Mark’s Remarks – Iron Man #229 (April 1988)

It seems to me that I’ve tackled this topic before, but since I continue to get letters asking me about it, I’ll address the subject again, trying to hit it from a different angle. This issue’s topic: How do you get to be a writer for Marvel Comics?

There are only three ways to break in as a writer for Marvel. The easiest way is to become a renowned, much sought-after writer for other companies, call up the editor-in-chief (hi, Tom) and say you’re available, and when the e-i-c gets the word out, editors will call you. The second way (the way I did it, actually) is to acquire an entry-level staff position with Marvel, keep your ears open for writing opportunities, and submit material to colleague editors at every available opportunity. I’m proof this system can work, but being a staffer is no guarantee that you’ll sell a single story. (There are no guarantees anywhere in life.)

The third way (and the way most people take) is blind submission though the mail. It is important to remember that Marvel technically does not hire writers. What we do is buy stories. What about books (like X-MEN) where the same writer (Chris Claremont) has been writing the same book for ten years, you ask? Wasn’t he hired as the writer of the book? Not really. Chris does not have a contract that says he and only he can write the X-MEN, and Marvel will buy every single X-MEN story he writes. What he has is an unwritten agreement that, provided he turns in acceptable work on time, Marvel will continue to buy it. So what does that mean to aspiring comics writers? It means gear your efforts to selling stories, not selling your ability as a writer. Your ability as a writer will be amply demonstrated when an editor buys one of your stories. When you submit work to a book that rarely if ever uses inventory material, you may as well attach a note to is saying, “Don’t buy this story please.” If you are not trying to sell a story, you are not thinking like a writer. If you send us a proposal for a new series (whether using your creations or ours), you may as well attach a note to it saying, “Don’t take this proposal seriously, please.” Why” Because no one sells a new series as his first published comics work. You must pitch your story at the titles that exist, not to expect a title to be created just for you. That’s the cold reality of comics publishing.

Now let’s say you sold your first story to Marvel. Then what? Well, you’ve got to pitch another, and make another sale. Then another, then another. Eventually an editor (or two) will think of you as someone who can do professional-level work, and when a book opens up, maybe the editor will think of you as his/her (no contract, no commitment) regular writer. And that’s how this crazy business works.

–Mark Gruenwald