Writing and Selling a Children’s Graphic Novel – Writer – The 10 Most Common Questions

Writing and Selling a Children’s Graphic Novel – Writer – The 10 Most Common Questions

The newest, most vibrant category to emerge in the volatile world of book publishing is the Children’s Graphic Novel. That’s a distinction that may be lost on some folks who may still believe that graphic novels, which are essentially comics printed in book form, are all for children. Fortunately most people are more enlightened these days and realize that graphic novels are, in fact, written for just as many audiences and types of readers as traditional books.

The confusion arises because “graphic novel” has been used to describe just about every type of book featuring comics, other than manga (Japanes comics). Unlike other sections of the bookstore, such as “Mystery,” “Science Fiction,” or “Romance,” “Graphic Novels” is not the name of a genre, but a category. Like “Audio Books,” which can also encompass a multitude of genres, “Graphic Novels” are not just one type of book. In other words, until recently every type of graphic novel has simply been stacked together in one section regardless of content.

The good news is that the Children’s Graphic Novel is the first genre to break free from the generic Graphic Novel section. A wise move on many levels, especially because bookstores need to be sensitive to customers needs-particularly parents who don’t wish to inadvertently purchase inappropriate material for their kids.

So as a new section is carved out of the always-crowded bookstore shelves, astute publishers recognize the need for material to fill this new demand. And that’s when ambitious writers start sniffing around to see if they can get in on this new craze. But what do they really need to know if they hope to actually sell a Children’s Graphic Novel to a publisher? Let’s take a look at, and answer, some of the most commonly asked questions…

1) Do I need to be an artist?

No, but it doesn’t hurt if you are, and your proposal should include either the entire finished Children’s Graphic Novel or a sizeable sample. If you’re not an artist, then you will need to find one. Comics are obviously a visual medium, so even if you’re not an artist, it’s important to think visually. If you want to keep a kid’s attention throughout your Children’s Graphic Novel, it’s important to keep the graphics as compelling and as exciting as your script. If either the story or the artwork appears boring, why would any kid want to read your graphic novel? For the best guidance check out Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, Will Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and ScottMcCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.

2) How do I find a Children’s Graphic Novel artist?

There are many ways. One is by attending comicbook conventions, especially those in large cities that feature portfolio reviews. Many professional or would-be comicbook artists attend these conventions hoping to find work from attending comicbook editors. Simply introduce yourself to these artists, explain that you’re hoping to find an artist to work with to propose a Children’s Graphic Novel. Don’t feel obligated to work with the first artist who is willing to work with you. It may be best to suggest that you’re looking for the right artist for your project, and that you’ll need to review the work of several artists to find the one that’s right. Another way to find an artist is by reviewing the samples posted on deviantart.com

3) Do I need a contract with the artist?

To be safe, it’s probably best to have a written agreement between yourself and your artist before you actually start working together. For the best legal advise it’s always best to consult an attorney. But if that’s not practical, you should get an agreement in writing between yourself and your artist that spells out as much as possible, as specifically as possible. You want to be as fair, so the goal of the agreement is to your mutual expectations and goals, and to make allowances for either party to be able to walk away if things don’t work out. No matter what, you should be clear that the copyright to your story is yours alone. The copyright to the artwork can belong to the artist.

4) Is there an app that I can use to format my script?

There may well be, but you don’t need it. A comics script is similar to play, television, and film scripts, except it’s divided into pages rather than scenes. While dialogue scenes can last for pages on end, especially in plays, comics and graphic novels are limited to how much art and dialogue can realistically fit on a physical page. It would be wise to study graphic novels that are similar to what you hope to do to get a clear idea of the word count in the word balloons and captions. Keep in mind, there are no hard and fast rules. If you wish to have sequences told without any dialogue at all, where you let the pictures tell the story (like the many thrilling silent sequences in Alfred Hitchcock films or in the imaginative wordless sequences in Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret), it’s important that you give your artist as much information as possible. Unlike most modern movie screenplays that leave out character and set descriptions, as well as detailed information for each and every shot, comics scripts should have as much information for the artist as possible.

5) Where can I see a sample script?

Like everything these days, you can probably find many comicbook scripts online. The basics are fairly simple, as the short sample page illustrates:

Mister Snuggles [Title of Children’s Graphic Novel]

Page Five [This is the fifth comics page, not necessarily the 5th script page]

Panel One:

(Mr. Snuggles is running to the front door of the apartment with a teddy bear in his mouth.) [Description of artwork for first panel.]

Caption 1: It’s 6:00 PM and even though Mr. Snuggles can’t tell time, he somehow knows when Cortney is due home. [Text for first caption.]

Panel Two:

(Close-up of Cortney’s hand inserting her key into the apartment’s front door lock. The key is on a key chain containing other keys and a small figurine of a dog that looks very much like Mr. Snuggles.)

SFX: K-CLICK [Sound Effect.]

Panel Three:

(The apartment door opens, and Cortney is thrilled to see Mr. Snuggles. Snuggles is also visibly happy to see Cortney and she bows down to pet him. Mr. Snuggles has dropped his teddy bear so that he can lick Cortney’s face.)

Caption 2:..and he’s always there to give her a warm welcome…[Note numbering of captions and word balloons is by the page, not by the panel or throughout the entire book. So Caption 2 indicates that this is the 2nd caption or word balloon on the page.]

Cortney 3: Hey, I’m happy to see you too, little feller!


6) How do I know how many panels to place on a page?

It depends on how big your printed page size will be, and how much you have happening within your panels. European graphic novels tend to be larger than American graphic novels, and contain far more panels per page, yet the format has not proven to be that popular in the United States. Even classics such as Tintin have been reformatted into smaller books in recent years. Standard American comics, which are about 6 ½” x 10″ tend to average from four to six panels per page, which is fewer panels per page than was the norm decades ago. Manga or digest-sized comics will either have fewer panels per page or far more simplified page layouts. But again, there are no rules-as soon as an uncommonly sized Children’s Graphic Novel becomes a bestseller, it’s guaranteed that other Children’s Graphic Novel publishers will start publishing at that size.

7) What type of subject matter is taboo?

That’s a tricky question, and the answer truly depends on the publisher. Most major publishers hope to sell as many Children’s Graphic Novels as possible, especially to schools and libraries, and are not too eager to test the boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not, preferring to play it safe. Other more daring independent publishers may be more willing to tackle controversial issues, in a politically correct fashion, to generate publicity and attention. Because Children’s Graphic Novels are so visual, they’re quite often even more conservative than many traditional Children’s Books. While certain questionable words or scenes exist in such classics as Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer or Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, they’re buried in the book’s text, while any type of controversial scene could easily be taken out of context, by holding up the page before TV news cameras and pretending to be shocked at what the evil publishers are feeding to our innocent children. As a result, most of the people who buy Children’s Graphic Novels for bookstores, schools, or libraries are careful to avoid ordering anything risky or controversial. The end result being that many kids may find the content in certain Children’s Graphic Novels to be far too tame or juvenile for them. This poses is a constant challenge to publishers-to provide Children’s Graphic Novels that can get past the overly protective gate-keepers and still be entertaining and hip enough for today’s kids.

8) Do I need an agent?

While many traditional publishing houses still insist on exclusively dealing with agents, many graphic novel publishers are willing to work directly with authors and artists. Because this is still such a relatively new development in the world of traditional book publishing, the doors still remain open to creators without agents. Even literary agents haven’t quite figured out how to respond to the demands of this new category. Children’s Graphic Novels aren’t quite the same thing as Children’s Books. In fact, most Children’s Books editors will not even look at a Children’s Book proposal that comes with an artist attached, while editors looking at Children’s Graphic Novel proposals wouldn’t know how to find an artist for a graphic novel at this point.

9) How do I find a publisher?

If you have an agent, that would be the agent’s job. Without an agent you need to be willing to do a lot of research. Many authors make the mistake of considering only existing Children’s Graphic Novel publishers as their only potential publishers. The truth is that many traditional publishers may consider publishing a Children’s Graphic Novel if it’s something they believe they’re uniquely suited to publish. For example, a business book publisher may have no interest in publishing a Children’s Graphic Novel about a squad of dragon-fighting pixies, but they may be interested in publishing a graphic novel that attempts to explain basic business concepts-how a checking account works, for example-to children. Publications such as Publishers Weekly can offer a good overview of the book-publishing field and can provide invaluable information on countless publishers. Also, self-publishing has become far more common as the technology for print-on-demand has advanced. No longer is there a stigma attached to what used to be called “vanity press” publishing as more and more authors eliminate the middleman and self-publish.

10) Does my Children’s Graphic Novel have to be published as a physical book?

No, it could be published as an ebook, especially as such technological breakthroughs as Apple’s iPad make it possible for full-color, lavishly illustrated Children’s Graphic Novels to be viewed on a screen as they were meant to be seen. Of course, it’s still very early, and the question is-do enough children possess this kind of expensive hardware to make it financially worthwhile to be available exclusively in such a format? At this point, it makes more sense to have a digital version available as an additional option, and not the exclusive format.

If ever there was an opportunity to break into publishing, creating a Children’s Graphic Novel could be it. Good luck!