Why Comic Book Editors Don’t Accept Unsolicited Pitches

A few comic book fans seem to think that nothing would please an editor or writer more than hearing their ideas for a franchise. Some of the fans hope for a job. Two anecdotes illustrate why this isn’t likely to happen.

In a guest lecture for Andy Schmidt’s Writing for Comics class a few years back, Peter David recounted an interesting story. I’m going by memory here.

Once upon a time, a young man came up to him at a convention, with an idea for a Fantastic Four story, based on something that had recently happened in the comics. Peter David thought the idea was effective, and asked an editor if the guy could submit a pitch for the story. The editor revealed that someone else was doing a story based on the same basic concept. But at this point, the editor knew the potential newcomer’s name, which is very useful for any future submissions. The wannabe had his foot in the door.

The story doesn’t have a happy ending, though. The guy’s brother was a lawyer. And the lawyer was convinced that Marvel was trying to steal his brother’s ideas.

So Marvel got sued. The editor and others had to spend time and money defending themselves legally, proving that the story they published was commissioned, and that work on it was produced, before Peter David met the wannabe writer at the convention. They were successful, but it was still a grueling and unnecessary process. The wannabe writer developed the worst possible reputation in the comics industry, so he was never able to find any employment within a very close-knit community. And it’s now Marvel’s policy to avoid unsolicited ideas.

At the New York Comic Con, Scott Allie of Dark Horse had a different story, which he recounted in a panel about editing comics. A fan came up to him with a clever idea for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer story. Allie liked it so much that he asked the fan to turn it into a script.

And the script sucked. As Allie said, the fan couldn’t write dialogue to save his life. So Dark Horse wasn’t able to use the script. And now they have to avoid ever publishing anything similar, because there’s the potential for a lawsuit. As a result, it’s a slight restriction on their ability to produce material within their top license.

There are some fans who come to professionals with their ideas, not because they want a job in the industry, but because they want to see that idea executed by a writer or artist. The creative team would have the fan’s blessing. One problem is that the professionals won’t really know for sure that it was this guy’s idea to begin with. If a fan has a Spider-Man idea for Dan Slott, for all Marvel knows, the fan heard it from a guy at his comic store, who is not happy with Marvel following his suggestions for what to do with Doctor Octopus. And there’s also the possibility that a fan who didn’t come up with the idea will claim that it was his, resulting in a legal headache.

Granted, some of the suggestions made by fans seem too vague to be ideas. “I’d like to see a map for Asgard” or “I want to see more of Villain X” isn’t something you can actually pitch to an editor. And there is the potential for a lawsuit for a nutjob who thinks he’s owed money because Marvel decided to use the Lizard in a Spider-Man story, when he was the one who suggested that.

It’s also always possible for two people to come up with the same idea independently, especially if they were exposed to the same source. If you read a New Yorker article about a science journalist, and think it could be applied to the Spider-Man comics, and Dan Slott has the same idea, it could just be that he read the same article you did.

While honest mistakes remain a possibility, another concern is scammers. A few years back, a Nancy Stouffer sued JK Rowling, claiming that Rowling had stolen ideas from some obscure booklets she had written. When it was determined that Stouffer committed fraud by changing pages years after the fact to increase similarities, she was fined $50,000, which I’m assuming is a lot less than the money Rowling & Scholastic lost (in legal fees & other ways) as a result of her unfounded allegations.

Back when he had a formspring account, Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott explained why he sometimes didn’t respond to fan questions.

If the poster isn’t asking a question, but rather they’re trying to give me a back door story pitch.

Again, this is NOT meant to be rude but– I’ve got all the ideas I need for writing Amazing Spider-Man. And I’m excited about writing THOSE ideas– MY ideas. I really don’t need someone else’s ideas. If they’re your ideas, save ’em! ‘Cause maybe someday YOU could get to write a Spidey book! My life is living proof that can happen. 🙂 When I see a question like: “What if Spider-Man’s friend Frogman got possessed by the Carnage of Universe X?” I immediately delete it out-of-hand for two reasons:

I already have all the ideas I need. AND in the off chance one of those ideas happens to be that Frogman gets possessed by the Carnage of Universe X– I still want to do that story– and I don’t EVER want a fan thinking that I ripped them off! So, as a policy, if a question has even a whiff of being a back door story pitch, I delete it immediately.

One reader wasn’t happy with this and asked “Good writers focus on GOOD ideas, they aren’t so self absorbed that they only want to consider THEIR ideas. What is with you guys and Marvel and this ego trip stuff?” Slott noted another reason to ignore fan ideas; most professionals have their own stories to tell.

Seriously. What is hard to get about this? I want to write my OWN stories about my OWN ideas. I don’t want to work on fleshing out OTHER people’s ideas.

Jesus.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met– who were either trying to break into comics or the TV/Film industry– who’ve said the phrase, “Oh, I don’t want to write the stories, I’m more of an ‘idea person.'”
These people can bite me. That’s like saying, “I know there’s gold in that hill. Maybe. I just don’t want to have to dig for it.”

End of the day, I get to do a job I REALLY love– and, to some degree, I write for myself– while trying to learn all I can about my craft– and (hopefully) learning from my experiences, my coworkers, my critics, and my mistakes along the way.

Do I have an ego about my work? Hell, yes! I BETTER. I HOPE I’m personally invested in this stuff. Show me someone who DOESN’T have an ego about this work in a creative field (writer, artist, musician, and I’ll show you someone who’s “phoning it in.” And who wants that?

Look, if someone has ENOUGH ego to THINK that their ideas are GOOD– and enough inclination to type them up on a message board and/or formspring question– then they should put their OWN damn ego to work, stop half-assing it, go the full distance, and write up their GOOD idea for THEMSELVES. 😀 C’mon! I KNOW you can do it! 😀 Take that leap of faith, apply yourself, and work, work, work at it! 😀

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Comic Book Pitches, Comics Industry, Marvel Comics, Spider-Man, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why Comic Book Editors Don’t Accept Unsolicited Pitches

  1. Alan Levy says:

    I understand where he’s coming from, but it looks bad, especially when Marvel, DC, and Image keep putting out crappy comic after crappy comic.

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