way past both of your bedtimes? are there time zone differences to keep in mind?
- there might come a time where you feel you and your agent don't really fit together. be honest with them about this, because maybe there's changes you can make to work better with them, but it just might be time to change agents. it's a business relationship, but your agent should want the best for you and sometimes they might not be able to give you that
miscellaneous QnA stuff
on the tensions of being an anti-capitalist/anti-imperialism artist VS "selling out" to a publisher, tokenisation, and "identity politics"
- an agent can help you sift through a publisher's claims about diversity to see if they really practice what they preach. they should also be advocating for your work to be published without sanitization and being made more palatable to white, cishet, etc. standards
- always question why an agent, editor, publisher, etc. would want you to make changes to your work that speaks to your own lived experiences. you might get caught up in a bunch of minor "understandable" edits pushing you towards a more tokenized, generic version of your original vision
- do you feel confused or frustrated about whether or not you're being tokenized by your publisher? it might be a good idea to step back and think about your reasons for writing what you do
- your work should be included on its own merits, and you shouldn't feel pressured into writing about identity because that's what you're expected to do
author's note: this was a really good topic of convo but since it's been a few days and my own notes are very point-form i might be missing some good points made
on legal notes and logistics (NOTE: i am not a laywer and neither were any of the participants to my knowledge. do your research!)
- as an artist: you do NOT need to handle finding a lawyer if you are pursuing an agent. if laywers need to be involved for the reading of contracts, then your agent should handle that unless they have a background in that sort of thing
- if you ARE going unagented and need a laywer, entertainment laywers are your best bet
- if you're going international and your agent/client is in a different country, it's not much different than teaming up with someone in your own country. just keep in mind time differences and make sure you have the right tax forms when tax season comes
- if you're a solo artist/author (as in you JUST do art/write stories) and you see a project you want to work on, you want to hit up the agent of that project, not just the artist/author! be ready to give art tests for a project if you're auditioning for the art side of things
i think that covers all of the notes i took during the webinar. feel free to share this with others and add your own input!