Packaging Humor Material is Smart Business

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Pitch humor and illustrations as packages to editors.

Generally speaking, there are two ways to market cartoon-illustrated humor scripts. Either you simply put the finished script and illustrations into the envelope, add a self-addressed, stamped return envelope, and promptly mail. Or you write a letter, querying the editor about his possible interest in your humor piece, briefly describing it and its slant.

Although I have used both methods, I am inclined to believe the first method very often brings home the bacon since humor is almost impossible to adequately “describe” — and seeing the finished script sometimes overcomes any latent hesitation an editor might have if he had to visualize, imaginatively, a piece described.

However, should you like to try the query method, here is the sort of letter I usually write:

Dear Mr. (Name):

Would your book be interested in seeing, on spec, a 1,500 word humor piece, complete with three cartoon illustrations as a package deal? Primarily, this piece is a lightly handled account of (and describe your subject, matter, theme, and conclusion) which I think might very well offer your editorial change-of-pace and entertainment for your readers.

Sincerely yours.

Be sure you enclose a self-addressed, stamped reply business envelope. Be damned sure you include the words, “package deal.” These are magic words to editors of small magazines.

When I use the direct submission method, I always enclose a brief note to the editor along with the finished properties. It usually goes something like this:

Dear Mr. (Name):

The enclosed humor piece and accompanying cartoon illustrations are offered as a package deal. I hope it lands on target.

Sincerely yours,

Right about here, I want to emphatically disagree with those who have referred to the humor piece as “easy money.” It’s not. If anything, a well slanted, carefully planned and written script-running from 1,000 to 2,000 words requires a lot more thinking and labor than several batches of cartoons. And should earn as much, if not a hell of a lot more for you, than several batches of cartoons.

You set your own standard of expectations, of course, but you’re batty if you accept less than what slanted humor copy complete with cartoon illustration, package-deal, is actually worth. Such packages are not often seen — especially in the smaller editorial offices. Don’t let existing cartoon or copy rates influence your rates. At the same time, don’t get too unrealistic in your rates.

And what is good humor or illustration worth? Well, not less than $50 for 1,000 words plus two illustrations. About $75 for 1,500 words plus two or three illustrations. (Scale that up 50 to 100 percent for 1970.) Naturally, take as much as you can get. Good, well slanted humor is worth a decent price by virtue of its scarcity. As you progress (assuming you stay with it), you will be astounded to find $5 cartoon markets gladly shelling out $80 to $200 for 1,500 to 2,000 word humor scripts with two to four illustrations — providing you have given the book exactly what it needs in slant plus a lot more in offbeat feature material.

Recently, a contributor suggested that a writer send his script to the illustrator working with him for added evaluation on rewrite. This is sheer nonsense and a waste of time.

Most cartoonists don’t know beans about writing. If the gag writer knows his end of the business and has produced a salable script, the cartoonist will be doing his job if he confines his attention to producing equally good illustrations to accompany the script. I’m not saying cartoonists cannot learn to write. Many can. But I am assuming the only writer/cartoonists teams will be those comprised of gag writers who cannot draw and cartoonists who cannot write. Why add confusion to the collaboration?

If you are a cartoonist who can write, then you have no business hitching up your checks with a gag writer. In fact, editors seem to possess a special preference for a cartoonist who can write and illustrate. Anyway, that’s been my experience.

Hardly a month goes by without additional illustration assignments coming my way from editors who have purchased humor copy sans illustration. And, for the most part, they prefer a package deal from one guy if possible. The only way a gag writer can combat this is to learn how to turn out such superior humor copy that he is literally out-writing his competitors.

I’ll make it plain that I consider a 50/50 sharing of a check from a humor piece sale to be utterly stupid. If anything, it should be 70/30 with the writer getting the bigger percentage. It requires a hell of a lot more skill to turn out salable wordage than it does to illustrate that wordage.

There are many magazines that will take a script and illustrations, monthly, if they are written in the first person with a fictional treatment built around an imaginary character in keeping with the book’s subject matter. Thus, if you turn out regular pieces using the ficticious name of Pete McPipewrench, there’s a splendid chance that the Associated Plumbers’ Newsblatt will buy them all year long and love you for producing them. A final word on the matter: Keep the copy clean and with wide margins. Keep all illustrations drawn on the vertical unless an editor specifies otherwise

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