For several weeks at DC Comics “back in the day” I had the unofficial job of being “Rejections Editor.” It was sort of like “Submissions Editor,” except my only instruction was to send rejection letters.
And while it was obviously kind of disheartening to send rejection letters all day long (certainly, I often questioned what I was doing with my own life), I did learn a lot from the experience.
This was at an awkward time between Big Comics being an accessible entity where prospective young creators could just send in samples and even hang out with editors, and DC getting like two billion submissions a year. The only way those submissions could get a proper evaluation, really, is if one of the editors spent half of his or her time on just that alone.
But we’re talking literal giant metal industrial containers of submission envelopes. It just couldn’t happen.
So I was given templates for a number of specific rejection “types” that might come along, plus the instruction to mail everyone back their self-addressed stamped envelopes and anything else that seemed irreplaceable (like originals) or valuable.
After weeks of sending out nothing but rejection letters, I began to feel like that Willy Wonka meme with “I said GOOD DAY, sir!”
Still, while being Rejections Editor was a depressing enterprise for me, it also was a crucial phase in my life.
I did look through a lot of those submissions, mostly the art. Some were professional portfolio pieces, but others were whole creator-made comic books, or new stories featuring DC characters. A lot went into some of them. There was talent in a number of these samples. There was talent, but often the artist or writer just needed to take a few classes or get a good portfolio review.
(Notice how I said I mostly looked at the art…that’s because getting an editor to read your script alone can be kind of difficult. I’m going to discuss this issue further in length in another post, as well as some strategies.)
In sum: I learned during my tenure as “Rejections Editor” that a lot of people, from all walks of life, wanted to express themselves through comic books. That there was this drive and energy to create.
And it’s tough. Because unlike simply writing or drawing, to make a comic takes a bit of coordination, a lot of patience, resources, specialized skills.
Yet now people have more access to learning the craft of comics than ever before; with more opportunities to publish their work and get it out into the world. At the same time, there are so many people out there with projects that it’s easy to feel like you’re back in the giant metal submissions bin.
How do you stand out? What’s your next move?
How do you get out from under the pile?
It’s the “eternal question” for the comic creator. There’s an old saying in the industry: once someone finds a way to “break in,” the publishers set out to close up that entryway so nobody else gets to use it. Whether that’s really true is debatable, but the concept that you have to be unique and resourceful is a key one.
And you also have to be durable, and persistent. You can’t let the submissions editor—or rejections editor—unwittingly “kill” your dream by sending you back that form letter.
The real mark of a comics creator is to persist despite that “I said GOOD DAY, sir.” And the real goal of the entire enterprise should not be that fateful trip of your pitch or portfolio to the submissions office—but rather, it’s the entire creative journey that produced your work in the first place. And unless you get really straight about that goal, this vocation you have chosen could be a real heart-breaker.
Take it from a former Rejections Editor.