“ok, I’ve read your article on your website about creating a gn pitch. did you have to pitch Alexander to hiveworks to get it printed? also, was seance published thru hiveworks or another publisher?? how difficult is it to get a publisher to actually pick up your book and have it printed + distributed? sorry for so many questions lol. I have a lot more but I’ll refrain for now”
Alexander is a special circumstance because Hiveworks is actually where I work as a dayjob. Staff members and creators already part of Hiveworks can get their webcomics hosted/printed with no barrier should they choose to be picked up by the studio – though they still need to make a pitch document to check whether the content matches the editorial catalogue.
Before this though, I had shopped Alexander out to other traditional graphic novel publishers. Which didn’t work out because 1) there is still no viable market for adult graphic novels that isn’t political, educational or memoir, 2) Alexander is a risky book, cost-wise and content-wise, 3) I wanted it to be webcomic too, 4) pandemic
Seance Tea Party
Seance Tea Party (and My Aunt is a Monster) is through Random House Graphic, a kids/young adult graphic novel imprint of Penguin Random House – the largest traditional publisher globally. I am only stating this to situate the difference between Alexander and Seance’s homes. Hiveworks is absurdly tiny, hyper-independent and almost entirely digital. Random House Graphic is part of a big ecosystem that almost all your favourite authors past and present are part of: bookstores, libraries Hollywood, TV adaptations, ads on the bus or magazines or radio, Oprah’s book club, worldwide distribution…
About the difficulty, it really depends on your specific situation.
For starters, you really need to have some kind of record of being able to finish something (mini-comics, a decently sized (100 paged) webcomic)… or in the case of long, ongoing webcomics, the ability to maintain it.
This should be enough to get you to make an attempt for Hiveworks (or Webtoons/Tapas…).
But then you also have to consider the genre, subject matter, “representation”, length, style of the work you’re pitching… all the things I talked about in my GN Pitch article. As I have hinted at Alexander failing at being picked up by traditional publishers, some comics are just not able to break in to certain markets due to a variety of factors. Adult graphic novels are still seen as risky by traditional large imprints, so you tend to see them more in indie publications – like Fantagraphics, D&Q, Selfmade Hero, First Second, Silver Sprocket… or webcomics. However, if you’re pitching a kids or young adult book – especially in the memoir, queer contemporary romance, POC (tailored to Western lens, RIP) fantasy, educational genres – then you’ll have a way better time.
You still have to look at the publishers and see if your vibes match theirs.
Then if you’re interested in opening up the option to pitch to traditional imprints (and add more credibility to your submission), you really really really NEED an agent. Some GN imprints like Ballantine or Alfred A Knopf do not accept submissions at all except through agents and known contacts. Pitching to an agent is a whole other barrier… though once you get that agent, you can almost entirely hand over the grueling work of shopping pitches to them.
I think, on average, breaking into publishing is moderately hard. But I cannot guarantee it. I know for myself and a friend of mine, we broke into it easy: we got our agents quickly and secured our first book deals through major traditional publishers – though we had almost a decade of webcomics experience and community presence to back that up. Then for most of my peers/friends, it’s months and months of rejection, no answers, editors/agents telling them their work is not for the market etc. Some of them overcome those troubles. Some of them become sick of it and go full independent self-published.
Speaking of, there are still options outside of the mainstream. You can engage specialised, single-purpose services like White Squirrel to distribute, or Mixam to print your comics. You can host your work online and gain your own readership through updates, festival appearances, etc.
Again, it really depends on what you want to do, what your work is about, and the fallbacks you have. Please do your research, and prepare your strategies, and approach pitching with a realistic, pragmatic lens. Hope for the best, expect the worst. Everything above your must-have is a bonus.
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
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French Book Tour, January 2024