How to Land an Agent for a Graphic Novel | Jane Friedman

How to Land an Agent for a Graphic Novel | Jane Friedman

Today’s post is by graphic novelist K. Woodman-Maynard (@woodmanmaynard).

First off, you do not need an agent to get into comics and graphic novels. Comics have a long history of self-publishing and finding readers through conventions and web comics. I personally know many cartoonists who started out by self-publishing and later found an agent more organically through networking or being “discovered” through a convention or anthology.

However, for the sake of this article, I’m going to talk about traditional querying of agents, which is how I’ve found my agents—and I’ve had three (more on that later).

Why have an agent?

Agents have two major roles: they help ensure that your work is seen by publishers, and they handle the business and legal side of the relationship with publishers. In exchange, they take a 15 percent commission of what you earn.

Publishers are overwhelmed by submissions, so there’s no guarantee that they’ll even look at your submission if you send it directly to them. (and some don’t accept unagented material at all.) The advantage to having an agent is that they have existing relationships with editors and publishers, which means they’re more likely to read agents’ submissions. They trust the agents to be sending good work their way. Agents can also help you craft your submissions materials so that they will be appealing to publishers.

On the business side of things, agents handle the contracts and negotiations and understand the market rate for work. I saw firsthand how useful having an agent could be when I got an unimpressive offer from a publisher for a graphic novel. If I’d been negotiating on my own, I’d have asked for 20% more, but my agent told me, “That’s a lowball offer. Let’s ask for double that.” So she asked for 200% of their initial offer and they agreed. and in that one move, she more than covered the cost of her commission.

Who should I query?

You should only query agents who represent graphic novels, which will narrow down the field quite a bit. and you’ll want to find agents who represent graphic novels similar to the one that you are creating. For example, if you’re writing middle-grade fantasy graphic novels, you probably want to see some similar titles already represented by the agent you’re querying.

I used a spreadsheet to keep track of the agents I was thinking of querying. I included things like links to their websites, their submission guidelines, why I thought they’d be a good fit, the date I queried them, and if I ever heard back. Be prepared for querying to require a lot of waiting. Some agents respond within hours, others take months to respond, and others never respond.

If you know other cartoonists, ask them about their experience with their agents and if they’d recommend them. Talking to people is often the best way to get a sense of which agents are well respected.

How many agents should you query?

I recommend querying in batches. I started by querying my top 3–5 agents, waited several weeks to hear back, then moved to the next couple agents on my list. By querying in batches, you give yourself time to edit your query if you get any helpful feedback, and also give your top choices time to respond.

What do you need to pitch?

One of the biggest differences in pitching graphic novels compared to text-only books is that you do not need to have the book done in order to find an agent or sell it to a publisher. Instead you create a proposal that includes samples of the final art and an overview of the project.

All agents seem to ask for something different, but here’s a general overview of what you’ll likely need. When querying, be sure to follow the specific agent’s guidelines. Agents receive so many queries, don’t give them a reason to overlook your work because you didn’t follow their directions.

  • Query letter: See Jane’s article on querying. That’s how I learned to do it!
  • Specs: I like to include projected page count, trim size, full color or black-and-white printing, genre, target age group, and comparable titles.
  • Synopsis (usually 1–3 pages): See Jane’s excellent article on synopsis writing. I still use this when writing synopses for proposals.
  • Sample art: There isn’t a set amount of art that all agents require, but you want to give them enough finalized art to get an idea of your storytelling style, coloring (if applicable), and character design. I tend to think you should submit sequential pages, working from the start of the book. My goal is to make an agent curious to read more. That said, I have heard of people submitting random pages from different parts of the book, but I don’t think that gives agents a good idea of your sequential storytelling capacity, which is very important with comics making. When I was querying my graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby, I had the first chapter of final art done (22 pages), but most agents only wanted to see 10–15 pages. So in my query letter, I said I was attaching the first 15 pages, and could send an additional 7 upon request.
  • Art file format: If submitting sequential pages, I’d recommend submitting them as a PDF to make sure all the pages are kept together, as opposed to individual JPGs. You don’t need super high resolution (and huge) files for submitting to agents, but you don’t want to send pixelated art either. One thing that threw me when I was querying is that some agents state in their querying guidelines that they don’t want any attachments on emails. In that case, you can link to a page on your website where the art is. If you’re concerned about privacy, you can make it password protected and give the agent the password in your query letter. Or you could link to a Google Drive or Dropbox folder.
  • Script: This isn’t required, and some cartoonists don’t even work from scripts, but if you do, it’s a good thing to share with a potential agent if they request to see more content.
    There isn’t a standard script format, so do a little research and see what works for you and stick with the format throughout the script.

What if I’m just the writer (not the artist)?

Writers can query on their own and generally the publisher will find an artist to pair them with for that project. Some agents will represent an artist-writer team, but most prefer to represent individuals.

What if I’m just the artist (not the writer)?

It’s my understanding that it’s rare to get an agent as a comic artist not attached to a specific book. Before querying, you should see if the agent will even consider this. Anecdotally, it seems like comic artists (who aren’t also writers) get agents because they also do picture book illustration, or are working in partnership with a writer on a comic, and get introduced that way.

Listen to your gut! 

During my first time querying agents on a YA fantasy graphic novel, I initially sent out queries to my top agents. I got a few requests to read the full script, but my top choices ultimately passed on my story. So I moved on to agents further down the list. Eventually, I got an offer within a few hours of submitting from an agent at a large literary agency. I was ecstatic, but also wary after speaking with him.

Something didn’t sit right with me and I wasn’t sure he’d actually read my book based on a few comments he made. Even though he had a good track record in Publishers Marketplace, I waffled about whether to accept his offer. But I couldn’t find anything negative about him online, and I reached out to a few clients who said he sold their books and they were generally happy with him. Since I didn’t have any other offers, I decided to go with him, despite my reservations.

After a year, he hadn’t sold my first book and he had my second graphic novel out on submission. However, news started coming out about him as being a poor agent and he was asked to resign from the US professional literary agent organization. After talking to various people I knew in the industry and seeing examples of his actual pitches of my work, I decided to break ties with him.

The Great Gatsby: graphic novel adaptation by K. Woodman-Maynard

I was demoralized—those two books represented over five years of work, but I was already working on another book that seemed more marketable—a graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby. So I went back to my original list of agents and pitched Gatsby to one of my top choices of agents (who had rejected my earlier book). Within about a day, she offered to represent me.

I felt burned by my first agent and I was still a little wary, so I decided to meet her in person before signing. After meeting her, I felt confident in her and the agency, both of which had a stellar professional reputation. and a few months later, she sold Gatsby to Candlewick Press and helped negotiate a deal that I was happy with.

What if it doesn’t work out with the agent?

You need to be on the same page as your agent and make sure that they’re aligned with your goals, which may change over time. Just like with any relationship, a person may work out for a time, but not be the right fit in the long term, which is what happened with my second agent.

After publishing Gatsby, I was working on a project for a few years that my agent ultimately didn’t think she could sell. I felt compelled to keep working on it and eventually we decided to amicably part ways since I still wanted to try to publish it.

After parting with my agent, I was back looking for an agent for the third time, and feeling demoralized again. However, I’d already published Gatsby, and now had a lot more connections in the graphic novel world.

Since I was co-creating a graphic novel with a writer-friend, my friend reached out to her agent to see if she’d be willing to represent both of us for that specific project. Her agent requested I send along my other work for her to look at. She looked it over and she offered me representation for all of my work. I liked her a lot, she represented several people I knew, had an excellent reputation, and she seemed to understand my work and what I was trying to accomplish, so I signed with her.

and a wonderful postscript with my second agent is that a graphic novel adaptation project came across her desk that she thought I’d be great for, and passed it along to me, even though I was no longer her client. That graphic novel will be coming out in Fall 2025.

Additional resources

K. Woodman-Maynard

K. Woodman-Maynard’s debut, The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation was called, “Hugely rewarding” by The Wall Street Journal ​​and was a finalist for the 2021 Foreword Indies Book of the Year Awards. She shares advice from what she’s learned writing and watercoloring graphic novels on Instagram @WoodmanMaynard and in her monthly comic newsletter. She lives with her spouse and pets in Minneapolis where she loves the challenges of trail running, cross-country skiing, and keeping her dog from eating paint brushes.

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