Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On Pitching...

It's been a while since I've been able to post anything, mainly because all the work I've got on my plate at the moment is extremely top secret, though it looks like there will be an announcement about one of them within the next couple of months. And while there are a few non-work related topics I like to talk about -- like what I'm reading or listening to -- I haven't had time to write anything about those, either. Mainly because all of my free writing time has been taken up with working on the FADE manuscript and writing pitches for creator-owned comic book projects I'd like to get going.

Writing pitches is an unusual experience, and while a great many books have been written on the subject of writing a novel, and even a few on writing comics, I don't think anyone has written a book on how to write a pitch for a comic book. I'd write one myself, but between my high level of failure to actually sell many of these ideas and the fact that I have no idea what the 'right' way to do one is, I think I'll pass.

Still, having spent the last weekend pulling ideas out of my files and dusting them off to send to an editor, I thought a lot about how hard these things are to write and why they're so difficult for me, personally. These days, most editors want a short, one-page description of the concept. Writing a single page sounds easy, but when that page is all an editor has to go on for understanding what you're proposing, boiling everything down to that one page is far from simple.

My ideas tend to be a little complex, or as I describe them to my writing friends -- "It's complicated". So a single page description of a concept is a daunting task. Luckily -- and after four rounds through the Borderlands Press Writing Boot Camp program -- I've gotten better at conveying a concept in as few words as possible. Each time I've gone through Boot Camp with the segment of a novel, I've had to work up a detailed plot outline for the rest of the piece. But they have very specific length requirements, which means you have to explain the rest of the story in very economical language. It gives you an opportunity to really figure out your story and all the component parts you need to tell it. Because that's pretty much all you have room to describe. No space for pretty little flourishes there, my friend.

There's no way to explain my process for that without a much longer post, but it's an interesting experience that focuses your thinking about plot mechanics and the shape of a long story. For more on that and some good advice on plotting I highly recommend David Morrell's book on writing (Which used to be called LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, but has since been re-released with a new name that completely escapes me at the moment) or THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO WRITING A NOVEL by Thomas F. Monteleone.

And while the mechanics of boiling a comic book or graphic novel idea down into one page is daunting enough, it's not the hardest part of writing a pitch. For me, it's the emotional investment in developing a story and pitching it knowing full well that nothing may come of the attempt.

I never pitch a story unless it's something I really, really want to do. And if I'm going to pitch it, I need to know a lot more about it than will fit on a single page. I need to know its themes; its overall shape; its beginning, middle and end. That's a lot of work, and a lot of investment for something that an editor might look at and say, "Naw, doesn't do it for me." But it's the only way to go, in my book. If you're not emotionally invested in the idea, why would you expect someone to want to publish it? Just saying. I pitched a lot of half-baked superhero ideas early in my career and none of them anywhere. How could they? I didn't particularly want to tell those stories, I just wanted to create work for myself as an artist. 'Cause I was always pitching myself as the art team for my own book.

So I'm afraid I don't really have any useful advice on how to pitch a comic book series. Just the thought that you really need to be emotionally invested in the idea, willing to take the disappointment of having an editor not like it, and being able to throw yourself into the next idea with equal abandoned. It's not that your idea is bad, per se... it's just not right for that editor or that company.

Being both emotionally involved in your idea and able to take criticism or rejection at the same time is a crucial skill for anyone involved in a creative industry. And it's a skill that you have to learn over time. You have to walk that tightrope if you want to get anywhere as a writer or as an artist. And believe me, even if the editor LOVES your idea, as a writer you're going to have to step back and pull the entire thing apart again after you've sold it and started working on the final product, because a good editor will want to work with you to develop the idea a bit more.

I'll try and talk a little more about my process putting together pitches while I wait to be able to talk about some of my upcoming projects. If I have time, I'll try to go into some detail on how to structure one in an interesting way, and the importance of having some artwork to go a long with the one page concept sheet.

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