My work-in-progress report #4
Last week I completed a top-to-bottom rewrite of my graphic novel. The second half went much more quickly than the first, because I’m finding my voice. Hooray! So to mix things up a little, I put the draft in a drawer this week, to let the ideas marinate. Meanwhile, I drafted a publisher’s pitch package.
One of my pet peeves as a filmmaker is how few of my colleagues can answer the question “What’s your story about?” Standing in a cocktail lounge, with 30 other people to talk to, I didn’t expect — or want — a lengthy, shot-by-shot summary. No, I wanted a couple of sentences that explained Who is the main character, What do they want, and Why I should care? (Or more charitably, what makes this story unique?)
The reason that’s so rare, of course, is that it’s hard to do well. But not impossible. So with 275 pages in my drawer, I set out to do just that. Partly to understand what I’m writing, partly to be able to sell it.
I want to find a publisher before I’m finished, so that I can have a collaborator. It would be foolish to complete my entire project and then assume someone would buy it as is. I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to collaborate with an editor who knows the business and craft better than I do. And I don’t want to have to redo the whole thing to make the sale.
So I need to preview the work-in-progress. Based on my research and experience, my graphic novel pitch is comprised of seven parts.
1) Title Page. Which also includes a subhead and a catchy image. Books need an explanatory subhed these days, because plenty of catchy titles don’t mean anything without explanation.
2) Overview. This is like the quintessential elevator pitch, which starts with a very short but catchy description of the story and premise, which (we hope) makes the listener ask for more. Then we offer a little more about the format of the book, the experience of the author, and who is the intended audience for the book. The more specific, the better.
3) Cast of Characters. My novel is an ensemble piece, even though it’s told from one person’s point of view. I drew the line at three principles and six supporting characters to capture the range. More importantly, I took a stab at drawing their faces, and you can see all of them (with variations) illustrating this post.
4) When and Where. My story is a period piece, set in a couple of very different locations, at a particular point in history, so it’s all spelled out here. (In the pitch. I’m not ready to reveal my story just yet.)
5) Themes and Rationale. While not strictly necessary, I have strong reasons for telling this particular story, and have the credibility for having actually lived through the events herein. Did I mention this is a fictitious memoir? Or is it auto fiction? Something like that.
6) About the Artist. You may know something about me at this point, but potential publishers don’t know me from Adam. So a brief biography, especially in terms of my artistic credentials, is necessary.
7) Synopsis. Here’s something that’s harder than it sounds: summarizing 275 pages in 2 or 3 pages. Longer than a catalog listing, but shorter than a magazine article. This was a good exercise at this stage, because I could review the character arcs and plot twists and decide if they felt “right.” So far, so good.
I’m not ready to pitch my book yet because there’s one more piece to come. I need to fully draw, letter and color 10-12 pages as they would appear in print. Even if my synopsis gets a publisher’s attention, I have to demonstrate that I can tell a story in comics form, sustain a drawing style, and deliver it in a printable format.
This is also important to get an idea how long it will take to finish the whole book. If I can draw 10-15 pages in a week, that’s still 20 weeks of drawing. How long will it take to letter all the word balloons? How complicated will the coloring be? I’m allowing myself three weeks for the first 12 pages — and hope that’s twice as long as my ultimate cruising speed.
Wish me luck. See you in April!
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