Grasping How Syndication Works

Everyone — well, your mom at least — tells you you're ready for the big time, but how do you even begin to market cartoons or comics? Before you get ready to send your art out the door, you need to understand syndication and the ways that syndicates rule the modern cartooning world.

Syndication works like this:

1. You, the aspiring cartoonist, draw a month's worth of comic strips and submit them to the dozen or so major syndicates in the country.

2. The submission arrives at the syndicate's office in New York, where it goes into a pile with the rest of the ten to fifteen thousand other submissions the syndicate receives each year.

3. Submissions editors go through the stacks and review each submission, looking for the next great marketable comic strip.

4. After they spot a promising submission, they pass it up the chain to the other editors who also review it.

During their review, they look for several things in order of importance:

• Is it similar to another feature already in syndication?

• Can we market this feature effectively?

5. The big kahuna editors choose their final picks.

6. After many months you may receive a letter (or phone call, if you're really lucky) from an editor. This letter could say several things:

• Thanks but no thanks. Otherwise known as a rejection letter, this means they either didn't like your work or don't have a place for it on their list.

• No thanks, but keep trying. If they see something that needs work, they may express that in the rejection letter, encouraging you to try and improve these things and resubmit at a later date. Any personal comment or note is a positive sign that your work has promise, so really up your effort if you get any type of personal response.

• Let's work on it. They could also agree to a development deal where they offer you a contract to help you improve areas in the comic strip, in the hope that after the end of the development period the strip is ready to market. If during the development period you show no improvement, then they'll pass on the strip at the end of this period.

• You've got a deal! Congratulations, you've broken into one of the toughest businesses around!

If the syndicate picks up your cartoon, the development process begins. You'll work with an editor to help ready your strip for publication. This process may include suggestions on writing or small changes to the art. Some cartoons are perfect and require no changes at all — don't count on it, though! Editors live to change things.

When the strip is ready for publication, the syndicate offers you a contract and sets a launch date. It's the syndicate's job at this point to begin marketing and selling the strip to the newspapers. The syndicate usually wants around 50 sales before launching the strip, although this number is different for each individual syndicate. For more info about a syndicate giving you the thumbs-up, check out the "Welcome to success (but don't expect millions)" section later in this chapter.

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