I’ve been working on a proposal for a graphic novel since August, and I finally submitted it this past week. It was a ton of work, and I’m excited to have taken this step. I also privileged to have submitted it as the editor that I am working with solicited the proposal from me. Considering that I haven’t published any strips, pages, or minis beyond posting things to my social media accounts, it’s a fantastic position to be in. I’m crossing my fingers and doing all that I can to make sure it works out.
When I started taking comics making classes last year, I thought maybe I’d self-publish. I never anticipated an editor or publisher being interested in my work. As lucky as I am, publishing a graphic novel with an academic press has some advantages and disadvantages, and often times, the two overlap
First, my story is taking more of an academic turn than I anticipated or maybe than I wanted it to. I started studying how to make comics and making them to get away from academic publishing, to give myself something to focus on that I felt passionate about that did not have to do with my day job as a professor. Generally, I am passionate about my scholarship, but it is work, and the fact that I must do it gets me through the long hours of research and writing, not to mention the rough review and revision process. In my academic writing, the passion I feel for the topic I am writing about never survives past the first draft. I am worried that I will lose the passion for the story I am telling in my graphic novel when it gets to the more explicitly academic chapters. I guess I’ll deal with those feelings as they arise.
Second, most academic books make little if any money. While I wasn’t anticipating making money from my comics, a 150-page graphic novel is a lot of work, and not getting paid for it is a weird proposition to consider from the outset. However, I can use the project to fulfill research requirements for my job, which means I don’t have to worry about publishing anything else for work for the next year or two. Also, I can apply for grants to support my work next summer. I only get paid 9 months of the year even though I work on average 30 hours a week in the summer. (Side note: I typically work 50 hours a week during the school year. Academia, particularly jobs in the humanities, are a racket to be sure.)
Finally, the editor/publisher I might be working with doesn’t have experience publishing graphic novels. My graphic novels would be the first such book in rhetoric and composition created entirely by a scholar in the field. While the editor is well-versed in book publishing, they aren’t familiar with the peculiarities of comics publishing. This might give me a lot of power in the process, but it also means that I will have to learn how each step of the process works myself, and I’ll have to initiate conversations about how we may need to do certain things differently than they would normally do them with books composed entirely of alphabetic text, including size, paper stock, printing specs and issues, cover design, promotion, etc., etc. I predict that I will learn a tremendous amount about publishing, in both academia and comics, over the next few years.
To give you some idea how different these worlds are, I’ll compare the proposal processes. While I have never submitted work to a comics publisher, I have explored the proposal process, and it differs quite a bit from what I had to do. Both processes require a synopsis of the work and sample art. Typically, a pitch package aimed at a comics publisher includes 10 finished, sequential pages up to and 50 pages of scripted thumbnails. For my proposal, I submitted a drawn chapter (half of which was finished art and the other half was detailed pencils and text) and the script for another chapter. Also, the pitch part of the package for a comic typically includes an overview, a synopsis of the entire book, a section about the creator(s), and maybe bios for the major characters). The academic book proposal is similar, but it also includes a section situating the book in the field by drawing on other people’s scholarship, a section addressing who the audience is for the book, and a section that compares the book to other books. Additionally, an academic book has to be reviewed by three anonymous reviewers. The review process can take months.
In terms of reviewers, I’m worried about all of them. I’m worried about getting folks who don’t read comics. They might not understand or appreciate the work. However, I am also worried about having reviewers who are comics fans or comics studies scholars. They might be nitpicky, even as they probably can’t make comics themselves. Whatever the case, it’s out of my hands. I just have to hope my ideas shine through.
I’ll update y’all later letting you know what happens. I’m not expecting to hear anything for at least a month. Maybe I’ll have something to really gives thanks for come late November.