Monday, February 16, 2009

How NOT to Pitch at a Convention

by M A N

I love working at conventions. Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of hard work that's both physically and mentally draining, but it's also genuinely fun. I sincerely enjoy getting the chance to talk with people about books (yes, mine especially) and socialize with colleagues.

What isn't quite as much fun is having to deal with a creator who has no concept of professionalism or courtesy. Fortunately, 98% of the creators that come up to the booth don't fall into this category. Most know how to present themselves. It's just that 2% leave me scratching my head in disbelief.

First off, I'm not an editor. I have zero control over what the company publsishes and who they hire (they hire me and, to be frank, that's really all I care about). Yet, surprisingly, after explaining this and then directing the creator to the person they SHOULD speak with and how best to contact her, a few still continue to pitch me the idea. I can certainly apprecaite the enthusiasm and the desire to share that excitement, but I think it's best to reserve those energies for the times when it can actually benefit the creator.

Another thing I find surprising can be summed up in the following, slightly fabricated, exchange:

Creator approaches booth, stack of samples under his arm.

CREATOR: HEY, WHO ARE YOU GUYS?

ME: WE ARE THE MOST AWESOME AND AMAZING PUBLISHING COMPANY EVER TO GRACE THE FACE OF THIS PLANET, BOOM! STUDIOS.*

A choir of angels descend from the heavens, accompanied by a chorus of golden trumpets.

CREATOR: COOL. I'VE GOT AN IDEA THAT'S PERFECT FOR YOU.

Okay, for one thing, "who we are" is plain to see just about everywhere at the booth, from the massive logos on the tablecloths to the backdrops to every book we have displayed on the tables. Granted, most conventions are textbook examples of stimulation overload so I can understand how one could miss it. If you're a customer. But if you're a creator, my sense of empathy diminishes. You should really know who you're submitting to. Even if you've never heard of the company before, at least take five minutes to peruse their booth to see what it is they publish, what styles of art they prefer. If you notice a heavy selection of faerie romance titles on the tables, perhaps your splatter-punk serial killer story might not be the best fit.

I'm not saying you should write a dissertation on the company's history before submitting to them, but you should do a minimal amount of homework. Even if it's just a quick walkthrough there at the convention.

There have been plenty of people who come up to the booth cold, but they usually ask a few relevant questions then spend several minutes looking over the books. THEN they ask about submission policies, hiring practices, etc. This is how it should be done. But if you walk up, ask me who we are, and then proceed to tell me you have something that's perfect for us, I'm going to know you're full of shit. If you don't know who we are, how could you possibly know what idea would be perfect for us? I can appreciate the confidence, but the lack of homework screams "unprofessional."

I have no problem talking with people at the booth. In fact, I love it. When I'm working at a convention, I'm there to promote myself, my books, and the other titles we publish (not necessarily in that order). Talking with customers is a big part of that, whether they buy anything or not. I'm proud of the books I write and the books BOOM! publishes and I want people to know that. So when a creator's pitch interferes with that agenda, it becomes a problem. A big fucking problem.

Recently while at a convention, a creator approached the booth with his project in hand. After I explained our submissions policy, he began to pitch me anyway by pulling dozens of sketches and scripts from a large manilla envelop and spreading them over the table, covering the books we were trying to sell.** As if that wasn't bad enough, his father then pulled out a large fold-out map of the convention floor to determine their next destination and layed it over another large section of our table.

Folks, do not do this. Ever. Especially unsolicited. When you show that kind of disregard and disrespect for a company's products, why in the world would they ever want to do business with you? That's a good way to make sure you never get published (although I must give him kudos for having a father who supported his creativity enough to play navigator).

There are, undoubtedly, numerous places on the intertubes that discuss the finer points of convention etiquette (and this goes for folks behind the booth as well as in front of). I would assume most of those points are common sense, but if you're a creator and aren't sure if some of your tactics may actually be backfiring, search them out.


*Yes, I really do say things like this.

**Honestly, there was a moment I seriously, seriously, thought he was going to break into interpretive dance.

16 comments:

Louis Porter Jr. said...

Since I have just started pitching to comic comapnies, I wanted to get your opinion on this:

1) Do you think it is better to pitch an idea to a comic company with a complete writing & artist team already in place? Or just to pitch is as a writer with a long script?

2) Do you think it is a good idea / OK to pitch an idea when someone from the team is a professional (artist or wrtier) in the field and the other person is unpublished?

Thanks for the help!

Stellar Drift said...

Ah, the solitude of humanity - plenty of that going around.

But are you sure you want to post instructions? As it is now, its easy to weed out the undesirables, but if they learn the tricks - companies may get stuck with a real dud *g*

Keith R.A. DeCandido said...

"Yes, I really do say things like this."

Having just spent a weekend in the same booth with M A N, I can attest to the truth of this. *nodsnodsnods*

;)

John Freeman said...

Smashing post. We get the same kind of attitudes on this side of the Atlantic. If a professional editor or other creator is sitting in front of you handing out free advice based on their own experience, you'd be mad not to at least listen. If you don't agree, that's your call, but starting an argument will simply confirm to that creator/editor that you're not prepared to learn and therefore not worth hiring.

While at Marvel UK, I lost track of people who would present portfolios full of other companies' characters. Don't do it, people. There's no point presenting Judge Dredd, for example, or Batman if the editor in front of you publishes Spider-Man.

Oh, and don't present covers and single page images: always have only comic strip in your portfolio so an editor can see you can tell a story.

Don't overstuff that portfolio, either. Weed it out regularly until you're completely satisfied you're only presenting your best work. And present a page of pencils and inks of the same page.

Hope this is helpful/useful. Really enjoying this blog.

Michael Alan Nelson said...

Blogger Louis Porter Jr. said...

1) Do you think it is better to pitch an idea to a comic company with a complete writing & artist team already in place? Or just to pitch is as a writer with a long script?

It really all depends on the publishing company. I think smaller independents might prefer to be pitched by teams so that it's less leg work for them, but I believe most publishing houses prefer to have some input into the creative team.

Also, a company may only be looking for artists, not writers or new projects. So the artist might be hired, but the writer is left in the cold (or vice versa).

It really comes down to homework. Investigate which companies are open to, or have previously accepted, package projects.

Any editors/publishers out there want to weigh in?

2) Do you think it is a good idea / OK to pitch an idea when someone from the team is a professional (artist or wrtier) in the field and the other person is unpublished?

I would think having a published member of the team would certainly help. It lends credibility to the newcomer and may get the submission off the slush pile. It's in no way a guarantee to help, but I can't see how it could hurt.

Again, any editors or publishers want to give us your two cents?

Michael Alan Nelson said...

@stellar drift: Don't forget, no matter how professional a submission or pitch may be, it still will ultimately be judged on its quality. The nicest and most professional artist in the world won't get work if he isn't any good.

Louis Porter Jr. said...

Another question, how often do you really accept pitches at conventions? It seems like a con would be tough place to actually pitch. Chuck Dixon wrote on the topic of pitching at his site (www.dixonverse.net/articles/sketched.html) and to me, it seems a nice place to meet them face to face but not really pitch them. Just wondering.

JohnKanaka said...

Someone actually spread their work over your product? How wude! Usually, a sketchbook is enough of a teaser- and if the feedback is null, it's best to retreat to safer harbors(like talking about the boothies actual product) This goes for other festivals as well- I've seen people totally disrespect a craftsperson's work to their face. Luckily the crafters I know have some beauty replies. People are stupid, human beings are smart.

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