Pitching your ideas to the big shots
Here's what the syndicates suggest if you're looking to break into cartooning.
(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: I have an idea for a new cartoon. How do I pitch the idea to the big companies? What will I need for the pitch?
- John D'Onofrio, Lake Oswego, Ore.
Dear John: Let's be frank: Successfully pitching a cartoon idea to one of the large syndicates is very difficult, and the odds are against you.
For example, King Features Syndicate receives roughly 5,000 submissions annually, but only launches two or three new strips each year.
Even so, the syndicates are always on the prowl for the next hot thing, and all say that every submission is carefully considered.
"Ultimately it boils down to the cartoonist's voice: a sense of humor that very many people can relate to or project themselves onto," says Brendan Burford, King Features' comics editor.
The submission process begins with a single-page cover letter introducing yourself.
"If you can't say what you need to say in a one-page letter, you've said too much," Burford says.
Also include two to three dozen samples of your comic strips, along with brief descriptions of your main characters. King Feature requests only daily comic strips.
"If we like your work, we'll ask to see more Sundays," Burford says.
Creators Syndicate, another major player, requests at least four weeks of dailies, and no more than six weeks' worth and two Sunday strips.
Most comic strip artists draw their dailies in a 13" wide by 4" tall format. For a single-panel cartoon, the most common size is a 7" square. However, any size can work as long as the height and width follow those general proportions. All samples should be photocopies, not original work, and submitted in black ink on white paper.
King Feature will generally respond within eight to 12 weeks if it's interested in seeing more work. If you don't get a response within that timeframe, the cartoon isn't something that will work for the company, Burford says. Including a self-addressed stamped envelope will facilitate a response.
Should you be one of the lucky cartoonists contacted for further development or a contract, a syndicate will work with you to package, edit and promote your strip to newspapers and other outlets in the country or across the world.
Marianne Sugawara, Creators Syndicate's vice president of operations, advises cartoonists that the writing - not just the illustrations - is very important.
"It's harder to find a strong writer than a good illustrator," says Sugawars. "There are a lot of very good artists out there. A lot of it is the writing."
Both Sugawara and Burford say it's difficult to predict success.
"It's incredibly difficult to get a new comic strip to catch on," Burford says. "It's certainly not a formula. If it were, all the syndicates would be bottling it."